- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

The Washington-area sniper has slain at least nine persons in 21 days, averaging one kill about every two days.
Those figures have shaken the metropolitan region's 4.65 million residents, but statistics indicate more likely dangers lurk on neighborhood streets and sidewalks.
According to National Safety Council statistics, an average of more than 100 people are killed in car accidents across the country every day.
"The risk of being shot or killed by the sniper is very, very small," said George Gray, acting director of the Center for Risk Analysis at Harvard University.
"There are greater risks out there that can occur in the everyday things that people do," Mr. Gray said. "It's just in this case, it's the uncertainty of the crimes and the unpredictability, the not knowing what's going to happen next, is what pushes people's anxiety buttons."
Because at least 12 persons in the metropolitan area have been shot by the sniper and nine have died, there is about a 1-in-357,692 chance of being shot by the sniper and a 1-in-465,000 chance of being killed by the gunman, based on the number of shootings and the total population.
That compares to the 1-in-400 chance of dying of a heart attack this year, the one-in-5,304 chance of dying in a fall, the 1-in-5,877 chance of dying in a car accident and the 1-in-81,487 chance of dying in a house fire.
Criminologist Joanne Savage said most residents are safe from the sniper, but everyone's risk of being hurt by the gunman is slightly elevated because the attacks have occurred in public places. Knowing that, people can stay out of harm's way, she said.
"Nobody can be eliminated except by the locations of the shootings," said Miss Savage, an assistant professor at American University. "But given that, there are still long lines at bus depots. We don't hear about the thousands of people who go grocery shopping every day in our area, or the number of people who get gas at the service stations. Those people aren't getting shot."
Yet people in the Washington and Richmond metropolitan areas are terrified. The sniper has shot his victims in public places, including four at local gas stations. One occurred outside a middle school in Bowie.
Schools have kept hundreds of thousands of students indoors for two weeks and canceled sports events and other outdoor activities.
Residents drawn to the area's parks, trails and other recreation sites have chosen to restrict their outdoor activities and stay home. Some motorists have opted to wear flak jackets when filling their cars with gas.
"We realize that the person or the people involved in this have shown a clear willingness and ability to kill people of all ages, all races, all genders, all professions, different times, different days and different locations," Montgomery County police Chief Charles A. Moose said yesterday during a press conference.
Psychologist Barcuh Fischoff, a risk-perception analyst at Carnegie Mellon University, said the most frightening risks are those that are new and are forced upon us. The sniper is both.
Residents are scared because it is impossible to accurately quantify the risk, Mr. Fischoff said. Those who argue that the risk of being hit by sniper is lower than that of being struck by lightning are wrong, he said.
"We just don't know how big the risk is," Mr. Fischhoff said. "If the risk is a death per day for the foreseeable future, that's a much more substantial risk than the risk of dying from lightning. No one is at more or less risk right now."
The bottom line is how people perceive the risks, Mr. Gray said, adding that the best way to cope with the sniper attacks is to keep the risks in perspective.
"The problem with being afraid is, it can make us do things that actually increase our risk of getting injured or killed," he said.
In most cases, there are things a person could do to avoid risk, like exercising to improve health or wearing sunscreen to protect one's skin from exposure in summer.
"In this case, it's hard to think of one thing you could to do avoid risk," Mr. Gray said. "And that is what's scary."

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