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The children were returning from lunch, marching in line and singing songs when the bullets started to fly.
A 7-year-old boy was shot in the right shoulder. An 8-year-old was struck in the right ankle. A counselor was hit in his left thigh but managed to usher the group of about 30 children to safety, D.C. police said. The shooting victims were expected to survive.
The children and their counselor were apparently caught in a spray of bullets fired by one man at another for reasons that aren't clear, police said. The gunman fired at the second man as he ran toward the children in the 1900 block of Savannah Street SE, police said.
Police were looking for a black male wearing a white T-shirt, possibly with a ponytail. They were also looking for the man targeted by the shooter.
"Certainly we don't think they were shooting at 6-year-old children," said 7th District Cmdr. Joel Maupin.
Police combed a parking lot and grassy area about 50 years from where the children were shot. More then two dozen police cars were on the scene.
The shooting occurred shortly after noon near the heart of the Villages of Parklands, a neatly manicured public housing area.
The children, ages 6 to 12, had been attending the Villages of Parklands community summer camp. Most of the group lived in the Orchard Park neighborhood. The counselor, in his 40s, was an area pastor who worked for the Villages of Parklands, neighbors said.
The group was returning from a federally funded meals program. It was the first day of the three-month DC Free Summer Meals Program available to poor children around the city.
Neighbors said they heard the children singing "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom," and then nearly a dozen gunshots.
"I'm so afraid," said Angela Agnew, holding her 1-year-old grandson. "It's terrible. You can't bring your kids outside without worrying about getting killed."
Barry Lynn said he expects more shootings as the summer heats up.
"Due to the economy, people are hungry, people are desperate," Lynn said. "You are going to see a lot of these senseless shootings."
The management company for the public housing apartments, William C. Smith & Co., did not return calls for comment.