- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

For weeks, Vida Ess and her classmates have stayed after school and worked weekends to build their first homecoming float.
They had set up the plywood frames and reinforced them with chicken wire by last week and were going to put the finishing touches on their creation this week just in time for the parade Friday.
But the freshmen at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County now wonder whether their hard work will ever be seen. School administrators, jittery over the recent sniper attacks, are considering canceling homecoming.
Life in suburban Washington has changed dramatically for residents since a sniper began a random shooting spree Oct. 2, killing eight of the 10 persons shot.
People have stopped going to health clubs with windows, steered clear of parks and playgrounds, and called ahead of time to outdoor events to see whether it's safe to come out.
The attacks have been carried out in public places as the victims went about their daily tasks. Four of the fatal shootings occurred at gas stations.
Some are putting on body armor before filling their gas tanks at local service stations or shielding themselves with a car door to keep safe. Children, scared to stay in the car by themselves, now stand beside their parents while they fill up the tank.
"It's just too bad. Everyone is a victim," said James Chaplin, of Manassas, as he pumped gas at a Sunoco service station where a Maryland man was fatally shot by the sniper Wednesday.
Parents are picking up their children from school, in case the sniper decides to shoot at another student walking home from school. One of the surviving victims was a 13-year-old boy who was shot when he was dropped off at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie.
"The idea of moms taking their kids to school and sheltering them from a potential sniper attack is not the America I know," President Bush said yesterday. "It is a form of terrorism."
Yesterday marked the sniper's longest break two days and counting since the killing spree began 12 days ago.
But the lull did little to restore a sense of normalcy in Maryland, Virginia and the District, as many residents remained fearful of completing the most mundane of chores: shopping for groceries, filling their gas tanks, walking to school or going to the gym.
Many believe that it's only a matter of time before the killer strikes again.
"There is a lot of fear out there right now," said Lynn Hertz, a manager of Cox Farms, an outdoor farmer's market in Centreville that operates a pumpkin patch. "Parents are fearful for their children, and schools are canceling their field trips to our pumpkin patch. We hope things turn around by the end of the month, for Halloween."
Juanita Tellez, of Manassas, is afraid to walk her 2-year-old son, Andy, to the baby sitter down the street from her house.
"I'm afraid for Andy," she said. "I look around every time I take him to the baby sitter's. I don't want to go anywhere," she said.
People in and around the District are on high alert.
Residents began confusing the sounds of cars backfiring, windows shattering and firecrackers popping with gunshots, believing they are related to the string of random shootings.
"We admit that everyone is edgy. People are hearing things," said Montgomery County police Chief Charles A. Moose, who is leading the multiagency investigation into the sniper attacks. "Things are occurring that may normally be overlooked or that may be routine, are certainly getting a higher response from people in their anxiety."
People are choosing to stay indoors, at least for now.
Local walking tours are getting fewer customers.
"They just weren't coming," said Mary Kay Rick, head of Tour D.C., a walking-tour group. "It's even worse than it was after the September 11 attacks. It's so random and so scary I think people are just hunkering down."
Attendance was down at the Taste of D.C., an annual outdoor food and music festival in the District. An estimated 225,000 people attended the first day of the three-day festival, compared with the first-day average of 300,000 from previous years, said a spokeswoman for the District's Convention and Tourism Corp., which produces the event.
"The whole randomness of it people don't really know how to change their lives," said Brent Gilmore at an Exxon station on Route 1 in Arlington's Crystal City section.
Last week, schools in Maryland, Virginia and the District banned students from playing outside and canceled field trips. High school football games were canceled or postponed, as were homecoming parades and dances.
So far this week, all school systems remain in a lockdown or "Code Blue" status. Police continue to patrol schools, and there is extra security in hallways. However, indoor activities continued as usual, including all scheduled SAT testing in Virginia schools.
"We are doing this one day at a time," said Bonny Fahy, a spokeswoman for Prince William County public schools.
"As of right now, all field trips are on hold and our buildings are locked," she said, adding that even the schools' front doors were locked.
Earl Hawkins, supervisor for interscholastic athletics for Prince George's County public schools, said some schools were considering conducting homecoming parades indoors or postponing them until winter.
"A couple of schools have talked of indoor parades in the multipurpose room and using mini-floats. Schools are trying to exercise their creativity," he said.
Some schools had teams hold indoor practice Friday and Saturday, Mr. Hawkins said, although there were none yesterday because of the Columbus Day holiday. He said the cancellations are taking their toll on student athletes.
"They are not working on their skills, running or executing plays. They are missing vital time at practice," he said.
Parents said they are trying to keep things as normal as possible at home.
"I am not discounting the threat, but I am not going to let it blind me me or my children," said Prince George's County parent Donna Beck, who says she has not curtailed her children's outdoor activities.
Mrs. Beck, whose son attends Frederick Douglass High School, said she makes it a point to keep up with her children's whereabouts during the day.
"We know each other's schedules more now. We are continuing with our lives, but we are just being more cautious," she said.
Others said people have to go on with their lives without worrying about the sniper attacks.
"You got to pick up the pieces and keep going," said James Hamief, who was visiting the District from New Orleans. "What's going to happen is going to happen."

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