- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Conrad Johnson was the “ace in the hole” for his fellow Montgomery County bus driver James Snow, the kind of guy he could play ball with, talk to about cars and invite over for dinner.

That bond ended abruptly Oct. 22, when Mr. Johnson became the final victim of the sniper shootings. Mr. Snow was among those who attended a memorial last night in Rockville for the victims of last year’s shootings, to show his old friend he hadn’t forgotten.

“I’m so used to him calling me up and telling me when we’re going to meet up. I truly miss that,” Mr. Snow said.

About 200 people went to the candlelight vigil and interfaith prayer service to remember those who died in the Washington-area sniper shootings, a year after six killings in 24 hours plunged the region into three weeks of fear.

Relatives of six of the victims filled three rows in front of the stage. Some wept quietly as Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan slowly read of the names of the dead. They helped plant a Japanese red maple tree as a permanent memorial.

Two who survived shootings were also among the families — Iran Brown, who was 13 when he was shot Oct. 7 outside Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, and a 43-year-old woman shot Oct. 4 in Fredericksburg, Va.

Bob Meyers read a letter about his brother Dean Harold Meyers’ passion for his 1966 Stingray Corvette, canoeing and family picnics on the Fourth of July. Dean Meyers was shot Oct. 9 in Manassas as he pumped gas. Deborah Cox read a poem for her brother, James “Sonny” Buchanan, who died Oct. 3 while mowing grass in Bethesda.

“This helps keep the memory of my husband alive,” Mr. Johnson’s widow, Denise, said after the vigil.

John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo are accused of the shootings in Maryland, Virginia and other states dating back as far as February 2002.

But it wasn’t until the Oct. 2 slaying of James Martin, killed in the parking lot of the Shoppers Food Warehouse in Wheaton, and five more deaths the next day that authorities and the public realized people were being shot randomly.

Four more persons were killed and three injured during the weeks that followed in shootings that ranged as far south as Ashland, Va.

“As a community, we had taken away from us an intangible called tranquility,” said Michael Subin, president of the Montgomery County Council.

Mr. Muhammad, 42, and Mr. Malvo, 18, were arrested Oct. 24 at a Frederick County rest stop as they slept in their car.

In the crowd was Maj. Stephen Sellers, a Fairfax County investigator who heads the sniper task force preparing for both trials.

“I’m here because I care; that’s the bottom line,” he said. “And to let the families know that we are working on the best prosecution possible.”

Many people who showed up had no ties to those who died but came to pay their respects. The randomness of the shootings still reverberates with Ed Clark of Olney, the feeling that anyone could be a target.

“They were everyday people doing everyday things,” he said. “It makes you appreciate your own life a little more.”

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