‘I really feel our innocence has been lost’ -- Gazette.Net


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It has been a decade since the sniper attacks that struck fear in the region, forcing residents to wonder whether they would be the next victim of a terror spree that left 10 people dead and three injured.

While those responsible for the deadly attacks have long since been caught, their acts have had a lasting impact on many Prince George’s County residents.

For Mark Cook, a former College Park councilman, the sight of a white utility van — the rumored mode of transportation for convicted shooters John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo — still makes him cautious. Police later determined the snipers were using a car, not a van, as suspected early in the investigation.

“I still notice [them], even though I know they were using an American sedan,” Cook said of white vans.

Between Oct. 2 and Oct. 24 2002, Muhammad and his teenage accomplice, Malvo, shot 13 people in the region. In Montgomery County, six people were killed. In Virginia, the snipers killed three and injured two. In Washington D.C., one person was killed by the snipers.

In Prince George’s County, the snipers gravely injured a child.

Cook, 49, said the shootings ripped away the emotional security of the region, which still was reeling a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I really feel our innocence has been lost,” he said.

Cook said he still heeds police warnings to be alert about his surroundings and careful near gas stations. Four of the victims were killed at gas stations.

For some, regular reminders of the shootings trigger memories. A student, 13-year-old Iran Brown, was shot on Oct. 7, 2002, after being dropped off for classes at Benjamin Tasker Middle School, in Bowie.

While the boy survived, Katie Costello, who lives near the Bowie school, said that, for years afterward she often felt awkward when she walked near Tasker.

“There was that creepy feeling about the school,” she said.

Mark Melvin, who used to live within walking distance of Tasker, said he remembers running to the school to pick up his daughter when he heard of the shooting.

Then, he tried not to let news of the shootings interrupt his personal life or his work at Melvin Motors, his family-owned car dealership, in Bowie.

“Everybody working here was trying very hard to do business as usual,” he said.

The random nature of the attacks made for a “very scary time,” said Scott Spaulding of Fort Washington, who believes that the fear the shooting created hasn’t become the norm.

“You don’t have people shooting you from cars [regularly],” he said. “The fear factor back then in 2002 is not evident these days.”

The sense of fear and apprehension of going outside faded for Intisar Haamid, of Mount Rainier, once the snipers were caught.

“As soon as they stopped, I was happy,” she said. “I wasn't afraid of anything else.”

For Salim Riviere, 19, of Bowie, the shootings of a decade ago are a distant memory.

When the killing spree occurred, he was 9 years old and attending Bowie’s Woodmore Elementary, he said.

As he pumped gas into his car on Sept. 21, he couldn’t recall the safety tips issued at the time, such as keeping a low profile while pumping gas.

The sniper shootings come to mind occasionally when he drives past Tasker, though he harbors no fear from the shootings, he said.

“It’s not really a concern,” he said.

amccombs@gazette.net