Two D.C. broth­ers,

Roy’ale Hill, 12, was shot in Fe­bru­ary. His 13-year-old brother was shot weeks later.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY PETER HER­MANN

ages 12 and 13, face their new re­al­ity af­ter both were in­jured in sep­a­rate shoot­ings this year.

Roy’nal is in his wheel­chair, stuck out­side the front door of his new home in North­east Wash­ing­ton. His brother hur­ries over. Roy’ale presses down on the han­dles, tilt­ing the chair back to lift the front wheels, then pushes it onto a raised con­crete pad. He re­peats the steps to get the chair over the next hur­dle, the doorstop.

Roy’nal spreads his arms to brace him­self against the door frame as Roy’ale gives one fi­nal push on this sum­mer evening. His brother slides into the din­ing area. The mid­dle-school­ers are home for the night. Roy’ale Hill, 12, and Roy’nal Hill, 13, fol­lowed this rou­tine for weeks, un­til hous­ing of­fi­cials made it eas­ier by in­stalling a ramp at the en­trance to their Clay Ter­race town­house. The city placed the fam­ily here af­ter one boy, and weeks later the other, was shot in their old neigh­bor­hood.

The boys were close be­fore bul­lets stole their sum­mer. They and a third brother, Roy, 14, bond un­der a rap mu­sic brand with an acro­nym they’ve turned into cus­tom neck­laces of three gold let­ters: “BNL.”

It stands for “Brodie Never Left.”

Brodie is their word for brother.

The shoot­ings came 79 days apart in a court­yard where they tossed foot­balls, rode bikes and hung out with friends. Po­lice say nei­ther brother was an in­tended tar­get.

Roy’ale was hit first, struck by one of at least 51 bul­lets fired on Valen­tine’s Day evening. He was un­der a shade tree head­ing home af­ter buy­ing a $1 pack of gum.

Roy’nal was shot May 4, while with bud­dies eat­ing pizza steps from his front door. The bul­let — one of at least a dozen fired — lodged in his lower spine, leav­ing the foot­ball full­back par­a­lyzed from the waist down.

They were two bul­lets out of thou­sands fired in the District this year, some claim­ing lives of chil­dren and adults, and send­ing many oth­ers into long re­cov­er­ies from life-chang­ing in­juries.

Their sto­ries are of­ten eclipsed by the ones who didn’t make it, tal­lied in the District’s

“Some­times I just don’t get it. I want to walk again.”

Roy’nal Hill, 13, who was par­a­lyzed from the waist down af­ter a shoot­ing

ris­ing homi­cide count that has frus­trated lead­ers and res­i­dents. A Wash­ing­ton Post poll found that nearly half of res­i­dents liv­ing in the city’s most im­pov­er­ished neigh­bor­hoods said they or some­one they knew had been threat­ened with a gun or shot in the past five years.

Ten youths have been fa­tally shot this year in the District, one of them younger than the Hill broth­ers. He was Karon Brown, 11, slain try­ing to es­cape a dis­pute in­volv­ing adults out­side a fast-food restau­rant in South­east Wash­ing­ton.

The shoot­ings of Roy’ale and Roy’nal shocked even the District’s vet­eran po­lice chief who couldn’t fathom the un­likely prob­a­bil­ity of two broth­ers shot weeks apart in ran­dom vi­o­lence.

Nei­ther youth pro­fesses to be in­ter­ested in see­ing the gun­men ar­rested. But the im­pact is all too real, even as the broth­ers shrug it off as just an­other ob­sta­cle to over­come.

Roy’ale is re­luc­tant to ven­ture out­side alone; Roy’nal needs help with ev­ery­day liv­ing, like climb­ing the stairs.

“I can’t give up,” Roy’nal said. “It’s not about me mad at the world.”

‘ That’s my son’

The straw­berry-fla­vored gum Roy’ale bought at Z-mart was still in his pants pocket when he thought he heard fire­crack­ers in his Ke­nil­worth Park­side- Gar­dens neigh­bor­hood.

“I stopped and turned around,” he said. A man with a gun ran by him. Then he saw an­other man start­ing to shoot. He thinks he was hit by ac­ci­dent or mis­taken for the other gun­man.

