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Killer Escalates Fear Factor in D.C. Community

Shootings: Residents hunker down as business owners take precautions for reluctant customers. Many outdoor activities are curtailed.


WASHINGTON — At a service station in Maryland, manager Danny Tomasian has parked an assortment of vehicles to block the line of fire to his gas pumps.

At a busy restaurant in Virginia, customers have been avoiding the usually popular sidewalk tables, opting for indoor seating. A region where people pride themselves on having reported for work the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon is now dealing with a more insidious form of terror, as yet another shooting--this one in Fredericksburg, Va., on Friday--sank the area into deeper fear.

"We lost our innocence on Sept. 11, and now we're losing it again," said Sally Greenberg, a lawyer with a 7-year old son. "We realize that we can be at risk just going about our daily routine."

Indeed, the life patterns of nearly 5 million area residents are being hurriedly revised to counter the threat of the sniper, who before Friday had killed seven and wounded two. Teenagers are being told to stay indoors. Dog walkers are avoiding parks. Motorists duck and cover as they pump gas, while their passengers hunker down in their seats.

"I walk my son into school every day," said Greenberg, who lives in Washington. "I make sure that I see him go in." She did not feel comfortable giving her son's name.

"His recesses have all been eliminated, and that is rough for a little kid," she continued. "The first day, he told us, 'They're keeping us inside and they won't tell us why.' We explained there was a bad guy shooting people. When he went to bed that night, he said, 'I'm scared of that guy.'

"I said, 'He doesn't get people inside their houses.' "

The shooter "has pretty much succeeded in terrorizing the community," she said.

John Muncie and Jody Jaffe, due to get married in their Silver Spring, Md., backyard on Sunday, said five guests from North Carolina had just canceled plans to attend. Two other friends had called from Boston to gingerly ask if they would be safe.

"We had to assure them this guy is not stalking us," Muncie said.

At Piney Branch Elementary School in nearby Takoma Park, parents were drafted to take turns as front-door guards, checking IDs before allowing anyone into the building. A steady rain kept students indoors, which was just as well since all outdoor recess and sports were canceled.

A new third-grade teacher said she is terrified each time she walks to and from the subway station now. Students in her class, she said, had asked that morning if they would get shot through the window.

"I'm ready to move back to Indiana," she said. "This kind of thing doesn't happen there."

Some long-scheduled events will go on today, including "The Taste of D.C.," a three-day downtown festival of food and music. And the Library of Congress National Book Festival--hosted by First Lady Laura Bush and featuring more than 70 authors, illustrators and storytellers--will take place on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and The Mall. But Capitol police are taking extra security measures, including enclosing the area with snow fences, limiting entry and exit ways and using hand-held metal detectors to check festival-goers.

"People are in a funk," said Tim Gibson, manager of Mexicali Blues, a Mexican/Salvadoran restaurant in Arlington, Va. "People who would normally be out are second-guessing themselves. The longer this takes to resolve, the more effect it will have on people."

Like most restaurants on trendy Wilson Boulevard, Mexicali Blues offers sidewalk seating. But on a clear day earlier in the week, Gibson said he looked down the street at lunchtime and saw few customers dining outdoors.

Business was at a standstill at a service station four blocks away from Friday's fatal shooting near Fredericksburg, which has many similarities to the others but has not yet been forensically linked to them. Zulfiquar Ali, manager of the Four Mile Fork Shell station, spent the afternoon counting cigarette cartons and sodas because there was nothing else to do. "Business is very, very bad," Ali said. "People are scared."

Mike Dunavant, an assistant manager at a nearby Food Lion supermarket, said employees as well as customers are fearful for their safety.

"After I heard about the shooting this morning, I had to get gas," he said. "I was standing there thinking, 'It could be me.' "

Tomasian, the Bethesda, Md., gas station manager, remained defiant. "This is not going to stop capitalism," he said. "This is not going to stop the American way."

But he added that small-business owners must take the initiative and reassure their customers that they are taking steps to protect them.

"I basically keep my eyes open and tell my guys to keep their eyes open," he said. "You try to reassure customers. You put up as many obstacles as you can to make it as difficult as possible" for the shooter.

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