Anxious Parents Rush to School With Hugs, Tears
By Carol Morello,
Starburst candies have no place on a school bus, and neither did a child caught eating them, so a 13-year-old boy who apparently had been caught in the act last week was instead driven to school yesterday by his aunt.
As the eighth-grader, book bag slung over a shoulder, stepped from the car near the front entrance of Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, a hidden sniper felled him with a single bullet.
The shooting at a suburban school shielded from the highway by a handsome row of tall oaks raised to eight the number of victims apparently shot by the same assailant. It brought the violence to yet another county, more than 20 miles southeast of the first five shootings, 15 miles east of the sixth and about 50 miles northeast of the seventh. Moreover, it carried the mayhem from the street corners and strip shopping centers to a schoolyard where parents part with their children each morning.
Just past 8 a.m. yesterday, the boy who was banned from the bus was within a few dozen feet of the school door when he was staggered by the impact of the bullet. His aunt was no more than 10 or 20 feet down the circular drive when she heard the sickening crack of the weapon. In the instant it took to turn her head, her nephew had toppled to the ground.
She screamed and leapt from the car. There was a gaping wound near his heart. But still he struggled to get up, to stand and get back inside his aunt's car and away from danger.
They sped toward Bowie Health Center, leaving behind a bloodstained sidewalk. There were no witnesses to the attack; only one man could offer a slender clue as to the shooter's perch.
Nearby on Collington Road, which faces the school, Mark Jones had left his yellow house about the time the boy and his aunt had reached the driveway. He skirted through back yards on his daily walk to his uncle's house.
He could hear the chatter of children who were being dropped off at the school, but he paid them no attention as he turned up a crumbling driveway that slopes up through a dense thicket of woods where he used to play as a child.
"I heard something say 'Pow!' " Jones, 38, said later, pointing toward the forested area and a thicket across Collington Road. "And then I heard a woman screaming over there."
Jones swiveled to point toward the front entrance of Benjamin Tasker.
At the moment that it occurred, Jones recalled, he had glanced back in the direction of the "Pow" but noticed no movement. Then he shrugged and headed on to his uncle's house.
But the "Pow" and the scream took on meaning for Jones a few minutes later when police swarmed to the site, quickly surrounding the wooded areas with yellow crime-scene tape, and before long, scores of police were crawling through the woods in search of evidence.
As four helicopters whirred noisily in the sky and traffic backed up along Collington Road, parents who had rushed to the school abandoned their cars on the side of the road and raced past the yellow police tape toward their children.
In the parking lot, Gerald Carver hugged his 12-year-old son and began to cry.
"We thought it would be safe out here," said Carver, who moved to Bowie a few years ago from Capitol Heights because of the crime problem. "I just feel that I should be with him right now."
Beth Moon was gripping the hand of her son, Matthew, so hard that "she left imprints of her ring on my finger," the boy said.
For most in the parking lot, it was the first time in years that these middle school children -- these tough, independent kids who disdain parental attention -- were holding onto their parents as hard as their parents were holding onto them.
Said Sandra Prichard, whose twin daughters are in the seventh grade: "When it's your neighborhood with your school and your kids, it's sickening. You start to panic. . . . I'm ready to move out of the area, but there's nowhere to go. You don't seem safe anywhere anymore."
Inside the school, it was at turns chaotic, anxious, even lighthearted.
Adults spoke angrily of the sniper's brazenness and cruelty. Children unaware of the crime committed at their doorstep tittered as grown-ups gasped.
Some teachers tried to walk the fine line between instilling a sense of urgency while encouraging confidence.
Students who were still arriving after the shooting were met by jittery teachers who ushered them off the buses and into the school.
"They told us to run," one girl said. "Not walk -- run."
When 11-year-old Jill Heizer's bus pulled up to the school, yellow police tape blocked her entrance, and a long row of white police cars, some with their blue and red lights on top flashing, was out front.
"We all got silent as soon as we saw the police," she said. When the bus found a place to park, teachers surrounded the students. "They were acting nervous and rushing us. They were saying, "Go to your homerooms,' " Jill said.
Lauren Prichard, 11, remembers a teacher telling her, "We really don't want you to panic, but something has gone really wrong."
Her sister, Erika, was "worried," and everyone in her class was unusually "quiet and nervous and paying attention to the announcements," she said.
"And hugging each other," Jill added.
Staff writers Nurith C. Aizenman, Hamil R. Harris, Paul Schwartzman and Darragh Johnson contributed to this report.