Gunman is sighted, school locked down

Masked man eludes Prince George's police

November 08, 2005|By MELISSA HARRIS | MELISSA HARRIS,SUN REPORTER

UPPER MARLBORO -- Maylisa Edmonds heard the helicopters buzzing over her house late yesterday morning. Minutes later, NewsChannel 8 in Washington switched to live footage of her daughter's school. Then the phone rang. It was her daughter's godmother. She had heard about it on the radio.

A man carrying a long gun and wearing a black ski mask and jacket had tried to enter Arrowhead Elementary in Prince George's County about 11:15 a.m. after a patrol officer began chasing him, forcing the principal to lock down the building.

About 80 officers scoured the two-square-mile wooded area around the Upper Marlboro school for three hours without finding anyone, while anxious parents tuned in to live coverage.

"I was on the edge of my seat until she just got dropped off here," said Edmonds, who walked her 5-year-old, Alissa, home shortly before school was dismissed at the regular time. "I've been nervous that some crazy man was going to try and shoot kids again."

The incident, which evoked memories of the deadly sniper attacks that nearly paralyzed Washington's suburbs three years ago, unfolded after an officer responding to another call spotted the masked man's gun and swung his car around to pursue him.

The man saw the officer and ran toward the school, attempting to enter through a door, said Cpl. Diane Richardson of the Prince George's County Police Department. The door was locked in accordance with school policy, police said, and the man fled.

The school went into lockdown mode. An emergency was announced over the public-address system. Officers were stationed at each entrance. Windows were checked, and about 420 pupils filed into the gymnasium. Roll call was taken to make sure no one was missing.

Though they made no arrests, police declared the area safe and called off the search about 2:30 p.m. But parents and children, some of whom were crying in the gym, were rattled.

"We rushed to the gym, and we didn't know what was going on," said Kaya Patterson, 11, a sixth-grader. "I was frightened, and I was crying, too. You think of your family when that happens."

Ruth Stubbs, whose three grandchildren attend Arrowhead, heard the news on the radio and drove straight to the school, where she initially was delayed by police. As she sat in her car waiting to pass the roadblock, Stubbs broke down.

"It's just terrifying," she said. "I just want to get them in the car and take them home."

Police said they will post extra officers at the school today as a precaution. School officials also sent a letter home to pupils' homes. Two investigators have been assigned to the case, Richardson said.

"Why this person was out here in the first place - that's the big question," she said.

Police said school officials went by the book in following their emergency plans. Kelly Alexander, a spokeswoman for the county school system, said counseling services would be available for pupils if requested.

Reporters and camera crews swarmed Charles George Sr., as he drove through the barricade with his third-grade son, Charles George Jr., in the passenger seat.

"I was nervous at first," the father said. "But police explained what was going on and that calmed me down."

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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