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‘I’m totally devastated’: Hill cafeteria worker recalls carjacking

Willie Price is a familiar face around the Capitol campus

Willie Price had her car stolen this month several blocks from the Capitol. Above, she is seen during a September 2023 interview about what a federal government shutdown could mean for contractors in the Capitol complex.
Willie Price had her car stolen this month several blocks from the Capitol. Above, she is seen during a September 2023 interview about what a federal government shutdown could mean for contractors in the Capitol complex. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Willie Price has been delivering newspapers in the Capitol Hill neighborhood for nearly 30 years.

It’s a side job for Price, who also works at a cafeteria in the Library of Congress and said she lives paycheck to paycheck. She picked up the paper route to support her children.

“I’ve been out there for years. Usually nobody bothers me,” Price said in an interview.

That was true until the morning of May 8, around 5:30 a.m., when Price was approached by a masked man with a rifle on a quiet block not far from the Capitol. The man held up Price and her two passengers and made off with her car, her wallet and her cellphone. 

Price was in the driver’s seat at the time of the carjacking, according to the police report. Her cousin was in the back seat, and her cousin’s husband had exited the vehicle to drop off some papers along Seventh Street Southeast. When he got back to Price’s black Hyundai Santa Fe and opened the door, the suspect approached, seemingly out of nowhere.

“I’m always looking in front of me and in back of me,” Price said. “We never saw him coming.”

It was an earth-shattering event for Price and her cousins, who were riding with her that day only because they were having car trouble. The deal was they’d help her with the paper route and she’d drop them off at work when the deliveries were done.

Price said she had some gift cards taken along with her debit and credit cards, plus a $1 coin that a pastor gave her at an Easter service. She also lost several $2 bills that came from her customers at the Capitol complex, where Price is a familiar face. For decades she has served up meals for staff and visitors, and her regulars like to give her the $2 bills because they know she’s a collector.  

Her phone was discovered on the side of the road near where the carjacking took place, apparently tossed out of the vehicle’s window as the suspect sped away. But as of Monday neither her wallet nor the car had been recovered.

“I was totally surprised. I was totally caught off guard. And I’m totally devastated,” Price said.

In the weeks since, she’s started looking into seeing a therapist. With no car, she’s been forced to rent, which insurance covers up to a point but, before long, could become costly. 

She said she’s scared to get back on her route but can ill afford to lose the extra income. So for the time being, she’s going about her business with some alterations. She’s bringing her adult son to ride along with her and waiting until sunrise to begin. 

“People complain because I refuse to go out when it’s dark,” Price said. “It ain’t happening. I’m sorry.”

Price lives just outside of Washington, in Prince George’s County. But she’s worked much of her life in the District. Up until a few years ago, she didn’t worry for her safety. “It’s not safe to me right now. I have fear,” she said. 

Metropolitan Police Department crime data paints a bleak picture of 2023. Crime was up 26 percent citywide, and some offenses, like homicide and motor vehicle theft, saw startling jumps. 

Fear of crime in the District of Columbia has reverberated through Capitol Hill, as lawmakers, particularly Republicans, have sought to capitalize on some of the city’s dysfunction and hold it up as an example of failed liberal policies. 

Congressional committees have held hearings on the topic, and both members and staff have spoken out about their recent experiences as victims. Last year Congress, with the help of President Joe Biden, overrode a local law that would have transformed the city’s criminal code. 

And just last week, the House passed a bill that would permanently block the D.C. Council from enacting any measure to change the city’s sentencing laws, though it faces an uncertain future in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Meanwhile, in Capitol Hill’s Ward 6, Councilmember Charles Allen faces a recall effort over his supposed positions on crime and law enforcement. 

In spite of all of this, MPD data for the first part of 2024 shows some reason for optimism. Crime is down almost across the board compared with the same period last year, the police department reports. 

Still, for victims of crime like Price, the downtick is small consolation. 

“I find myself in the [rental] car crying. I just can’t believe it. These kids are out of hand,” Price said. “That was the first time I had a gun pointed at me. For something that I worked hard for. And it was taken from me.”

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