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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Shootings mar 100-year tradition

The zoo was crowded with African-American families
US newspapers focus on the fact that shootings at a zoo in Washington on Monday, marred a tradition that has lasted more than a century.

The National Zoo, one of the nation's most popular family and tourist sites, was crowded with thousands of people marking National Zoo's 2000 African-American Family Celebration Day.

The annual event started out with promise, says the Washington Post, sunshine and moderate temperatures; children taking part in Easter egg hunts.

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  • The informal community tradition began some hundred years ago, in part because blacks felt excluded from the annual Easter egg roll at the White House, which also is held on the Monday after Easter.

    For the past eight years, it has been known formally as "African-American Family Day," featuring live music performances, dancers, storytellers, face painting and drums.

    Family-friendly celebration

    One radio station talk show host, Joe Madison told the Post that earlier on Monday, he had been urging African American to recognise the tradition of the day and attend the event.

    But shortly after 1800 (2300 GMT), violence struck at the heart of the family-friendly celebration.

    Witnesses and police officials said what started as a fistfight between two groups of young males left children screaming and running to escape bullets

    "We really have to pray. This clearly speaks to the proliferation of guns in our community," Mr Madison told the paper.

    'Never coming back'

    District of Columbia congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton was quoted in the media as saying the fact that children have guns "is the fault of the Congress of the United States."

    She said the event at the zoo is a "wonderful tradition" but lamented "shootouts at Easter egg hunts - that's what it comes down to."

    The Chicago Tribune says the shooting was all the more shocking because, rarely has the zoo, located in an upscale neighbourhood of northwest Washington, been the scene of violence.

    A number of families who witnessed the violence said it is unlikely they will attend the event again.

    "I am not bringing them back. These are my grandkids. It is not safe," Sandra Edwards, who was visiting the zoo with her grandchildren, told the Washington Times.

    "Our hearts are broken," spokesman for the National Zoo, Bob Hoage, told the newspaper .

    "This has been a happy day, Easter Monday, for over 100 years."

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    See also:

    24 Apr 00 | Americas
    Children shot at US zoo
    15 Apr 00 | Americas
    Two die in US teen shooting
    17 Mar 00 | Americas
    Gun safety deal agreed
    11 Mar 00 | Americas
    Teenager charged after US shooting
    01 Mar 00 | Americas
    Controlling America's gun culture
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