When James Stevens, carrying a high-powered Mossberg hunting rifle with telescopic sight, walked into the office of Lake Braddock Secondary School Wednesday afternoon, Frances Churchman was exchanging a pair of sweatpants she had bought at the school for her son Robbie, a sophomore.

"My first reaction was, Oh, they're promoting the play 'Oklahoma.' We'd seen it the night before at the school," the 55-year-old Churchman said yesterday. Stevens, a handsome 18-year-old wearing a western-style sheepskin jacket, waved the rifle at Churchman.

"I want you over on that side!" he said.

"Oh, what a great way to promote the play," Churchman said as she stood in the office chuckling. She didn't move.

"I mean business!" Stevens ordered. He pointed the gun at the ceiling and fired. A light fixture exploded, shattering glass across the floor. Churchman and six others ran into a back room. It had no other exit.

So began a 21-hour ordeal in the comfortable suburbs of Fairfax County, an ordeal that saw the rambling, two-story brick school surrounded by eight score police, fire trucks and ambulances, countless news people and glaring klieg lights. Nine people were held hostage, and still one more was hidden, her body curled into a fetal position, behind a copying machine, unbeknown to Stevens.

Moments after Stevens fired his rifle into the ceiling of the school office, employes and students scattered through the hallways, and police arrived quickly. They installed a telephone hotline so chief Fairfax police negotiator Don Grant could talk with Stevens. And the hours of psychological maneuvering began.

Overhead, a Virginia State Police helicopter hovered. Traffic on Lake Braddock Drive and Burke Lake Road was rerouted, students were cleared from the front of the school, a ring of police was set up around the football field, visible from the window of the office in which Stevens was entrenched.

Churchman and the others who found themselves in a closet-like room had locked the only door, shoved a copy machine against it, turned out the lights and sat on the floor in silence. Stevens, unaware of their presence, leveled his gun at the the two people he then believed were his only hostages, June Harrison, 57, a finance officer at the school, and principal John W. Alwood, 54. Alwood, a soft-spoken man, described by one student as being "on the side of kids," tried to keep Stevens calm, telling him he had not yet committed a serious crime.

Within half an hour, county Police Chief Col. Carroll D. Buracker had set about evacuating the 4,300 students from the building, and negotiator Grant began talking with Stevens. "With our initial contact with him," Buracker said, "we were concerned because he was making no demands. He seemed despondent, appeared hyper. But we were trying to establish trust between him and Grant."

Inside, Stevens, a normally quiet, artistic youth who composed music, angrily shoved his right fist through an office window. It began to bleed. June Harrison bandaged the hand. The entire time, police said, Stevens continued to hold his rifle or cradle it next to him.

In a short time, Alwood later told his friend Walter Chernenko, the two hostages did not fear that Stevens would shoot them deliberately, though they were afraid he would hurt himself. "Jamie did a lot of talking," said Chernenko, a Braddock work-study teacher. "John said Jamie told him he wished he could wake up and find out it was all a bad dream, that it never happened."

At first, June Harrison had begun to scream, "Help me! Help me!" recalled Arline Didier, 37, a reading teacher who remained hidden behind the copying machine throughout the ordeal. But Harrison immediately calmed down and took the lead in relaxing Stevens.

"He would demand things and she would say, 'Oh, you Hostages' Ordeal At Gunpoint Told 21 Hours of Rage, Fear and Suspense at Lake Braddock School By Mike Sager and Sandra G. Boodman Washington Post Staff Writer

When James Stevens, carrying a high-powered Mossberg hunting rifle with telescopic sight, walked into the office of Lake Braddock Secondary School Wednesday afternoon, Frances Churchman was exchanging a pair of sweatpants she had bought at the school for her son Robbie, a sophomore.

"My first reaction was, Oh, they're promoting the play 'Oklahoma.' We'd seen it the night before at the school," the 55-year-old Churchman said yesterday. Stevens, a handsome 18-year-old wearing a western-style sheepskin jacket, waved the rifle at Churchman.

"I want you over on that side!" he said.

"Oh, what a great way to promote the play," Churchman said as she stood in the office chuckling. She didn't move.

"I mean business!" Stevens ordered. He pointed the gun at the ceiling and fired. A light fixture exploded, shattering glass across the floor. Churchman and six others ran into a back room. It had no other exit.

So began a 21-hour ordeal in the comfortable suburbs of Fairfax County, an ordeal that saw the rambling, two-story brick school surrounded by eight score police, fire trucks and ambulances, countless news people and glaring klieg lights. Nine people were held hostage, and still one more was hidden, her body curled into a fetal position, behind a copying machine, unbeknown to Stevens.

Moments after Stevens fired his rifle into the ceiling of the school office, employes and students scattered through the hallways, and police arrived quickly. They installed a telephone hotline so chief Fairfax police negotiator Don Grant could talk with Stevens. And the hours of psychological maneuvering began.

Overhead, a Virginia State Police helicopter hovered. Traffic on Lake Braddock Drive and Burke Lake Road was rerouted, students were cleared from the front of the school, a ring of police was set up around the football field, visible from the window of the office in which Stevens was entrenched.

Churchman and the others who found themselves in a closet-like room had locked the only door, shoved a copy machine against it, turned out the lights and sat on the floor in silence. Stevens, unaware of their presence, leveled his gun at the the two people he then believed were his only hostages, June Harrison, 57, a finance officer at the school, and principal John W. Alwood, 54. Alwood, a soft-spoken man, described by one student as being "on the side of kids," tried to keep Stevens calm, telling him he had not yet committed a serious crime.

