It was a hot, quiet afternoon at the Crestview townhouses in Herndon on Monday, so Jacqueline Elliott let the five children at the day care she runs from her home eat popsicles in the back yard.
She won't do that again.
Within minutes, Elliott said yesterday, a "dirty, wild, mangy-looking" fox, its teeth bared, had crawled under her new fence and was dashing toward her charges.
The animal latched onto the legs of one child, then another, while Elliott screamed at the children to run inside. By the time all were inside, the fox had bitten the legs of two children -- Elliott's 7-year-old daughter, Zion, and a 2-year-old -- then fled into the patch of woods behind the complex.
"This was a vicious attack," Elliott said. "He came to do business."
Minutes before, Fairfax County police said, the apparently rabid fox had bitten 5-year-old Madison Randles, who lives a few blocks away from Elliott's home. Police said the fox was likely in the "furious," or final, stages of rabies.
An animal control officer patrolling the neighborhood yesterday afternoon shot and killed an aggressive red fox after spotting it climb out of a sewer vent, said Mary Mulrenan, a police spokeswoman. The dead fox has not yet been tested for rabies, but Mulrenan said it is unlikely that two aggressive foxes would be in the same area.
"We certainly think and hope that it's the same fox," she said.
After the attacks, police had advised residents in the neighborhood, which is just off Herndon Parkway, to keep children and pets inside. Mulrenan said residents could now allow children and pets outside as usual.
All three girls attacked Monday received rabies vaccinations at Reston Hospital Center, Elliott said. Each is taking antibiotics and will have to get four more shots to prevent rabies, a viral disease that can be fatal.
Residents said that foxes are common in the area, where homes back up to dense stretches of trees. But many said the incident was so shocking that the outdoors would be off-limits to their children from now on.
"I told my kids, there's no going outside. It's not safe," said Annie Niungeko, 38, who lives with her five children a few doors down from Elliott.
Her son, 6-year-old Benjamin Kitoka, said he was happy to entertain himself inside yesterday.
Just a few hundred yards across the woods behind the Crestview complex is the Randleses' brick house, where the fox is believed to have paid its first visit shortly before 3 p.m. Monday. Irene Randles, 50, said her granddaughter Madison, her grandson Andrew Keebaugh, 4, and a 3-year-old neighbor had just stepped out of an inflatable pool in the back yard when the fox darted across the yard and lunged toward Madison's stomach.
Irene Randles said she beat the fox off Madison with a pool skimmer and a towel -- and then it came for her.
That's when she wielded a child's chalkboard and a chair, hitting the fox until it took off for the clearing behind their house, she said.
Yesterday, Madison -- the fox's teeth marks concealed under her green T-shirt -- cruised on a pink scooter around the Randleses' driveway, but not before asking her mother, Danette, 23, "Mommy, is the fox out there?"
Irene Randles said she took a big stick with her on a walk, just in case.
The fox attack "does not mean there's a surge in rabies in Northern Virginia," said Michelle Stoll, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health.
As of Saturday, 284 animals in Virginia had tested positive this year for rabies, including 52 in Fairfax County, Fairfax City and Falls Church. More than half of those in the Fairfax area were raccoons, and nine were foxes, Stoll said.
Elliott, 48, said her day-care charges would be inside for the rest of the summer. "It was that devastating," she said.
But down the street from the Randleses' home, Connie Rambo, 36, took a world-weary view about having a rabid fox on the lam in her neighborhood.
"I don't want my kids to be too afraid of it," she said. "It's lower on my list of worries than . . . gang violence."