When the sixth-graders entered Jon Clarke's classroom yesterday morning at their Adelphi elementary school, he asked them one thing: What's different about the room?
They saw it immediately. After weeks of closed, darkened windows, the windows were open and the blinds were up.
"We all screamed, 'Yay!' " said Ashlee Guevara, 10. They understood what the open windows meant: Soon life might be getting back to normal. No more playing games in the classroom at recess. No more going to sleep scared.
"It was like being caged animals for the past three weeks," said Clarke.
In schools and homes around the area yesterday, kids and adults started to let their fears slide away. They had heard the news that police had captured two suspects in the sniper shootings.
But people were aware that all the questions hadn't yet been answered.
Before Desiree Deseo left for school yesterday, she was beginning to get her hopes up. "We saw it on the news," said the 12-year-old Silver Spring seventh-grader. "It looked like they really caught him this time, but I thought, 'Still, you can't be too sure.' "
But she was still pretty excited, because things at her school have been tough under the security restrictions known as Code Blue.
"We don't go to gym class, we go to the cafe or to a classroom," she said, "or else we watch athletic movies like 'Remember the Titans.' " She'll be glad to get back to the gym, which adults thought was not in a safe enough place, "because some of my gym clothes are in there, so they must be getting a bit stinky."
Desiree also hoped that a school dance, originally scheduled for tonight then canceled, will be held. "I've never been to a dance. That was going to be my first one."
Caitlin Carney, 12, remembered how scary it was the first day the principal announced they were under Code Blue "and that it wasn't a test." After that, she said, "You couldn't go to certain buildings or to the gym because they thought it would be easy to shoot us."
Mickyas Girma, a Silver Spring 8-year-old, said he'd been following the sniper story on TV, even though it was upsetting.
"It's not really good to hear about people being shot by the sniper," Mickyas said. He didn't feel quite ready to relax yesterday because there had been other times when the police had promising leads that fizzled out. "They always searched for the white van and thought they had it but then it turned out they didn't."
Mickyas said he had enjoyed indoor recess, but his younger brother said he hated it inside. "I like it outside," said Henok Girma, 6. "I can breathe fresh air and I like to play soccer, and now I can play soccer again."
By the time the kids got out of school yesterday, they still didn't know when the safety restrictions would be lifted. However, they were already thinking about what they would do once the outdoors was no longer something to fear.
"I'm looking forward to riding my bike," said Ashlee Guevara. "I think I forgot how to ride it after this long time. Maybe tomorrow, I'll go out and ride my bike."
-- Fern Shen