Chantilly's Serenity Shattered

shooting - fairfax county
By Alec MacGillis and Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 9, 2006

The sounds of the gunshots reached across the corporate complexes and echoed over the bike paths, cul-de-sacs and damp lawns of Northern Virginia's exurbia yesterday.

They drifted faintly among pastel-colored townhouses and office parks with no sidewalks and stunned the comings and goings of businessmen, security guards and parents driving to fetch their children from school on a drizzly Monday afternoon.

A mother heard them and worried about her high school daughter, whose track practice often took her past the police station where the short but savage parking lot gun battle had raged.

In a preschool across from Fairfax County's Sully District Police Station, from where the shots came, the assistant director heard the sound and the staff moved all the children to the back of the building. Stunned businessmen at a hotel stood frozen or scampered for their cars at the news, while a man in khakis and a flak vest that read "FBI" hurried toward the trouble.

People said it was crazy and unreal for such a thing to happen so far out on the quiet green edge of everything. But for a few hours yesterday, madness spread over the serenity of western Fairfax as a police detective and her assailant were killed, two officers wounded and a civilian slightly hurt outside the station.

For hours, the scene in Chantilly was made more tense while police searched for a possible second assailant. There turned out to be only one, police said.

Among the first to be affected was the Goddard preschool on Westone Plaza, near the police station. About 165 children under age 7 were bustled to the back of the building after Assistant Director Michelle Yeiser heard the gunfire and police called in a warning.

The blinds were drawn. Everyone remained pretty calm, said Rachel Defibaugh, an office assistant. "We had all the children to deal with."

"They were playing" with the children, Colleen Daly said of the school's staff as she picked up her 4-year-old. "They made it into a party for the kids. But we were a wreck" on the two-hour drive from Herndon, usually 15 minutes but lengthened by emergency road closings.

"It reminds us of the sniper all over again," she said, referring to the serial shootings that killed 10 people and terrorized the region in 2002.

Westfield High School, about a mile from the police station, was locked down by police after the shooting, said Paul Regnier, a county schools spokesman.

As many as 250 students, many of whom were involved in after-school sports, were kept inside until about 6:20 p.m., when they were allowed to leave as parents came.

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