Sniper attacks alter Washington area
By Sean Loughlin
FALLS CHURCH, Virginia (CNN) -- The goblins that decorate a Halloween garden stand on Route 50 in Northern Virginia are no match for this fall's real terror.
What's scaring Washingtonians is a much more sinister phantom -- a sniper who since October 2 has killed nine people and wounded two others in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Linda Franklin, 47, an FBI analyst, became the sniper's latest victim Monday night in the parking lot of Home Depot in the Seven Corners Shopping Center, across the street from the garden stand. She was shot once in the head as she and her husband loaded purchases into their car.
"It's eerie because I'm going to have to look at the site all day long," said Denise Pringle, 54, manager of the Halloween garden stand.
Just days earlier, a customer had asked her whether she felt safe outside, along a major thoroughfare, down the block from a gas station -- a venue of choice for the sniper.
"I feel like I have to eat my words," Pringle said. "I told them I felt safe."
The slayings have rattled the Washington metropolitan area and prompted changes in how people conduct the most mundane of chores.
Grocery shopping, traveling to and from work, pumping gas, mowing a lawn, cleaning a car -- tasks that once seemed so utterly ordinary -- now carry with them an element of risk.
The sniper victims have been people engaged in such activities, seemingly shot at random and for no apparent reason.
"I'm just afraid," said Mary Jacobs, 54, of Washington. She commutes via subway to her job at a mall in Arlington, Virginia -- about two miles from Monday night's shooting -- and finds herself thinking about how to make herself less of a target.
"I find myself at the subway stop hiding behind walls," Jacobs said.
Tuesday morning she was sitting down waiting for the train when it suddenly occurred to her to stand up.
"At least be a moving target, so there I was pacing up and down, waiting for the train," she said.
At an Exxon gas station along Route 50, a short walk from the Home Depot, 20-year-old cashier Imran Nisar said some customers are in a rush when they stop by.
"They're very quick," he said. "They don't even fill up. Just $3 or $4." Enough, Nisar suspects, for them to get home.
The slayings have resulted in one of the most massive criminal investigations this area has seen. Police from multiple jurisdictions are assisting in the effort, along with the FBI and other federal agencies.
At the latest crime scene, Fairfax County police fielded questions from unnerved passersby. Others walked by the site where Franklin fell, which is marked by a few candles.
Monday night's shooting occurred in a much more densely populated and high-traffic area than the other attacks, and was the closest to Washington itself -- just about seven miles from the city line -- aside from the one killing inside the district, now nearly two weeks ago.
Area schools have canceled outdoor activities. One of the victims was a 13-year-old student in Maryland who was shot as he was dropped off at school by his aunt.
Local television stations have aired stories offering tips for how to pump gas while crouched next to a car. Residents eye white vans with suspicion as several witnesses have described such a vehicle at the site of at least some of the shootings.
Some people have simply opted to go out less.
"We just grab our lunch and we eat it in here," said Naaman Shaban, president of Dollar City Plus, a discount store adjacent to the Home Depot. Business, he said, has dropped over the past two weeks.
"The whole weekend has been slow, and today's the worst," Shaban said. "We've never had a holiday weekend this slow before."
At the Williston Multicultural Center in Falls Church, Gregory Williams, the director, said only about half the number of people who normally come for English lessons or group activities showed up Tuesday.
The day-care center next door was closed for the day -- the playground empty, the schools buses idle.
"Well, you're looking over your back, you're constantly looking at every van that passes, you try to get inside as quick as you can," said Williams, 49, describing how his daily routine has changed since the shootings began. "It's unnerving."
At Spooky Jack's Pumpkin Patch, the garden stand across the street from Monday night's shooting, Pringle said she had not adjusted her life because of the slayings.
"It's like the lottery, isn't it?" she wondered. "What are the chances of it happening?"