- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

Area school systems will resume all outdoor activities and return to a normal schedule today.

The announcements were made after police conclusively linked the two men arrested yesterday with the sniper shootings last night.

"All of us everyone who works in our school system are breathing a sigh of relief this evening," Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry Weast said after last night's news briefing by the task force.

All outdoor athletic programs in local schools will resume today, and restrictions have been lifted on outdoor recess, physical education classes, open lunch for high school students and field trips in the Washington area, school officials said.

Schools in Arlington, Alexandria, Prince George's and Fairfax counties also announced a return to normal today. Due to logistical issues, athletic events in Fairfax County tomorrow will be held at Fort Belvoir and Quantico Marine Corps Base, where they had been moved earlier because of the ongoing crisis, school officials said.

Spokesmen for D.C. and Anne Arundel County schools said they would issue an update on their plans this morning.

Prince George's County schools spokeswoman Athena Ware said police presence at the schools, however, will continue at least today.

"They've been good about being in the neighborhood residents are used to seeing them. It is not for fear of something additional happening. We still plan to work together for the safety of our children," she said.

A 13-year-old student at the county's Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie was one of the snipers' 13 victims and one of only three to survive.

Parents across the region yesterday reacted with a mixture of relief and caution to news of the arrests.

"I am ecstatic, jubilant, relieved," said Michelle Turner, who has five children in the Montgomery County schools system. "Now we can get up tomorrow morning, take a breath of fresh air and get back to normal."

Since the shooting at Tasker, area schools have turned into virtual fortresses, with locked doors, police patrols and restricted entry. Helicopters buzz overhead and many parents have been walking children to the front doors of schools. Students have been forced to spend time indoors during periods scheduled for outdoor activity. Football, soccer and field hockey practices and games have been canceled or postponed

Parents said their children's lives, and their own, were turned upside down.

Sharon Rice, who has an eighth-grader at Tasker, said she did not send her daughter to school for a whole week after the shooting began and had talked with her husband about sending their two children to her parents' house in Pennsylvania if the violence continued.

Now, she said, she will continue to see her daughter to the front door of the school despite the arrest. "I will continue to do it until my mind and heart is at ease," she said.

This was the third consecutive week that schools canceled outdoor and athletic activity because of the sniper shootings.

At Tasker, a police cruiser sat a few hundred feet from the school yesterday as children poured out of a side door instead of the front door near which the student was shot.

Marina Abernethy, 39, of Bowie said her daughter, Taylor, 12, originally did not want to discuss the sniper situation. That changed when news flooded the media concerning the arrests.

"She kept asking me all the way to school, 'Do you think it's him?'" Ms. Abernethy said.

Patrick Biggs, 13, said his fellow students remained skeptical that the sniper spree had ended.

"They don't believe it's him [in custody]," he said.

Parents said children had been complaining of being confined to the indoors and would be thrilled to return to their regular routines.

"My second-grader can finally have her recess," said Mrs. Turner, who heads the Montgomery County Council of PTAs.

Mrs. Rice said her daughter, a cheerleader, had been practicing her cheers at home to stay in touch. "She is anxious to get back to shopping, to cheerleading, and to just walking out," she said.

Howard Tutman, president of the Prince George's County Council of PTAs, said he had been dropping off his fifth-grader very morning and would often drop into the school during the day to make sure things were all right.

"We will probably still do it tomorrow. We want to make sure these are the perpetrators and there is no false sense that it is all OK," he said.

At Webb Elementary in Northeast, parents said they were also taking a wait-and-see approach.

Veronica Taylor, the mother of a first-grader, arrived early and sat by the door to wait for her little boy.

"I'm hoping to God that the police have arrested the right person. I won't be satisfied until the police are 100 percent positive that they have arrested the right person," she said.

Parents said they hoped police would continue to monitor schools.

"I'm relieved that police have made an arrest, but I don't want the police presence around schools to disappear. If another emergency should arise I want the police, the schools and the teachers to work hand-in-hand," said George Jackson, Webb's PTA president.

George Hertzog, who has a child at Tasker, said there was a continuing need for caution. "Even though they solved this one, you don't know when another one will pop up," he said.

Denise Barnes and Christian Toto contributed to this article.

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