Perhaps, finally, a return to outdoors
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Washingtonians aren't ready yet to exhale, following news that two men are in custody in connection with the region's spree of sniper shootings. But residents were hopeful yesterday that the three long weeks of lockdown, shattered routines, and free-floating anxiety may be coming to an end.
"I'm guardedly optimistic that this is the guy," says Ken Tighe, father of two school-age children in suburban Montgomery County, out jogging with his German shepherd. "But I want the kids inside until we have more conclusive evidence. It's been horrific. The kids have been scared."
Sallie Holdrich, a mother of four, also in Montgomery County, Md., where several of the shootings have taken place, says her eighth-grader went right to the Internet yesterday morning for details of the arrests.
"Emma wanted to read the news articles to have more control over it," says Ms. Holdrich, whose kids peppered her with questions first thing Thursday: What are their names? Where did they get them?
Indeed, one name that springs to mind after such a massive search for a killer is Richard Jewell, the security guard arrested for setting off a bomb at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Then, as now, police were under intense pressure to arrest someone anyone, it seemed and Mr. Jewell was later proved innocent.
Washingtonians also note that the two men in custody now, even if guilty, may not be the only people involved in the random shootings that have killed 10 people and wounded three others.
So it remains unclear when area school authorities will decide that life truly can return to normal, with soccer games, field trips to the pumpkin patch, and outdoor recess. Children themselves will need time to decompress from what one mother called "the cocoon" of isolation imposed on them. And there are ways parents can help their kids process the drama.
"We shouldn't hide from our kids the vulnerability they face just going about their daily lives," says Nadja Cabello, director of the Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program in Montgomery County. "But we can emphasize some very encouraging things how in this case, if these do turn out to be the snipers who were arrested, the police and citizens working together have been able to make the community safe again."
Mrs. Cabello, whose own children coped with the sniper shootings in very different ways, says parents can be on the lookout for children's varying responses.
"Some may act as though nothing ever happened," she says, while some children and adults alike may have more trouble getting over the experience having nightmares or signs of extended anxiety.
Cabello whose 11-year-old son Adriel had planned to be Santa Claus for Halloween so that, in his words, "I can put a big pillow in front and one in back to make me safe from bullets" during trick-or-treating says her children responded with "a breath of hope and relief" when they heard that two suspects had been arrested. But she says their attention to the experience shouldn't stop there.
"You can't lie and say they'll never be vulnerable again," she says. "We had Sept. 11, then this happens and reminds us. But you can also point to this experience and say, 'If something like this does happen [again], you can count on people pulling together, in our families and in our communities, to help solve the problem.' "
Some Washingtonians also see a larger lesson in the sniper episode, as the nation contemplates war with Iraq. Though the odds were extremely low that anyone here would actually get hit by the sniper, "we were letting it terrorize us," says Sue Hemberger, a constitutional law scholar who lives in Washington, just over the Maryland line. "At the same time, we're debating Iraq, talking about dropping bombs on [people] in their houses or carpet-bombing in Afghanistan. So my sympathy for the people who are feeling unsafe is very low in the cosmic scheme of things."
In fact, throughout the ordeal, not everyone in the Washington area was as terrorized as the wall-to-wall cable news hype suggested.