- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

The news crackling over the airwaves at breakfast this morning was electrifying: Two men had been arrested in connection with the sniper attacks.
As parents hustled their children off to school, made their way to work or went about their daily errands, more details came in and millions of worried Washington-area residents, after 23 days and 10 deaths, breathed a collective sigh of relief.
"My gut reaction is relief," said Craig Brown, 43, of Olney, who pumped gas at the Mobil gas station in Aspen Hill where his neighbor Premkumar Walekar, a cab driver, was gunned down three weeks ago today.
"Today's news is by far the best news we've had linked to his case so far. Let's just hope it's a defining moment for every single person, the community, the local police, the federal agencies and especially, more than anything else, for the victims' families. Let's hope that this brings peace and sense of closure to the pain that they've been going through," Mr. Brown said.
Others were incredulous. "I don't think they're the snipers; I really don't. And I'm not being racist snipers are not usually black," said Milton Peoples, a 59-year-old black man working at an Aspen Hill shopping center. "As a rule, most serial killers, the majority of them, are not black."
Most area residents out today were cautiously optimistic about the arrests.
"I hope it's not too premature to be so optimistic," said Jane Sills, a retired Prince William County schoolteacher who lives in Clifton. "It's something that we've all been waiting for, and I just hope we're not overreacting."
Police also remained on high alert.
"Until we know anything, there's been no change in our activity," said an on-duty Montgomery County police officer in the parking lot of the Aspen Hill shopping center.
It has been a fearful and uncertain wait since Oct. 2, when the sniper began his rampage in the Washington area.
People did everything they could to avoid becoming the sniper's next victim.
Motorists and shoppers were nervous gassing their cars. Schools in the region operated and continued to function today under lockdown restrictions. Schools in the Richmond area shut down for two days earlier this week, after the sniper wounded a Florida man outside a restaurant in Ashland, Va.
Schools canceled soccer, football and field hockey games and moved practices indoors. In a few cases, they even arranged secret bus convoys, bringing students to secure, undisclosed locations to compete in virtually empty stadiums.
Some switched their bus stops; others drove their children to school rather than have them take the bus.
Margaret Chillum, 32, of Falls Church, said she had heard of the arrests this morning but still chose to drive her daughter, Jessica, to her nearby elementary school.
"I just don't feel safe at this point," Mrs. Chillum said. "I won't feel safe until I know for sure that these are the guys who did the killings."
"I'm not ready to completely believe this is it, but I sure as hell hope it is," said Kathy Zelaya, whose home in Falls Church is less than a mile from the Home Depot where the sniper killed FBI analyst Linda Franklin Oct. 14.
Mrs. Zelaya's 6-year-old daughter had asked whether there would be any Halloween activities this year. This morning, the 40-year-old mother was looking forward to taking her two children trick-or-treating and weighing when it would be safe to return to the park where they had played before the shootings began.
The parking lot of the home-improvement store was bustling with customers, mostly construction workers and contractors, who also welcomed the news of the arrests.
"If that's the case, I'm glad," said Brian Normile, 34, a builder from Arlington. "The last 10 days around here have not been normal. I was somewhat worried, and let's just say I wouldn't have been here if I didn't have to be."
Eduardo Patino, a 35-year-old contractor from Fairfax, said he could breathe a sigh of relief now that he won't be stopped anymore for driving a white Ford Econoline van with a ladder rack. During the investigation, someone called police to question Mr. Patino about his van.
"I use my truck to pick up things, and I was terrified," Mr. Patino said as he shopped at the store. "I'm glad he's caught."
George Desola, 59, a businessman from Richmond, said that it would be difficult to get back to normal. "I hope these men are the people we're looking for so we, as a country, can get back to normal. I don't think we need any more fear in this country."
"We all want to get back to normal; it's just we don't know what normal is anymore," Mr. Desola's co-worker, Rob Savage, 51, said.
Arlo Wagner, Mary Shaffrey and Henry Brier contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire reports.

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