The letters, cards and balloons began arriving at the Prince William Police Department just as normalcy began to return to the region. In the days after the arrests of the sniper suspects, county residents -- including many children -- wrote to thank the officers who worked to protect them during the three-week ordeal.

Some wrote of their desperate fear during the shootings, especially when a man was shot at a gas station not far from their homes. Some wrote to say how much they appreciated police officers and firefighters for putting their lives on the line for the community.

Some just wrote to say thanks.

"So thanks 1,000,000 for making a difference," one little boy wrote, adorning his letter with drawings of police cars and an American flag.

Every day police officers see the cards, which are on display at the department's Gar-Field substation in Woodbridge.

"Although it didn't affect all of these people directly, I think it affected everyone in a different way," said 1st Sgt. Richard Cantarella, who is in charge of Prince William County's sniper investigation. "How many people can you talk to today who said they weren't looking over their shoulder when they were getting gas during that time?

"It's real encouraging to see the community's support and to know that the people appreciate what these men and women on the police force do," he said.

"These are the people who when there's a report of a shooting, they run toward it while everyone else is running away."

Here is a sample of the letters police received:

Dear PWC,

I am proud of all of you for protecting us from the sniper. . . . You're my heroes. I was thinking of being a teacher. When I do, I'm maybe going to talk about danger, and I'll never forget about your protecting us from them. . . . Thank you for making a difference everywhere, from sea to shining sea, to city to town to country.

From a student in Elementary

Westridge School, 5th grade

P.S. If you can, tell the sniper that I said, "You're mean, for not letting me go outside!"

Dear PWC Police Officers,

Thank you for watching out for us and keeping us out of danger. You are truly big heroes for our school.

Thanks for making a difference.

Sincerely,

Vanessa

Cards and letters of thanks, sent from the community after the sniper attacks, greet Prince William County police officers at the Gar-Field substation in Woodbridge.