A day after Bowie shooting, tensions high at Md. schools

Police find shell casing

reward for sniper grows to more than $237,000

October 09, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon and Del Quentin Wilber | Stephanie Desmon and Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Maryland's governor decried a sniper's rampage as "absolute cowardice" and scores of fearful parents escorted children to suburban schools yesterday, saying goodbye only as their sons and daughters were let in safely by teachers and principals.

It was hard for many to leave their children a day after a 13-year-old boy was critically wounded moments after being dropped off at a Prince George's County middle school, the latest victim of a sniper whose targets seem to be anyone going about their normal routines.

"I didn't want to just drive him here and then drop him off 50 feet from the door," said Henry Ollie, who walked his 12-year-old son Charles, a seventh-grader, inside Benjamin Tasker Middle School just before 8 a.m. "The child was shot less than 50 feet from the door."

Meanwhile, police spoke yesterday of having few new leads in finding the person who has stalked the region with a high-powered rifle for a week now. Investigators said they had recovered a spent shell casing, apparently fired by the gunman in the Monday morning attack at the Bowie school.

The reward for information leading to the sniper - who has killed six people and seriously wounded two since Wednesday - is now more than $237,000, state officials said yesterday. Among the contributors is an out-of-state developer who donated $50,000.

At a news conference yesterday in Rockville, Gov. Parris N. Glendening spoke harsh words about the gunman.

"This is not an individual out there doing something strong or manly. This is a person shooting elderly men, shooting women, and now shooting little children," Glendening said. "This is an act of absolute cowardice."

The sniper has claimed six lives, including that of a man killed in a grocery store parking lot and a woman struck down as she vacuumed her car.

The 13-year-old boy shot Monday was listed in serious but stable condition last night at Children's National Medical Center in Washington. The other survivor, a 43-year-old woman shot Friday in the parking lot of a Michaels crafts store in Fredericksburg, Va., was released yesterday from a hospital in Fairfax.

A day for caution

The morning was tense at schools across Prince George's and Montgomery, the county where most of the shootings occurred. Police cars never seemed to be far away and helicopters buzzed overhead.

Caution was high around the Baltimore area and as far away as St. Mary's County, as school districts beefed up security, canceled outdoor activities and called off field trips. Carroll County appeared to be an exception, as schools tried to return to normal, with football games played as scheduled and children allowed out on the playgrounds.

"The fact that something is happening out there that we have no control over is increasing the anxiety," said Marsha A. Roach, principal at Stoneleigh Elementary in Towson. "I know parents feel it. Teachers feel it. What we're trying to do is not have the children feel it. We're trying to protect them."

Normally, the doors at Stoneleigh open at 8:30 a.m. Yesterday, they were open much earlier, so children would not have to wait outside the red-brick school.

"I don't understand why people are actually going after kids," said Jayne Bernasconi, a Stoneleigh parent who drives her daughters in fourth and fifth grades to school each morning. "If it's terrorism, they're definitely waking us up and cutting us off at the knees."

In Montgomery County, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said attendance was on the "lower end of normal," and fewer students were walking to schools. County schools are closed today for a scheduled teacher training session, and decisions on whether to resume outdoor activities will be made as events dictate. Several officials said they doubt that things will return to normal until police catch the gunman or gunmen.

"People are not going to feel comfortable and I'm not comfortable and superintendents aren't comfortable and parents aren't comfortable with children participating [in outdoor events] as long as we have these random acts," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, "because we don't know where the next one will occur."

Grasmick was on hand at Tasker Middle School yesterday morning as classes resumed. She said teachers were getting back to the business of education and that students, while anxious, seemed to be settling in.

"It was helpful for them not to be at home watching discussions of this on television over and over again," she said.

Flowers for a teacher

Diane McFadden and her daughter, Jessica, a seventh-grader at Tasker Middle, hustled toward the doors carrying a pot of bright-pink flowers yesterday morning. The flowers were for Jessica's teacher, who allowed students to call home Monday on her cell phone.

"Just getting that call was so much comfort," McFadden said.

Jessica usually rides her bike to school. But not yesterday, and not "until this sicko is caught," McFadden said.

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