Ten innocent people are dead, brutally assassinated by an unseen predator.
Since Oct. 2, residents of Washington, D.C. and surrounding suburban areas have fallen into a steadily increasing panic. Recess is canceled and cars sit in garages. People are afraid to leave their homes. Nearly a thousand miles away at UM, these terrifying events are hitting some students uncomfortably close to home.
Sophomore Stephanie Cochran’s family lives in McLean, VA, and for them, a small change in plans resulted in no less than a miracle.
“The Home Depot shooting was really, really close to my house. My mom was actually supposed to go to that Home Depot, that same night, but for some reason, she didn’t go,” Cochran recalled.
Freshman Josh Frank’s family lives minutes away from the Rockville line. His concerns stemmed from the immediate proximity to his family and friends, explaining that one of the shootings occurred right down the street from a relative’s apartment.
“It’s particularly uncomfortable that every time I turn on the TV I see my town and my police chief talking. . . I don’t expect to see that over a thousand miles away,” Frank said.
Frank remembered the local news reports on the first day of the shootings. “The police chief said our homicide rate for the year just went up 25 percent.”
Senior Courtney Dilallo from Silver Spring, MD explained that, while her parents hadn’t expressed their anxiety to her, she could tell they were still very apprehensive.
“When my dad goes to the gas station, he makes sure there’s something between him and a possible bullet,” she said. “The other day he went to the [military] base for gas because he felt safer there.”
As obscurity surrounds the motives of the sniper, confused students can only speculate about the purpose of these seemingly random attacks.
“He’s crazy, but I think there may be a political reason behind it or I think he would have gone somewhere else,” senior Mary Clark said. “It’s just a few weeks before the election in the most political area in the country.”
“He’s someone’s next-door neighbor,” sophomore Denisa Canales, a native of Rockville, MD said. “I think he woke up one morning and just decided to kill people – this guy definitely thinks he can be in control.”
“I think he’s probably trying to mess with the community as a whole,” freshman Jacob Penniman from McLean, VA said.
Senior Alina Massey from Richmond, VA returned last Sunday from visiting her boyfriend in Fairfax, VA for the weekend.
“We felt like sitting ducks [at the gas station],” Massey said. “I fear that it’s terrorist-related, because if there is an organization behind it, this way makes it easier to get away.”
Part of the shock surrounding these devastating events revolves around the fact that the murders have taken place in such suburban vicinities.
People tend to associate violent crimes with major metropolitan areas, but according to students from the targeted neighborhoods, they don’t fit the profile for crimes of such a massive scale.
“People think of D.C. as a metro area, and it’s not,” Clark explained. “D.C is not like New York or Miami – people are lulled into a false sense of security.”
“For a community like Montgomery County, it’s really strange,” Frank said. “It’s suburbia – you don’t think about things like that happening.”
Many concerns seem to center on the inability of the authorities to locate the sniper.
“I think this whole situation is really terrifying, not that there is a sniper in particular, but that he hasn’t been caught,” said Angela Henry, a student from Essex, MD. “He apparently knows what he’s doing well enough to get away with it 13 times now – that’s pretty scary.”
“What disturbs me most is that they can’t find him, or even narrow it down,” Dilallo said. “I have little faith in the Montgomery Police.”
Despite the anxiety that already surrounds the case, many are worried about the repercussions of future events if police do catch the perpetrator.
“He’s risking his own life to hurt so many others, and it seems like he doesn’t care what it takes,” Angela Henry said. “I think his own passion and the fact he doesn’t care about his life will get him caught in the end.”
“I don’t think he’s going to go peacefully,” Frank said. “If he is doing this for publicity, he’ll probably want to go out in a blaze of glory.”
Many are trying to remain positive.
“Kids from the area are really grouping together here,” Frank said. “Unfortunately, something like this has to happen to bring people together.”
“The chances of actually getting shot are pretty slim, despite the overall number of shootings,” Massey said.
“Most of the people I’ve talked to don’t seem too concerned because it’s such a slight chance,” Penniman said.
“I don’t really know what precautions you can take when you don’t know what to look for,” said Cochran, who will be visiting McLean, VA, during Halloween.
“If they don’t catch this guy, I’m not looking forward to going home,” Canales said.