They were chanting for both reconciliation and the condemnation of Haiti's military leaders when the shots rang out, ripping into the crowd of hundreds of pro-democracy Haitian demonstrators and tearing through the chest of mortuary worker Sinclair Joseph.
The demonstrators had just left the thousands who had gathered for hours outside the Haitian Parliament on Wednesday afternoon as it met to consider a general amnesty for military crimes just like this one--bullets fired at unarmed civilians by a wing of Haiti's dreaded paramilitary apparatus.
There was a moment of fury. Joseph clearly was critically wounded, as were some others, and the crowd was about to become a mob.
Suddenly, a U.S. Army unit moved in, blocking all the streets around the nearby headquarters of the paramilitary force--the protesters' apparent target--and blaring through loudspeakers polite warnings to stay back.
Within minutes, the demonstrators regrouped and started up another chant: "Killing or no killing, the amnesty will go through."
Such, it seemed, was the mood of forgiveness among the Haitians in the capital's streets on Wednesday: guarded, though apparently sincere, support for the amnesty on what most hoped was the eve of the end of their three-year nightmare.
There were taunts and jibes, to be sure. Their targets were members of Parliament who have backed Haiti's army chief, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, in the coup that overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide three years ago Friday.
In ragged T-shirts and baseball caps, some of the throng shouted voodoo curses as they blocked the passage of late-model Jeeps bearing parliamentarians in fine dark suits--delaying their arrival for the legislative session, which began more than two hours late. Others denounced them as zenglodo , a Creole word for invaders who rob and kill at night.
But none called for vengeance.
"For me, this amnesty is nothing," said Maurice Marcelin, 26, an unemployed university graduate with degrees in engineering and telecommunications who had been chiding the military-backed legislators for destroying Haiti's economy and dimming his own future.
"God tells us we should give a pardon," he said. "Look, when you have a child who makes a mistake, you talk to him. You forgive him. And then you go on. So it is good to pardon people even when they have done such things to you."
Elsewhere in the throng, Jonas Thelumas was more pragmatic. He too complained about unemployment, unofficially estimated at more than 80%. "We are young people. We have gone to school, and now we have nothing to do."
But when asked about the amnesty under consideration inside the 30-year-old Parliament building, Thelumas said: "This is good, because it is a means to an end. I'm happy not so much about the amnesty but that after that something good will happen."
That "something good" was also reflected in the daylong chants of "Vive Aristide!" After three years of exile in the United States, the Roman Catholic priest, who was elected in December, 1990, is due to return after Cedras and Haiti's other military rulers step down--by Oct. 15, the deadline set by the agreement with former President Jimmy Carter.
Simon Whitner, who also spent Wednesday afternoon near the barbed-wire cordon around Parliament, clearly was among the core of Aristide supporters known as lavalas , a Creole word that roughly means a deluge.
"Together! Together! We will prepare the day," declared the poster bearing Aristide's photograph that Whitner held as he spoke firmly but gently about what he hopes that day will hold.
"These people in the military must answer for what they have done, because they have spilled so much of our blood in these three years," he said.
"There shall be justice, but it must not be violent justice. Our priest, President Aristide, knows how to bring this justice according to the law."
But Whitner also echoed most of the crowd in his anger at what the last three years have wrought. "There must be some justice, because every day, when you leave your house here, you see two or three dead people in the street. They whip your sisters, your brothers disappear, and your friends are left to die in the street."
In this street, a few feet away, 11-year-old Ilfranc Joseph, an orphan from one of Port-au-Prince's many slums, was in fact dying. He had been in a bus accident, was mistreated at a local hospital and now had lain for several hours half-naked beneath a plastic sheet, his stomach ballooning with infection in the broiling sun.
Maj. Gen. David C. Meade, deputy commander of U.S. forces here, happened by. Within minutes, a dozen American soldiers clambered over the wire with a stretcher, lifted the boy onto it and carried him to a local hospital.
The crowd was stunned. After the soldiers left, a frantic woman grabbed a reporter on the scene.
"I have never seen an army do such a thing in my life," she said with awe. "Your army in America actually helps people? Here, we will be happy if only they just go away. That's why the people support the amnesty.
"But this thing I just saw your American soldiers do, this is something beyond our dreams. Is this what democracy means?"