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Young woman killed in the D.C. neighborhood where she helped to prevent gun violence

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/31/2020 Perry Stein
a teddy bear sitting on top of a wooden fence © Jovan Davis/Residents created a memorial for Lorraine Marie Thomas near where she was fatally shot F...

Lorraine Marie Thomas was key to brokering peace in a one-square-mile portion of the Washington Highlands neighborhood in Southeast Washington. The 21-year-old is credited with helping community leaders forge relationships with hard-to-reach young residents.

And it was a successful truce. The neighborhood — which had 11 shootings in the first five months of 2020 — recently went months without gun violence.

But on Friday, Thomas was found fatally shot in a car in the section of the neighborhood that she helped to start to turn around. She was the victim of the first deadly shooting there since May 15, and the city’s 163rd homicide victim in 2020, according to community leaders.

[With a truce brokered over Zoom, one neighborhood goes 100 days without a killing]

The D.C. police said officers responded to reports of a shooting in the 4200 block of Fourth Street SE. They discovered Thomas dead in a vehicle. A second woman sustained a minor graze wound, according to police, who said they are investigating and have released no information about possible suspects or motive.

“She helped us bridge some gaps to individuals. She allowed us to be on the front line,” said Clayton Rosenberg, chief of staff for the Alliance of Concerned Men, a community group. “She was funny and was always willing to be active and participate.”

The Alliance of Concerned Men partnered with Cure the Streets — a violence-interrupter program under the D.C. attorney general’s office — to broker the truce in Washington Highlands. Rosenberg, who is also the director of operations for Cure the Streets, said Thomas was a volunteer neighborhood ambassador and had ambitions of becoming a violence interrupter, a trained person with ties to a neighborhood who works to prevent violence.

Rosenberg said the group was considering hiring Thomas — known as Chyna to her friends — in the upcoming fiscal year.

“It doesn’t sit right with any of us,” Rosenberg said. “We are just trying to get our head around it, keep our ears to the ground, to figure out what happened so we can make our community safe again.”

a woman in a blue shirt: Lorraine Marie Thomas. (Jovan Davis) Lorraine Marie Thomas. (Jovan Davis)

Jovan Davis, program manager at Cure the Streets, said Thomas had been considered a “high-risk” individual in the neighborhood. But she responded well to the female Cure the Street mentors. She recently landed a job as a security guard and was starting a business selling homemade lip gloss.

Davis said she was maturing. When she had disagreements with young women in the neighborhood, she was able to communicate how she felt and talk through differences. She ended arguments, he said, with hugs and smiles.

She believed in the community-building mission of Cure the Streets. She was always the first to volunteer to distribute food and school supplies to neighbors. And because she knew the community so well, the violence interrupters could rely on Thomas to let them know who needed help.

That’s why she was so successful in helping forge the truce, Davis said. Everyone in the neighborhood knew and respected her, so she was able to connect with young residents when the violence interrupters couldn’t.

[For D.C.’s young residents, gun violence brings trauma and shapes academics]

“There was never a dull moment,” Davis said. “There was a 100 percent chance that she would make you smile and make you a laugh. It was all love.”

In June, the Alliance of Concerned Men posted a three-minute interview with Thomas in which she shared how she transformed from someone who made bad decisions into a young woman the community admired.

The interviewer ended the conversation by asking her to name one thing she would change about her community.

“The violence,” Thomas said. “It’s real big. People don’t just know how to walk away; they don’t know how to talk and express their feelings. They want to fight and be angry.”

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