New scares at Halloween

Safety: Police urge more caution by trick-or-treaters and their parents after terrorist and anthrax attacks.

October 25, 2001|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Howard County police believe Halloween could be a real nightmare this year. But merchants, parents and other Baltimore-area police departments aren't quite as concerned.

Howard police issued a news release this week urging parents to allow trick-or-treaters to accept candy only from close friends and family because of the terrorist and anthrax attacks.

They also asked The Mall in Columbia and Ellicott City Business Association to cancel their traditional Halloween events this year, spokeswomen for the mall and Ellicott City merchants said yesterday.

"I cannot stress enough that children should not visit the homes of strangers on Halloween this year," Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay said in a statement.

Livesay issued the advisory after three confirmed deaths from inhalation of anthrax, weeks of frantic false alarms about powdery white substances and several rumors about Halloween terror, which have been circulating on the Internet.

Despite the fright, Howard County's merchants have decided the Halloween show must go on. Costumed children can trick-or-treat from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at businesses on historic Main Street in Ellicott City and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the mall.

"When we began planning this year, we realized that maybe this wasn't the best time to have an event like this," said Vickie Goeller, who coordinates Trick or Treat on Main Street. "But we think it's important to continue. The thinking is that kids will be out anyway, and we might as well have something safe and fun for them to do."

Karen Geary, vice president and general manager of The Mall in Columbia, said, "We feel strongly that families deserve the opportunity to enjoy this traditional event."

The Rouse Co., which owns the Columbia mall, distributes about 2.5 million pieces of candy at its shopping center each Halloween, Geary said.

Many local parents remain similarly steadfast in their conviction to continue Halloween activities.

"I think it's ridiculous that people would want to cancel it," said Michele Foster who lives in the northern Howard development of Waverly Woods. "What do they think is going to happen? Do they think someone will open a door and a terrorist will come out?"

Foster and her 10-year-old son - dressed as a character from Scream - plan to go door to door in their neighborhood Halloween night, just as they always do.

Foster said forfeiting Halloween would deal Americans a psychological blow. "The innocence of these kids has the potential to be taken away," she said. "We have to be careful not to let that happen."

Diana Thompson of Marriotsville said she has no fear about taking her 3-year-old Cinderella and 7-year-old cheerleader trick-or-treating on their cul-de-sac. The family has lived there a year, but Thompson said she is sure that it is safe.

"Of course, we'll all be careful," she said. "But we should do that anyway."

Still, Howard police intend to be on high alert.

"In this time of heightened caution in the county and throughout the nation, it is essential that parents be especially careful," Livesay said. The chief warned that anyone playing terrorism-related pranks would be arrested.

Howard police said they had created emergency response teams to handle potential terrorist threats countywide and to respond to 911 calls about suspicious mail and packages, including potential anthrax cases.

The teams will be working Halloween, and the number of patrol officers will be increased, Howard police said.

Concern about the holiday also has flared in several other areas of the country. The mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, urged children there not to go trick-or-treating this year, and Microsoft canceled its annual company Halloween party.

In the Baltimore area, other police departments were more low-key than Howard in their seasonal warnings.

Anne Arundel County police urged residents to use common sense.

"We're asking that people recognize the current climate and be even more careful than they would on a normal Halloween night," said Officer Charles Ravenell, a department spokesman.

Cpl. Vickie Warehime, spokeswoman for Baltimore County police, said people handing out candy should thoroughly check what they are passing out, a typical Halloween caution.

Harford County and Laurel, in northern Prince George's County, reported no special plans for Halloween. Spokesmen for both departments noted that extra police could be deployed quickly, if necessary.

In Howard, many shoppers were busy yesterday buying Halloween costumes and decorations in places such as Forget-Me-Not Factory on Main Street in Ellicott City, which sells costumes and fantasy-themed items.

Soldier, police, fire and fantasy costumes are flying off the racks, while gruesome masks are not moving as quickly as they usually do, said employees at several area costume shops.

"People need to keep their traditions," said Barry Gibson, a Forget-Me-Not Factory employee who dresses as Merlin. "It's been a struggle to get back to normal, but these traditions help."

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