Parents express shock and fear upon learning of suspects' list
By By Sara Neufeld
Oct 30, 2003 | 3:00 AM
Daniell Sainato heard the news yesterday that her sons' schools were on a list apparently penned by the serial sniper suspects. And she was sickened by the thought of what might have been.
"I didn't even want to continue that thought," she said. "I can't even imagine."
Sainato had one son in sixth grade at Arbutus Middle School and another in pre-kindergarten at Arbutus Elementary at the time of last year's attacks. Those schools were two of five on a list found in sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad's Chevrolet Caprice after he and his alleged accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, were arrested, according to testimony at the sniper trial yesterday.
Saying that she planned to hug her children a little tighter last night, Sainato is one of many Baltimore County parents now realizing that fears they had during last fall's attacks were justified despite the absence of shootings in the Baltimore area.
Sainato said she didn't think for a moment that officials were overreacting when they canceled after-school activities and field trips, and kept children indoors during gym classes and while they waited for buses.
Baltimore County schools spokesman Charles A. Herndon said the system took every precaution it could last fall, but had no inkling that the suspects could have had an eye on their schools. The other three schools on the list were Campfield Early Learning Center, Maiden Choice School and Catonsville Middle School.
"Anybody who lives in the Baltimore area would find this news chilling," Herndon said. "There's no way anyone could have known at the time the suspects were operating in the Baltimore area. Apparently they were."
Lillian Acton hasn't stopped worrying about her 12-year-old granddaughter's safety, so she drives her to and from Arbutus Middle School every day - even though they live just down the street.
Yesterday's news made her even more determined to keep doing that.
"There are people who could copy them," she said. "That's what makes you nervous now. ... The families that lost dear ones, they will never get over that."
Many parents picking up their children at Arbutus Elementary yesterday had not heard of the courtroom development.
"I can't believe it," said Sahray Jones, whose son, 5, and nieces, 7 and 8, attend the school.
"Oh my God," said Dennis Boyd, who has a daughter in third grade at Arbutus Elementary and a son in eighth grade at Arbutus Middle. "Just to hear that makes me very upset."
Last fall, Boyd said, he would wait for his son by the middle school office in the afternoons. He has gone back to waiting outside in the car.
"Just like everything else, you get a little more comfortable as time goes on," he said. "But now you're scaring me again."
Standing outside Arbutus Elementary yesterday afternoon with 14-month-old daughter Katie in a stroller, Joe Dyson said the news confirmed that he made the right decision to keep his son Patrick home from school for a few days last fall. Patrick, 9, is now in fourth grade at the school.
"I've got to tell my wife," Dyson said. "That should frighten her pretty good."
By the end of the day, word had reached some parents and staff members of Campfield Early Childhood Center in the secluded Villa Nova neighborhood just west of the city line and north of Liberty Road. Though they said the news was surprising and disturbing, it lacked the punch it would have had a year ago.
Karen Law, who was picking up her son Aaron, said it never occurred to her that the snipers would come to Baltimore
County, much less Campfield.
"I was just shocked when my mom told me," Law said.
Earl Runningwater walked with his granddaughter, Ajah, 3, to pick up her sister, Amari, 5, a kindergartner at Campfield. The former Marine said the snipers would have regretted it if they'd tried anything there. "I tell you what, if they had come up this way, I'd have gotten them," Runningwater said.
He said he didn't worry about the snipers then and he doesn't worry about his granddaughters' safety now because he makes sure to walk them everywhere and pays close attention to what's going on around him. "There's a lot of crazies out here, believe me," he said. "You've got to be on point."
At Catonsville Middle School on Edmondson Avenue, Barbara Kreft was sitting in her minivan waiting to pick up her daughter Kelly, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, when she learned about the list in Muhammad's car.
Kreft said she and Kelly were both scared last year. "I kept telling myself and telling her it was down in Bowie," said Kreft, referring to the shooting of a middle school student there. "I was trying to reassure her. She said, 'Mom, that's only 30 minutes away.'"
But as frightened as she was then, Kreft said, "now I'm even more frightened."
Tyler Szarko, 12, said he was "freaked out" to learn about the list. "We knew he was out there, but we never thought he would come to our school," he said.
At Maiden Choice, an Arbutus school for children with disabilities and special needs, Principal Sharon Ward learned that her school was a potential target about three weeks ago when a book about the sniper shootings was released. She said she made parents aware of the situation.
Robert Darden of Parkville, a nurse for a Maiden Choice student, said he understood why the school would be a target, being so close to the Beltway and Route 1.
Arbutus Middle School Principal Margaret Sholl, whose school has 940 students, said the news about Maiden Choice hit "a little too close to home" because the schools are less than a mile from each other.
And then, it did hit home.
After the two suspects were arrested last year, Sholl said, a wave of relief swept over the school as routines returned to normal. Yesterday, she said, "it's like feeling that relief all over again."
Staff writers Larry Carson, Andrew A. Green, Linda Linley, Stephanie Desmon and Liz Bowie contributed to this report.