For weeks, people in Myersville had hoped that the remote location of their small town in western Frederick County would protect them from attacks by a sniper striking across the Washington suburbs and in Virginia.
But then, early yesterday morning, the sniper crisis arrived in their back yard - at a rest stop along Interstate 70 just a mile or so from the community of 1,500. With it came roadblocks, helicopters, a sea of flashing lights, and a seemingly endless flood of police and journalists.
Within a few hours, two suspects were arrested and their car removed - and Myersville's residents were left to ponder the chilling fact that the suspects had been so close.
"You can imagine the range of emotions," said Mayor Wayne Creadick. He and others "were thinking of all the 'what ifs' that could have happened," he said, even as they were grateful that this could be the end.
"You wonder where he was going to next," said Becky Reeder, who works as a veterinary technician in Frederick and lives in Myersville.
She heard the news when her mother - who was awakened by helicopters and started watching the news in the early morning - called her about 5 a.m.
"I feel more angry now that it was so close," Reeder said, even though the previous shootings did not seem so far away. She had been concerned enough for several weeks to cut down on walking her dog at night.
"It has been in the back of our minds," said Jean Hansford, director of St. Paul's Preschool on Main Street. She pointed to the nearby interstate and the surrounding woods as possible causes of worry.
Yesterday's arrests delivered the message that such fears were not just the product of overactive imaginations.
"It makes you aware this is a small world," Hansford said. "In this day and age, you are not so removed."
In the center of town, two-story homes with wooden front porches and neatly tended gardens crowd Main Street. Many are decorated for the holidays, with pumpkins, fake cobwebs and witches.
But for many, Myersville has been getting closer and closer to the metropolitan area in the past decade, linked by Interstate 70 to the growing sprawl.
In 10 years, the number of homes in Myersville has more than doubled from about 200 to 550, said Kristin Aleshire, town planner for Myersville and neighboring Middletown.
A town that was once solely a row of charming homes and small stores along Main Street, Myersville now has several large housing developments at its northern end and interstate travelers stopping for fast food and gas at the southern end.
The interstate has made it possible for people who want a rural setting to live in Myersville and work in Baltimore, Washington or their suburbs. About 70 percent of residents commute east to work, Aleshire said.
"It used to be a rural community," Hansford said. "Now it is a bedroom community."
Many of Myersville's residents were following the shootings closely because of their connections to the metropolitan areas. But most felt that their homes were safe.
"They definitely expect a more quiet existence," Aleshire said. "People were happy to come back across the county line at the end of the day."
Some thought it would be difficult for a stranger to get close in a small town. "The farther you are from a population center," Aleshire said, "the more conspicuous you become."
But this is not the first time the interstate has brought danger to Myersville.
While police and journalists congregated at the conveniences near the highway, construction was under way a few blocks down the road on two houses that were damaged when a high-speed chase left I-70 and ended on Main Street with a crash.
Last October, the town drew attention when a tractor-trailer carrying cruise missiles went off the interstate and down an embankment, spilling its cargo.
Even day to day, the town feels the effects of the highway. The Fire Department responds to twice as many calls on the interstate than in the town that supports it, Aleshire said.
Still, spectacular crashes and police apprehensions are considered exceptional.
"It is a quiet town," Reeder said. "Normally nothing happens."
People certainly took notice as the scanners started to carry the voices of police officers and other officials yesterday morning. Some residents were awakened by the sound of helicopters, which landed in the McDonald's and Burger King parking lots.
Later yesterday, the sniper was the hot topic of conversation at the bank, the local family restaurant and the Exxon station, where some people found out that they were likely to be interviewed by the media while filling their tanks.
The fact that police apprehended the suspects is likely to be big news across the nation for a day or two. But, Aleshire said, "This is the type of thing a small town will talk about for weeks."
Mayor Creadick asked local deputies to report to the elementary school yesterday morning to reassure parents and children. The school continued to observe lock-down procedures, as it has on and off for weeks.
But Creadick knows his 7-year-old sons are eager to play outside again, and he would like to see events like the Halloween parade proceed.
"I hope we get back to normal life," he said.
Sun staff writer Stephanie Desmon contributed to this article.