ANNAPOLIS – In the past, it was razor blade-studded apples, poisoned candy and terrorist attacks — now a serial sniper is haunting Halloween.
Parents and public school officials in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties are scaling down Halloween activities because of the recent shooting rampage in the two counties, Washington and Northern Virginia.
Stefanie Warren, an Olney mother of three, said the shootings make Halloween even more unsafe than after the terrorist attacks last year.
“This is more of a personal attack on people,” Warren, 35, said. “It’s not like it’s a federal building. He’s going after people, individual people. Halloween night for him could be a game.”
Since Oct. 2, 11 people have been shot, and nine died. A 13-year-old boy was hit in front of Bowie’s Benjamin Tasker Middle School and remains in serious condition.
This year, some parents are only taking their children to school-sponsored activities or neighbors’ houses while others are shunning the trick-or-treating ritual altogether.
Paint Branch Elementary School PTA President Cynthia Poles-Suite, 44, said the school acted responsibly by canceling its annual Halloween sock hop.
“We just decided we didn’t want our parents and children out at that time of night,” New Carrollton resident Poles-Suite said. “I think most parents that I’ve talked to have just decided not to do anything (for Halloween).”
Poles-Suite’s school is not the only one considering canceling holiday events.
For years parents have come to Beltsville Academic Center on Halloween to watch about 1,000 students parade around the school, showing off their carefully crafted costumes. However, administrators are considering canceling the event or holding it indoors because of the shootings.
Parent Carol Herder said she hopes it goes as planned.
“I’m kind of hoping things will be resolved by then,” Herder, 45, said. “My daughter’s in sixth grade. This is it for her. It’s one of the highlights.”
Prince George’s and Montgomery County police departments have not issued any tips that will make the decision about events any easier.
“We hope to have the person in custody by then,” said Montgomery County Police Officer Derek Baliles.
In the meantime, schools are planning alternate ways to celebrate Halloween.
Lake Seneca Elementary School in Germantown is billing its annual Harvest Fest to parents as an alternative to outdoor trick-or-treating.
Lake Seneca PTA President Mary Heckhaus, 41, will bring her three children to the festival, which will have a disc jockey, dancing, pizza and crafts.
“I don’t really personally want them out roaming the neighborhood trick- or-treating,” Heckhaus said. However, she said she “wanted to give the kids some sense of normalcy.”
Germantown resident Jim Ganz, 39, might take his two children out trick- or-treating, but he said he will stick to visiting houses of close neighbors and friends.
“I’m the last person to want to live in fear,” he said. “But fear is not the same as caution.”