Montgomery County's Aspen Hill community is slowly beginning to shake off its two-year-old pall of fear.
A series of 16 rapes that had terrified residents of this quiet and well-trimmed middle-class neighborhood for two years appears to have ended. On Thursday, a Montgomery County jury convicted Frederick, Md., resident Timothy Joseph Buzbee, who grew up in the Aspen Hill area, of one of the rapes, that of a 15-year-old girl. He still faces charges for three other Aspen Hill rape cases. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
Despite the recent conviction, Aspen Hill still is not relaxing, and some residents said yesterday that their once "safe" suburban community will never be the same again. While most of those interviewed said they were glad Buzbee was convicted, some are not so convinced of his guilt that they are ready to relax their vigilance.
"I think he was probably the guy, but you just can't be certain," said Richard Markham. He said when his wife became scared after news of the attacks, he changed all the locks on the doors and windows.
"The state didn't have any clear-cut evidence," Markham said. "I think people will still be a little bit leery. A lot of people feel like I do, that there's a chance Buzbee wasn't the guy."
Mary Lou, a 22-year-old Aspen Hill resident who asked that her last name not be used, said, "Everybody's letting down their guard now. It's kind of nice. You can tell the tension is lifting. You can tell everybody's relieved."
For her part, she said, "I don't drive around with a baseball bat in the back seat of my car any more. I had a baseball bat and two cans of mace in my purse." She said she stopped going home for lunch, for fear of entering the empty house alone even in the daytime. And she would change from tennis shoes into hard-soled boots before getting out of her car in the driveway, "in case I had to kick."
Now, she said, "Everybody's slowly going back to their old routine."
"People don't realize how much life had changed," Judy Silverman said. "Teen-aged girls stopped baby-sitting. They weren't left alone anymore."
Now, Silverman said, "All the doors and windows are locked. No one is leaving their door open during the day anymore like they used to sometimes. When I take out the garbage at night, I now think about whether it's safe. I never would have thought about that before."