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DC-area shootings reawaken trauma of 9/11

BY SUSAN KIM | ROCKVILLE, MD | October 6, 2002

"Many thought it was another 9/11."

After six people going about their daily lives in the Washington, DC suburbs were gunned down last week, school children and adults alike said fears they experienced after Sept. 11, 2001 were back in their minds.

The six victims were slain by what FBI officials are calling a "skilled" killer who likely picked them at random. Officials said the same gun was used in two other shootings, one that wounded a northern Viriginia shopper on Friday afternoon, and a shot that shattered a store window in Rockville Wednesday night.

The first victim was killed returning to his car while grocery shopping, the second was mowing a lawn, the third was getting gasoline, the fourth was sitting on a bench, the fifth was vacuuming her van at a gas station and the sixth was standing on a corner waiting to cross the street in Northwest Washington.

These are the kinds of activities people do every day. At least some residents likened the shootings to the anthrax scare because the violence made people feel vulnerable going about their daily lives -- getting the mail or filling the car up.

In these post-9/11 days, children and youth were hit especially hard, said some parents. "Many thought it was another 9/11," said one mother. Her daughter's school was in lockdown all day Thursday, with recess, outside activities and field trips canceled for the day. Montgomery County schools held to the same policy during the school day Friday as investigators continued to search for the killer.

Extracurricular and outdoor activities resumed Friday.

Students in at least three Montgomery County public schools lost a relative in the shooting. Crisis intervention teams were sent to those schools.

Prayer vigils were held by Rockville area United Methodist and Catholic Churches on Saturday night.

The public was given a chance to help investigators by reporting anything suspicious they'd seen. Police reported they were already following up more than 2000 tips by Saturday night.

One person at one of the shooting sites said they saw a white box truck leaving the scene. On Thursday police pulled truck driver after truck driver from vehicles -- many times at gunpoint -- to search the drivers and their trucks. A brightly-colored sticker was affixed on the bumper of trucks that had been checked.

Employees in Rockville and Bethesda offices Thursday described the normally busy streets as eerily empty during lunchtime Thursday and Montgomery County store merchants said Saturday that business was significantly lower than normal.

"People are on edge," said Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose. "We're all human. We're all afraid."

As far away as 40 miles from where the killings took place, suburban gas stations drew bulletproof glass over their cashier windows.

While people expressed their fear they also tried to remember the victims in whatever small ways they could. Someone placed two carnations below the vacuuming machine at the gas station where one victim died. There were flowers on the bench where a 34-year-old woman died.

Police believed the first bullet fired in the shooting spree was one that went through the display window of a Michaels Arts and Crafts store in Wheaton, Md., narrowly missing an employee. Store workers were telling the story Friday of how the bullet's path was thought to have been stopped next to a prayer book -- although the bullet had not yet been recovered by Friday afternoon. The last reported shooting in Fredericksburg, VA, hit a woman loading bags into her car after shopping at a different Michaels.

FBI officials said they aren't considering the murders as hate crimes since the victims were men and women who were racially diverse. One in four people in Montgomery County is foreign born. The county, north of Washington, is one of Maryland's most affluent and is home to many government workers, lobbyists and diplomats.

Police investigators were joined by the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; and Secret Service.

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