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A Very Scary October
By Charmaine Ruppolt
A long time D.C. bicycle commuter recalls a tense, tragic moment in America that hits very close to home.
October is a beautiful time in Washington, D.C. The autumn leaves have begun to show their bright red, yellow and orange colors. Crisp, cool mornings turn into soft, comfortably warm afternoons. The daylight hours shorten and beautiful harvest moons appear on the horizon. Pumpkins are seen on doorsteps as children look forward to a fun Halloween.
Bicycling to work is more pleasurable. The heat and humidity of long summer days start to fade into memory. No more getting to work all hot and sweaty…instead the cool morning air is refreshing and I arrive at work after my commute, as fresh as when I started out – only more awake!
For a few mornings in early October of 2002, I arrived at work, and would read about a random shooting that happened in the area. Crime is high in the D.C. area, and there are shootings every day. But the police were saying that perhaps these shootings might be linked, that the same person may be responsible for them all, because they found similarities between the crimes. The shootings were in Virginia, Maryland and D.C., so it didn’t seem anyone was safe in the metropolitan area. I didn’t think too much of it, until it seemed to be happening every day. You would turn on the radio or TV, and an innocent bystander had been shot, and your heart would sink. Someone pumping their gas. A bus driver getting ready for his route. A child walking into a school. A man exiting a restaurant after dinner. A man mowing the grass. A lady waiting at a bus stop. It was becoming very unnerving, and everyone was starting to get edgy and scared. It was urban terrorism.
My friends and family were a bit concerned that there I was, out in the wide open, biking to work every day. I could be the next victim, they said. I was trying to be careful and keep my eyes open, but at the same time, I felt that this sniper might not get enough satisfaction shooting a mere bicyclist. I didn’t feel like a high-profile item. Plus, I was a quick moving target, so I felt somewhat safe. Maybe I was being naive, but this is how I felt. I think I felt more of a target when I was pumping gas or walking to and from my car, vs. biking on a bike path and through the city traffic.
One night during this time, I had to work late at the office. As a precaution, I took my bike on the subway and rode it to a station that is a mile from my home. As I began to bike home, I heard a helicopter in the sky flying directly above me. I saw its searchlight, roving the ground, around and around. I thought perhaps another shooting may have occurred and they were looking for the mysterious white van that was possibly seen leaving the crime area. I got inside my apartment and immediately turned on the TV. Sure enough, there had been a shooting, and this time it was within a couple of miles of my apartment, at a Home Depot. A couple had been shopping and putting away their items in the car and the wife was shot. I couldn’t believe that this was now “in my backyard.” I stood there watching the coverage, and started to shake. I called up a friend and we talked about it, and she said I could come over to her place if I didn’t feel safe. No, that would entail me having to drive somewhere, and that wouldn’t be a good idea, especially since they “locked down” the entire area, and searched from car to car.
But we all continued with our routines, hoping and praying that soon, this awful sniper or snipers were finally caught or slipped up. And that time came, when they were seen napping in their car, and were apprehended immediately. There was a great sigh of relief from the communities. Finally, the elusive snipers were arrested and in custody. Finally, we could return to really “living.” Not fearing for our lives with every step we took outside of our homes. And finally families could relax and breathe, and let their children out to play. Couples could shop and dine out. You could pump your gas without “dancing” around. And you could bicycle to work and not feel like you were being watched. The three-week war was over.
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