- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ten years after the Beltway snipers terrorized the D.C. area, residents said they can remember the collective fear felt each day another death was reported and the paranoia that accompanied the most mundane errands.

Goshen United Methodist Church in Gaithersburg hosted an evening prayer vigil Thursday to remember the 10 lives lost during October 2002, when John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo shot people at random going about their daily business. Victims’ Rights Foundation founder W. Gregory Wims is a church member, and Goshen United Methodist was where the first $1,000 was raised to help sniper victims.

As a crowd of about 100 gathered at dusk, holding candles, Mr. Wims said the point of Thursday’s vigil was “to let the community know over the last 10 years we’ve never forgotten the victims and their families.”

Mr. Wims said he knew victim James “Sonny” Buchanan from their time serving on the board for the Boys and Girls Club in Montgomery County. Buchanan, who was fatally shot while mowing lawn, was one of five people killed by the snipers on Oct. 3, 2002.

When Buchanan was killed, for the first time in the four-year history of the foundation, Mr. Wims said, “it became personal.”

The family of sniper victim Premkumar Walekar, who was also shot and killed on Oct. 3, 2002, spoke to the crowd. Walekar was struck by a sniper’s bullet as he gassed up his taxicab in Aspen Hill.

“My father is looking down from the heavens right now,” said his son Andrew.

He said since his father’s death, “people came up to us to share condolences … even strangers. It shows how strong the community is.”

Ken Columbia, a friend of sniper victim James Martin‘s, read a poem he wrote after finding out about the death of his friend. Martin was the first person fatally shot by the snipers, killed on Oct. 2, 2002, in the parking lot of a Shoppers Food Warehouse near Wheaton. Mr. Columbia called his friend “more than a man of 55,” the age Martin was when he died.

Families brought children too young to remember the terror, or not even born during the rampage. Former Montgomery County Public Schools Director of Safety and Security Ed Clarke remarked that the attacks immediately impacted the school district. One of the shooting victims, Iran Brown, then 13, was shot and injured on his way to class at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie.

Mr. Clarke said he came to the vigil to “pay my respects to the victims and remember the tragedy.”

“Those victims didn’t do anything wrong. They were doing everyday things,” he said. “Sometimes the farther away you get from a tragedy, you can start to forget the impact on the lives of the victims and the impact on the entire community.”

Earlier in the day, at a quiet section of Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, several visitors paused a moment at the permanent memorial for the victims to consider the years past.

“The whole time people’s minds were on edge,” said Ira Platt, a 79-year-old Rockville resident. “We were afraid to go different places. Every place you went outdoors, you looked around to see anybody you didn’t recognize.”

Mr. Platt has been volunteering at the 50-acre park in Wheaton for about eight years, but has spent most of his life in Montgomery County. During his volunteer hours, he sees field trips and family visits stop to study the granite rocks etched with the names of the victims or read the six sentences that explain the memorial.

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