ANNAPOLIS – With a serial sniper preying on the greater Washington area, weekend recreation takes on a new meaning when every citizen becomes a target.
Whether it’s visiting a major annual event, traveling to a stadium to watch the home team play, or just taking an outdoor recreation class, tensions are high.
A mystery sniper has left seven dead and two wounded in an eight-day shooting spree spanning Montgomery County and Prince George’s County in Maryland and in Northern Virginia. The gunman is still at large.
And if law enforcement is taking extra measures to ensure the safety of fun-seekers, few officials are talking.
“I’m not going to tell you that,” said Sgt. Paul Gibbs of the Annapolis Police Department about arrangements for the annual Annapolis Sailboat Show this weekend at the City Dock and Harbor.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any problem to worry about,” Gibbs said. “I won’t comment on whether or not the shooter would attack. I don’t want to scare people. I think they’ve been scared enough.”
A shooting at the show, where some 50,000 people are expected, would be unlikely, said Jim Barthold, show general manager.
“We have decent security at the show and we always have,” Barthold said.
Because the event takes place in compact, historic Annapolis, the shooter would have difficulty getting in and out, Barthold said.
“It’s just the wrong place for that kind of thing to happen,” he said.
Police will run patrols through parking lots on the outer edges of Annapolis, Gibbs said. Tourists who shuttle to the boat show often use those lots.
The slayings were on the minds of tourists, but they tried not to let it spoil the event.
“We figured he won’t hit a big, public place like this,” said Pam Burdett, who came up to her first boat show from Norfolk, Va. “Besides, you can’t keep us away from the sailboats.”
“There’s no question it’s on your mind, though,” said J.P. Sherwood, who came from Norfolk with Burdett.
“I’m sure if someone wanted to, they could shoot someone here,” said Mike Allard from Tracy’s Creek. “There’s a nice crowd of people here to choose from.”
The three agreed that they had not seen much of a police or security presence at the boat show.
Other weekend events are subject to scrutiny, as well.
The Washington Redskins host the New Orleans Saints Sunday, and security will have things under control for the game, said Michelle Tessier, Redskins public relations director.
“We’re working with local and state law enforcement and we’re enhancing our security,” Tessier said. “When you have 90,000 (people) in a concentrated area, you have to make an effort for security. It’s something we take very seriously when something like this occurs.”
While FedEx Field may not be a likely target for the shooter, there is still a danger at Metro station parking lots, venues heavily traveled by Redskins fans during home games.
Some of the previous shootings occurred in parking lots while victims were carrying out their day-to-day activities.
Cheryl Johnson, Metro spokeswoman, would not comment on the transit agency’s security in regards to the shooter.
Professional football sites are not the only sporting event concerns — in fact, Prince George’s County high schools have rescheduled Saturday afternoon football games for Monday.
The games will begin at 10 a.m. and will be confined to only three locations: Highpoint High School, Largo High School and Friendly High School. The last game will start at 7 p.m.
Student safety is the obvious primary reason for the change, said Earl Hawkins, supervisor of interscholastic athletics for Prince George’s County schools, but another concern was the lack of practice for the players.
Practices were halted after Monday’s shooting of a 13-year-old student in Bowie.
Students just needed relief too, Hawkins said.
“We know the kids need some other activities other than listening to the news all day and wondering what will happen next,” Hawkins said. “I think parents know the best way for kids to get away from worrying is to give them activities.”
Hawkins said the games would be confined to three locations to concentrate security. Students involved in the games would still attend some classes during the day.
Outdoor practice for students will resume Monday, Hawkins said, but will be restricted to school grounds.
In Rockville, the city canceled afternoon and evening outdoor recreation and sports programs this week. Indoor activities continued as scheduled.
Despite the focus on security at public entertainment venues, not all Maryland residents are comfortable at the events.
“It’s hard not to worry about it,” said Leslie Wilson, secretary at the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce. “I wouldn’t really want to come here knowing what’s going on.” – 30 – CNS-10-10-02