- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

At one time, the loose circle of upright stones watched over by tall trees and overlooking a pond glazed with aquatic plants was informally called Stonehenge because of its loose likeness to the prehistoric original.

This week, the spot in a Montgomery County botanical park will get a new name — Reflection Terrace. Already, the names of the 10 persons killed in the Washington-area sniper shootings have been etched into one of the upright stones. Another stone’s message urges people to pause at the spot.

“Linger here and reflect on those lost to violence,” it reads. “Hope for a more peaceful world. Seek a reverence for life among all people.”

Relatives of those killed in the 2002 sniper shootings will gather Friday at the memorial for its official dedication, almost two years after James Martin was fatally shot in a supermarket parking lot just a half-mile away, the start of what would be three weeks of terror.

Rather than erect an elaborate memorial to those who died, county planners have adapted an existing spot, making only minor changes. The purpose was to create a place of tranquility and meditation, not a sober monument to the slayings.

“It’s lovely, very serene,” said Sonia Wills, mother of Conrad Johnson, a county bus driver fatally shot Oct. 22, 2002. “It’s not like a cemetery. It is somewhere I can go by myself and have some private moments.”

Thirteen persons were shot between Oct. 2 and Oct. 22, 2002. Three survived.

John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested Oct. 24, 2002, at a rest stop in Myersville, Md. The pair, each of whom was convicted in a slaying, also have been tied to shootings in Washington state, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia.

But it was Montgomery County that perhaps suffered the most and the longest.

On Oct. 3, the second day of the rampage, four persons were killed in a three-hour span that morning. The last killing took place in Aspen Hill. The Rockville headquarters of the county police department was home to the massive manhunt.

Plans for the memorial at Brookside Gardens were announced last year by County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, and the county parks division has raised $50,000 to fund the project.

In the past few months, landscapers have replaced a stone walkway that leads to the small site and will plant perennials. Small signs are to be placed near the parking lot to direct visitors to the site.

Stone carvers have etched two upright bluestone blocks, each about 8 feet tall with flat faces. One holds a very brief description of what happened in fall 2002. The other bears the names of those killed and their hometowns.

A third, squat stone bears the inscription encouraging visitors to take time to reflect not on the killings themselves, but on the people behind the names on the stone.

“We didn’t want a lot of wording about the incident itself,” said landscape designer Sunny Scully of the Fairfax firm that worked on the project. “We don’t want it to be memorialized as a negative event.”

Planners gathered family members for lunch at Brookside Gardens on the day that Malvo was sentenced to life in prison in March to show them a computerized mock-up of the memorial. Aside from a few changes to the spellings of the names, all were pleased with what they saw.

“They were very touched,” said Phil Normandy, a plants collection manager at Brookside Gardens who has worked as the memorial’s project manager. “It was already conducive to a place of meditation. I think people liked that.”

Eventually, the memorial will be bordered by hostas, mums and fragrant plants in hopes of attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. The site already offers a clear view of the Japanese-style teahouse across the pond.

Gardener Jim Dwyer said the spot was popular even before the memorial was erected.

“People come out here and think about life,” he said, pausing between dips of his shovel, “or how short it can be.”

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