Within half an hour, county Police Chief Col. Carroll D. Buracker had set about evacuating the 4,300 students from the building, and negotiator Grant began talking with Stevens. "With our initial contact with him," Buracker said, "we were concerned because he was making no demands. He seemed despondent, appeared hyper. But we were trying to establish trust between him and Grant."

Inside, Stevens, a normally quiet, artistic youth who composed music, angrily shoved his right fist through an office window. It began to bleed. June Harrison bandaged the hand. The entire time, police said, Stevens continued to hold his rifle or cradle it next to him.

In a short time, Alwood later told his friend Walter Chernenko, the two hostages did not fear that Stevens would shoot them deliberately, though they were afraid he would hurt himself. "Jamie did a lot of talking," said Chernenko, a Braddock work-study teacher. "John said Jamie told him he wished he could wake up and find out it was all a bad dream, that it never happened."

At first, June Harrison had begun to scream, "Help me! Help me!" recalled Arline Didier, 37, a reading teacher who remained hidden behind the copying machine throughout the ordeal. But Harrison immediately calmed down and took the lead in relaxing Stevens.

"He would demand things and she would say, 'Oh, you really don't mean that, you really don't want that,' " Didier recalled. "It was just the off-handed way she treated everything that perhaps stopped him from doing things he might have done."

The conversation with Stevens then remained light and casual. "Come on, walk out with us, let's all get out together," someone said to Stevens. They talked about football games and school years past.

At 5:30 p.m., apparently nervous about the massive police presence outside, Stevens demanded that all the doors in the vicinity of the principal's office be opened. "He started going around to all the rooms," said Didier. "He got the keys to the locked rooms and opened them." He discovered Frances Churchman and the others hiding in the small room.

"He seemed real surprised he had that many hostages," Churchman said. He ordered one of the women to get on the hotline and tell police the names of his new captives. "Nobody knows where you are," Churchman recalled Stevens saying.

As dinnertime approached, Stevens asked police for five cups of coffee, two sodas and a gallon of vanilla ice cream. Negotiator Grant allowed him four cups of coffee to start--in exchange for a hostage. At 6:15, Stevens complied, and the coffee was placed in the long locker-lined hallway outside the office. Stevens sent one of his hostages to fetch it.

Fifteen minutes later, Grant offered the ice cream in exchange for another hostage. Stevens released Antoinette H. Crom, 54, an administrative aide at the school. A short while later, he released Margaret T. Rydeen, 58, a teacher of the learning disabled.

Stevens then began making phone calls on an outside line. He called his father in Tyler, Tex. At 7:15, he called a former girlfriend, Tammy Edwards, in Falls Church. Stevens talked to Edwards, her parents, and to his cousin Melinda Stevens, 17, a close friend of Edwards.

"He said, 'I don't care what happens. Nobody cares about me,' " Edwards recalled. Edwards told him, "You don't know how many people care about you."

A friend of Stevens also in the house asked him to come for a ride in his car. "The only way I'll leave this place is in a hearse," Stevens replied. Edwards said Stevens had gone to her home Tuesday evening because he was depressed about his breakup with his girlfriend, Rebecca Golas, a senior at Lake Braddock. "He said that girls always broke up with him because he was a bum."

At about this time, Buracker said, police cut off Stevens' outside line. "He picked up the hotline and he sounded despondent," Buracker said. "He indicated that he was considering suicide, or to charge out at the officers and make them do something. He was very hyper."

Stevens was also annoyed by news reports he heard on the radio that said he had been "rejected" in his proposal of marriage to Golas, said William J. Burkholder, county school superintendent, who could hear the events in the office over the school public address system. "He started commenting about 'blowing the place apart,' " Burkholder said.

Quieting down and hungry again, Stevens asked at 8 p.m. for a large pizza with everything except anchovies, and two Pepsi Colas. At 8:38 the pizza was delivered in the hallway, in exchange for hostage Carol Pogharian, 38, a media aide at the school. Hostages later said Stevens shared the pizza with them.

More negotiations followed. Stevens wanted telephone privileges again. At 10:40, finance officer June Harrison, who later reported chest pains, was released in exchange for the outside phone line. She was taken to Commonwealth Hospital and released at 1:05 a.m.

Harrison alerted police that Didier was huddled behind a copying machine and under boxes in the room where seven people had initially hidden. Police, afraid of alarming Stevens, withheld the information from the press.

Thus began a lull that continued through the early hours of the morning. Police said Stevens might have dozed shortly and that he again called the Edwards residence. Negotiator Grant began to bear down on Stevens, said Capt. Andrew P. Page, police public affairs officer.

"All through the night, Grant kept telling him to take it easy, not to hurt anyone, not to hurt himself, that if he gave himself up he wouldn't have to worry about his safety, he wouldn't be shot, he'd get a fair deal. Over and over again, he was calm and friendly but forceful. He kept driving home the message."

Then at 5:30 a.m., Stevens requested more coffee, Page said. Grant agreed, but told Stevens it was time he decided what to do. He couldn't stay in that office forever, Grant told Stevens.

The coffee came and Frances Ramsey, 45, a data processing assistant, was freed. An hour later, a tired Stevens told police he would release two more hostages later, if they allowed him to speak to his girlfriend. They did. At 9 a.m., Catherine Reppert, another data-processing assistant, and Dale Rumberger, 29, a drama teacher, went free. Now, for all Stevens knew, only a single hostage, principal Alwood, remained. He was freed at 9:45 a.m.

"At this point," said Page, "he knew he was alone."

Finally, at 10 a.m. Stevens placed his high-powered rifle in the hallway outside the office. And for the first time, Grant stepped into Stevens' line of vision. Stevens kicked the gun to Grant. Grant picked it up and Stevens walked toward him.

Grant placed a firm but friendly arm around Stevens, and the two walked down the hall, away from the office.