He made it a few steps to the street and fell. The stac­cato bursts of gun­fire rat­tled in­side his home one street over. That sound is com­mon here, but this time it seemed to last for­ever, with more than 50 trig­ger pulls in rapid suc­ces­sion.

Con­cerned about her son, Ebonee Hill rushed into the win­ter dark­ness.

In her car, she criss­crossed the al­leys cut­ting through the maze of court­yards, and once she reached Ponds Street she saw some­one on the ground. The vic­tim’s boy­ish face was pressed to the pave­ment, but she saw the dis­tinc­tive knots in his hair.

A po­lice of­fi­cer pushed her away.

“That’s my son,” she screamed. Hill, a sin­gle mother of seven, grew up in North­east Wash­ing­ton’s Trinidad neigh­bor­hood, took col­lege classes and once dreamed of be­ing a homi­cide de­tec­tive.

Now she stood on a dark street un­der the strobe lights of a po­lice car.

“What’s his name?” the cop asked.

“His name is Roy’ale.”

The sixth-grader had lost con­scious­ness.

Paramedics wouldn’t al­low Hill into the am­bu­lance, so she jumped in her car and trailed to Chil­dren’s Na­tional Hos­pi­tal, where Roy’ale would spend the next 22 days.

The bul­let had en­tered his back. It frac­tured two ribs and col­lapsed a lung be­fore it ex­ited his chest.

It missed his spinal cord by a frac­tion of an inch.

Eleven weeks later, an­other of her sons was not as for­tu­nate.

Roy’nal was with his friends near his front door when a burst of gun­fire claimed the night. He had just turned down a pizza slice when he was shot.

Ebonee Hill was out run­ning er­rands when she heard from fran­tic fam­ily. She called her sis­ter Brit­tney, who was in a car racing her nephew to a hos­pi­tal.

“Where’s Nal at?” Hill de­manded.

“He’s in the back seat,” her sis­ter an­swered.

“What hap­pened to him?” “He got shot.”

Brit­tney passed the phone to Roy’nal.

“You good?”

“Yeah, Mom,” he an­swered. He wasn’t.

Roy’nal ended up at Chil­dren’s Na­tional, where his brother had been treated. The next day, the teen over­heard his mom and a doc­tor talk­ing in hushed tones.

The bul­let damaged the 11th tho­racic ver­te­bra, the next to last count­ing down from the top.

Roy’nal was par­a­lyzed from his belly but­ton down.

“Am I go­ing to live?” he asked. “Yes, you’re go­ing to live,” his mom an­swered.

“Then ev­ery­thing will be all right,” the sev­enth-grader replied.

Child­hood robbed

Roy’nal is do­ing push-ups.

“All the way down,” Sarah Stone urges, hold­ing his legs. She presses.

“All the way down, un­til your nose touches the mat.”

Stone has been a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist at Med­star Na­tional Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Hos­pi­tal for five years. Peo­ple with some of the worst in­juries to their brains and spinal cords come through here for help mov­ing on with their lives.

Roy’nal is the youngest pa­tient Stone has had.

He pro­gresses swiftly through the ex­er­cises, helped by a com­bi­na­tion of his youth and foot­ball con­di­tion­ing. But it is hard to balance when you can’t feel your legs, and the brain doesn’t rec­og­nize your feet on the ground.

In one ses­sion, a sim­ple game of catch tests whether Roy’nal can sit up and grab a ball with­out fall­ing over. At an­other, he po­si­tions his wheel­chair un­der par­al­lel bars, then does pullups to strengthen his arms.

These weekly out­ings to the re­hab ses­sions are what passed for sum­mer for the Hill fam­ily.

Ebonee Hill, who had taken time off her Postal Ser­vice job when Roy’ale was shot, again took un­paid leave to be with Roy’nal. A planned visit to a rel­a­tive in Florida did not hap­pen. A fam­ily re­union in South Carolina was put on hold. There was no grad­u­a­tion party for their older sis­ter.

The shoot­ers, Hill said, “robbed my kids of their child­hood.”

The fam­ily of eight also moved, from the boxy apart­ments and grassy court­yards of Ke­nil­worth to the as­phalt cul-de-sacs of Clay Ter­race, one no­to­ri­ous hous­ing project ex­changed for an­other.

