When I moved to the riot-dismembered neighborhood of Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C., in 1986, I had no idea I would still be here more than 20 years later. I anticipated a rather bohemian life of Christian itinerancy -- owning little property and moving where the spirit led. Instead, I was provided with a 100-year-old house (with much of the original wiring) and the gift of stability.
It is from this house that, on some mornings, I glimpse little neighborhood boys on their way to school. Donte Manning was undoubtedly one of those boys -- laughing with the school crossing guard, running with his friends, scraping handfuls of snow off parked cars for snowballs. He was just a little boy.
In the mysterious mechanics of God's universe, Donte's murder on Holy Thursday in 2005 set off a spiritual alarm deep inside me. I followed the scraps of his story in The Washington Post. I read the police reports and spoke with neighbors. Over time, his story became linked with my own -- and with our own story as Americans.
Donte Manning was in the third grade when he was shot in the face around the corner from my house. Pop, pop, pop. It was Holy Thursday -- a little before 10 p.m. The next morning I was leaving Washington, D.C., for a trip to El Salvador. Pop, pop, pop. Six shots on a street filled with kids enjoying a warm night before the Easter holiday.
The bullets left 9-year-old Donte in a coma. A month later, his family decided to take him off life support. "It was a decision the family made with some agony," District police captain C.V. Morris said. Donte survived four more days. I learned that he'd died over our neighborhood e-mail list.