Anxious parents withdrew more than 100 children from the Walker-Jones Elementary School in a two-hour period yesterday as a story swept the neighborhood that a man dressed in women's clothes was chasing children in and around the school at First and L streets NW.
William O. Blaylock, principal of the 570-student school, said no such incident could be confirmed. He attributed the mass withdrawal to tensions arising from the rape of a 12-year-old girl last Monday at a Southeast elementary school.
Blaylock said many youngsters claimed yesterday to have seen, and in some cases been chased around the school, by a man they called "the makeup man" because he wore a dress and facial makeup.
"We had at least six policemen come in the building, a security guard, 30 teachers and eight custodians, and no one has seen anything," he said. "If a man had been in the building, he could not have gotten out without being seen" by an adult.
Shelton Lee, the director of safety and security for the D.C. schools, termed the incident a case of "mass hysteria" and said neither two of his investigators nor D.C. police summoned to the school could find evidence of children being chased or molested.
Metropolitan police said they investigated two suspicious person reports between 12:45 p.m. and 1:15 p.m. near the school, both unconfirmed.
Blaylock said he believed the rumor spread around noon when several children went home for lunch at the nearby Sursum Corda housing project, one block from the school, and told their parents about "the makeup man." As word spread, dozens of mothers and grandmothers walked and ran to the school to bring children home, neighbors said.
"It was pandemonium," said Sue Ward, of 1150 First Place NW, who said she and her daughter Beverly ran three blocks to the school to bring home their three children after they heard neighbors talking about an intruder in the school.
"People were frightened. Children were frightened, and the police were walking around, and everyone was walking around," Ward said. "This is no fun."
Ward said her son Maurice, 12, a sixth grader, told her he was chased by "the makeup man" around the third floor of the school. She said she believes his story, despite the lack of official confirmation. "The children were quite upset and crying," she said.
Blaylock said he, police and teachers questioned the children, "and not one child we talked to said they were actually chased. They said 'No, he didn't chase me, but so-and-so said he saw the man.' "
"Children might have seen a stranger dressed funny, and the story grew," Blaylock said, with parents understandably concerned.
"People are tense," he said. "What we have here is people overreacting as a result of the Southeast incident," in which an elementary school girl was beaten and raped in a basement restroom at her school. Police are continuing to investigate that case.
Blaylock, a veteran principal, described scares such as yesterday's as not uncommon. "Years ago, we had the 'Bunny Man' at Kenilworth Elementary" in which children insisted a man dressed as a rabbit chased them around the school, he said.
Blaylock said that yesterday about 20 children were returned to school by 3 p.m. closing. "Teachers got the kids calmed down. I think it was a good learning experience. We stressed the safety of watching out for stangers, and also the idea of not repeating hearsay."