Ringed with lofty trees and blazing azalea bushes, Devon Court is an intimate cul-de-sac where kids who grew up have returned as adults to buy homes, and neighbors adopt each other as extended families. But on Tuesday night, the serenity of the Silver Spring neighborhood was shattered by two gun-wielding intruders who broke into two houses and robbed three elderly residents, brutally beating one of them.

Yesterday, a cloud as gray as the overcast April sky was still hanging over the tightly knit families of Devon Court.

"The neighborhood's a victim, your freedom's a victim. It's ruined the whole nice pace of life here," said 39-year-old Laszlo de Simon, a graphic artist who grew up nearby and returned in 1973 to buy a house and raise his own family. "It's spring, the flowers are blooming; but still, it's a battlefield."

Late last night, meanwhile, in what Montgomery County police said they believe is a "very strongly related" incident, two men with guns broke into a home in Bethesda, tied up a woman and ransacked the house while her elderly husband was asleep.

The gunmen were still at large early today, and county detective Dan Waring said that the police investigation into the robberies "will be coordinated throughout the metropolitan area. We suspect that these people will hit anywhere, anytime."

Tuesday night's robberies on Devon Court occurred as the de Simons were celebrating the birthday of an elderly neighbor. Police said the robbers broke out the kitchen window of a 77-year-old widow's home, beat her, stomped on her chest and tied her to her four-poster bed. They took the rings from her fingers and ransacked her house. At the birthday party, celebrators attributed the noises to the mischievous raccoons that plague the neighborhood, de Simon said yesterday.

The woman, a retired government worker, escaped to the house next door, and learned later that the couple in the house directly across the street from hers had also been hit by the armed robbers.

"We have been very close a long, long time. She managed to untie herself and come to our door. I didn't recognize her, her eyes were so badly bruised. I said, 'Who are you?' " said the woman's neighbor of 34 years, a retired Montgomery County school teacher.

"Probably we are just becoming a typical American neighborhood because crime is a very big part of life now. There's an enormous amount of traffic now with the Metro and the buses. We're not out in the country anymore -- this was a spot in the country when we bought, a quiet and good spot," added herhusband, a retired college professor.

The couple, who also are in their seventies, asked that their names not be used in the paper because they said they fear retaliation from the robbers.

Still, they invited a visitor into the widow's house to see the debris of the robbery. A sign on the front door read "Peace to all who enter here."

Inside, the possessions of a lifetime were strewn helter-skelter throughout the three-bedroom brick house.

In the kitchen, broken glass from the window where the robbers entered and a ripped-out telephone lay on the floor.

"She's a good housekeeper," the retired schoolteacher said of her friend, "but my lands, look at this."

Across the street, the other two victims, Delores and Russell Warye, were recuperating yesterday behind closed doors. But de Simon and his wife Martha said the Waryes, who have become "like grandparents" to their 8-month-old son and 2-year-old daughter, are deeply shaken by the robbery.

"For 70-some years, they've been so careful, and now they have to end their years like this. They the robbers caught the vulnerable ones," said Martha de Simon, 29, as she held her baby son in the family's modern leather-and-teakwood living room.

A retired Marine Corps colonel and avid gun collector, Warye never had the opportunity to grab a gun and defend his home. One robber came in through an open bedroom window while the other "distracted us at the front door," Delores Warye said in a telephone interview late Tuesday night.

"They knocked my husband to the floor. They said they'd blow his head off if we didn't cooperate," she said.

The robbers took jewelry and cash from the Waryes, then locked them in their bathroom and tied the door tight with telephone cord.

"What really hurts us -- all of us in the cul-de-sac -- is that these men mentally and physically ravaged these three people," Martha de Simon said.

"The repercussions are monumental for all of us. You put together a beautiful home and you can't even enjoy it; it's like, suddenly you're afraid that someone's scouting your house out," she continued.

"Crime is so prevalent today and something like this is so trivial to the court system, these people the robbers know they can get away with it," she added.

In last night's robbery in Bethesda, two men broke through the back door of the home of Samuel Joseph, 77, and his wife Brenda, 40, in the 4700 block of Chevy Chase Boulevard about 10:45 p.m.

Detective Waring said the husband was asleep in a bedroom when one of the intruders, waving a handgun, confronted Brenda Joseph in a hallway as she was walking to the bathroom and said, "Freeze! Police!"

Joseph told a reporter that the gunman then led her into her bedroom.

"He made me lie down on the floor, and he told me that if I looked up at his face, he'd blow my brains out," she said. The man then began searching her belongings, she said, while the second intruder ransacked her husband's room.

Joseph said her husband "apparently was awake during the time [the assailant] was ransacking the room but had enough sense to keep quiet."

She said that when the gunman was finished in her room, he pulled out telephone cords and stereo cables and tied her up with them.

"I told them we had no money in the house other than what was in my wallet," she said. "I told them to take the TV and the stereo, but they said they weren't interested in that, they were only interested in money."

She said the two men made off with a $100 bill taken from her wallet, but apparently nothing else.

Montgomery County police said they have no leads in the incidents.