For a time, their new town­house had no ramp, mak­ing it a strug­gle for Roy’nal to get in and out. The only bath­room is up­stairs, re­quir­ing him to get help climb­ing the stairs or forc­ing him into a closet to re­lieve him­self through a catheter.

Since they moved, two men, one of whom the fam­ily knew, were shot and killed near the home they left be­hind. At their new home in Clay Ter­race, a makeshift memo­rial to a slain man is just steps from their front door.

One of the first neigh­bors to greet Hill was the mother of Makiyah Wil­son, a 10-year-old fa­tally shot last year as she headed to an ice cream truck. She was struck in the heart by one of 76 bul­lets fired by four gun­men who sprayed a court­yard.

Hill’s youngest daugh­ter joined Makiyah’s Scouts, a group founded by the slain girl’s fam­ily to in­spire young women.

Roy’nal passed the time play­ing with his broth­ers on an Xbox do­nated by D.C. po­lice of­fi­cers and writ­ing and singing his rap songs.

He’s of­ten quiet, pre­fer­ring to ex­press him­self through his mu­sic. While at Chil­dren’s, he started a song as he gazed out a win­dow, watch­ing cars he sur­mised were headed for the city’s ex­its.

Try­ing to find a way I’m go­ing to es­cape and get away.

In a rare mo­ment, he shared his con­fu­sion over his in­jury. He said a doc­tor told him to think of his spinal cord as a tele­vi­sion cord. When the cord breaks, the TV goes out.

But a new cord will fix the TV. So why can’t he just get a new spine?

“Some­times I just don’t get it,” he said. “I want to walk again.”

Sum­mer’s end

Roy’nal rolls his wheel­chair down the fa­mil­iar streets of his old Ke­nil­worth Park­side- Gar­dens neigh­bor­hood. He pops a few wheel­ies, catches up with friends and scouts the per­fect place to record his lat­est rap video, “Ooooh.”

It’s the first time the broth­ers have re­turned since he was shot.

“Ooooh” is about seek­ing money over girls. Hill en­vi­sions her son’s wheel­chair mov­ing down the mid­dle of a path. But Roy’nal chooses a court­yard be­tween two hous­ing blocks, steps from where his brother was shot.

He recorded the lyrics ear­lier; now they blare from a speaker as he per­forms. His friends, some strangers and Roy’ale sur­round him.

I’m mak­ing money, I’m not chang­ing.

I saw you there, but you were taken.

I thought you were real, I was mis­taken.

The videog­ra­pher wants more ac­tion. He en­cour­ages Roy’nal to move to the beat, then in­vites on­look­ers to dance. His friends dig into their pock­ets for some bills for the teen to fan out.

Roy’ale hangs back, almost off cam­era, cling­ing to the en­tourage, silent.

Their sum­mer is over. Roy’ale and Roy’nal are back at Kelly Miller Mid­dle School, now in the sev­enth and eighth grades, re­spec­tively.

Their old­est sis­ter is off to col­lege, maybe to be a de­fense at­tor­ney. Their mother is back to work. And Roy’nal has new leg braces that help him get around. A fam­ily video shows him com­ing down the stairs, hold­ing the rail­ing with one hand and press­ing against the wall with the other. Slowly, he hops from step to step.

At the bot­tom, he takes a breath, then grabs a walker to cross the liv­ing room.

MAR­LENA SLOSS/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MICHAEL S. WIL­LIAMSON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

TOP: Roy’nal Hill works with stu­dent phys­i­cal ther­a­pist Bran­don Cares­tia at the Med­star Na­tional Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Hos­pi­tal in July. His younger brother Roy’ale was also in­jured in a shoot­ing this year. ABOVE: The broth­ers’ BNL neck­laces stand for “Brodie Never Left.” (Brodie is their word for brother.)

MICHAEL S. WIL­LIAMSON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Roy’ale Hill, 12, left, and Roy’nal Hill, 13, were both in­jured in shoot­ings this year. Ten chil­dren have been fa­tally shot this year in the District, one of them younger than the Hill broth­ers.

PETER HER­MANN/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

A D.C. po­lice of­fi­cer col­lects crime scene tape used to pre­serve the scene where Roy’ale Hill was shot in Fe­bru­ary.

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