Who is Raymond Spencer, person of interest in the D.C. shooting?

Dorothy S. Bass


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Authorities on Saturday continued to explore the mysterious past and motivations of a gunman who they said fired randomly at people, striking four, in Northwest Washington as new and frightening details began to emerge about the potential lethality of the attack.

Officials said police have not developed a motive for Friday afternoon’s shootings in the Van Ness area, but it appeared the suspected gunman, 23-year-old Raymond Spencer of Fairfax County, Va., engaged with Wikipedia pages related to the recent subway attack in New York City and a 2018 school shooting in Florida.

Police on Saturday officially identified Spencer as the man they believe committed the attack, having previously said that authorities were searching for him as a person of interest before declaring a suspect was found dead. Authorities said he killed himself inside the fifth-floor story apartment where he fired more than 100 rounds near Van Ness Street and Connecticut Avenue.

Multiple law enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive investigation, said Spencer’s only known tie to the District appears to be that sparsely furnished apartment at the AVA Van Ness, in which they found assault rifles, at least one handgun, a tripod stand for a firearm and a mattress on the floor.

The apartment that police are describing as a “sniper’s nest” overlooks Edmund Burke School in the 2900 block of Van Ness Street, which appears to have drawn the shooter’s attention at afternoon dismissal.

D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said numerous buildings and vehicles may have been struck by gunfire, and police officials said they believe two shops and a vehicle in Cleveland Park, nearly a mile from the apartment building, were hit.

“There are probably going to be a lot of bullet holes we’re going to find,” Contee said as the search for evidence expanded northward on Connecticut Avenue, one of the busiest corridors in the District, with restaurants, shops, apartments and foreign embassies.

Bullets fired from weapons used in the shooting, the chief said, have “the capacity to travel for an extended distance.”

Police said four people were injured in the shooting, including a man in his 50s who is a part-time security guard at Edmund Burke, a woman in her 30s and another woman in her 60s who was grazed by a bullet as she waited in her vehicle to pick up a child. A 12-year-old girl also was shot.

Authorities expressed amazement that more people were not struck or even killed, and said it will take police many days to collect evidence and fully document the damage over a vast number of city blocks.

The hours of a fearful lockdown at Edmund Burke school

On Friday night, the Fairfax County police SWAT team and D.C. police searched Spencer’s apartment at the Julian at Fair Lakes and said they had only one prior contact with the man. A county police spokesman described the call as a noise complaint and said Spencer had complied with officers.

Efforts to reach Spencer’s relatives over the past two days have been unsuccessful, and residents of the AVA Van Ness complex described only fleeting encounters with him.

Shelby Magid, who lives on the fifth floor, said Spencer would have blended in at the building that is home to many young people. Magid, 28, recalled seeing him once or twice while on the way to the elevator but said she had never interacted with him.

“It’s a quiet hall,” said Magid, who wasn’t home when the shootings occurred.

Another fifth-floor resident, Diana Camosy, 34, took cover on the bedroom floor next to her husband most of Friday afternoon, refreshing Twitter for updates. Camosy, who was using headphones, and her husband, who had been on a work Zoom call, heard the gunshots but dismissed them as noise from construction.

In a text message, Camosy said she looked out her window and saw students with backpacks running down an alley.

“Once we heard sirens we knew something was terribly wrong,” she said. As the afternoon went on, she heard police in her hallway and checked the front door peephole and saw “cops with rifles.” Camosy said she heard them talking about getting to certain units on the floor.

“We were flabbergasted when we learned that Spencer lived, fired from and died on the same floor as us and our friends,” Camosy said.

Suspect in shooting that injured 4 found dead, officials say

Representatives for the apartment complex and the developer, Avalon Communities, did not respond to interview requests. One message sent to residents said the company understood “how unsettling this has been for all of us and are so thankful for all that law enforcement has done to resolve this very unfortunate situation.”

Spencer’s biographical history remained murky, but public records indicate he spent some time in Montgomery County. In 2016, the Montgomery County Recreation Department posted a photo detailing the lifesaving rescue of one of its lifeguards at the Wheaton-Glenmont pool.

“In a dramatic scene, lifeguard Raymond Spencer had finished his shift, decided to swim some laps and became disoriented after getting out of the water,” a Facebook post said. “He fell back into the pool.”

The post said that he was rescued by other lifeguards and a firefighter who performed CPR to help him regain consciousness. After being asked about the Facebook post and whether Spencer worked with the Montgomery recreation department, a county spokesman confirmed Spencer had worked with the agency.

Spencer’s later years also have not yet come into public focus. Police said they are compiling his Internet postings and interactions on several social media platforms, including 4chan, and Wikipedia, on which authorities believe he made edits to several pages in the days leading up to the shooting.

Those edits were made on pages that include David Hogg, who survived a deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., and has become an outspoken advocate for gun control.

There are also searches on Wikipedia pages for Wheaton High School, in Montgomery County; Md., the recent attack on a New York subway; Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia; and the “Glenmont station.” The significance of those topics could not be determined Saturday.

A Wikipedia page for the Edmund Burke School was searched several times and edited, including a line added about an hour after police said the shooting started when Spencer wrote: “A gunman shot at the school on April 22, 2022. The suspect is still at large.”

On a separate online forum, called 4chan, a user identifying as Raymond Spencer posted four minutes after the reported shooting started, “Dear God please forgive me.”

The following post seemed to taunt police: “They’re in the wrong part of the building right now searching XD.” Later the user wrote: “Waiting for police to catch up with me.”

Photos: The scene following the shooting on Connecticut Avenue

Eduardo Bugay, a Van Ness area resident, recalls what he saw and heard during the shooting on April 22 that left four people injured. (Video: The Washington Post)

Police also said a graphic video posted online Friday showing what appears to be the shooting is authentic, though it is unclear when it was posted. The video shows the Burke school’s glass walkway covered in posters from its recent financial aid auction, themed after the game Clue. The sound of gunfire erupts, and one of the glass panels shatters.

On Wikipedia, Spencer last updated his user page at 3:58 p.m. Friday, soon after the shooting. The page said he was an “a AR-15 aficionado” in his biography. The page has since been removed from the platform.

In a letter to the city, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) called the shooting a “heartbreaking day for our community” and decried the continued gun violence in the District.

“Unfortunately, tonight, I looked into the eyes of parents who were terrified, and they were terrified thinking of what might happen to their children,” the mayor said in her letter. “This epidemic of gun violence in our country, the easy access to firearms — it has got to stop.”

Jackie Rollins, who lives in the AVA apartment building on the floor below the shooter’s, said she was watching a show on Netflix when she heard the shots but wasn’t sure what it was.

“I heard the shots, but I didn’t realize they were shots, because I never heard a gun other than on the TV or a movie,” said Rollins, 57. “And it wasn’t until my grandson — I guess he saw something on the news — and that’s how I found out.”

She turned on the local news, whose cameras kept showing her building, and then she saw heavily armed police on the street nearby. A little while later, police told her she would have to evacuate soon. She said she has lived in the building about 18 months and had seen the alleged shooter a few times but didn’t know much about him.

“I just can’t fathom how you have so little regard for human life,” she said.

About 10 p.m., Rollins was still waiting for police to allow her and several other residents to go back inside the building.

“It’s a great place,” she said. “This the first of anything like this and, hopefully, the last.”

Jennifer Jenkins, Razzan Nakhlawi, Alice Crites, Justin Jouvenal, Emily Davies and Tom Jackman contributed to this report.


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