Terror Triggered by Pepper Spray

'Mass Casualty' Incident Turns Out False Alarm

Fear came calling Wednesday. When dozens of people began emerging from a downtown office building complaining of uncontrollable coughing and stinging eyes -- potential symptoms of exposure to a nerve agent -- first responders went into high gear, and one passed along information that this was being treated as a "mass casualty" incident. That language was picked up by the Associated Press, the stock market dove and police pagers buzzed with reports of a terrorism attack.

Turned out it was pepper spray that a couple of teenagers mishandled -- not a prank, a mistake.

Party Backs Challenger Over Chavous

Council Incumbent Dismisses Endorsement

D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous dismissed his failure to gain an endorsement by the city's Democratic Party for the Ward 7 race in which he is the incumbent. The D.C. Democratic State Committee instead endorsed one of his opponents in the Sept. 14 primary, Vincent C. Gray, a former city agency chief. Chavous said: "It's the voters that are going to make the decision. And I like my chances with those folks."

A Gaffe in D.C.'s Election Guide

Mailing Could Confuse Voters on Polling Places

Beware the D.C. elections board's voters guide, mailed out recently to residents. The guide, distributed to more than 1,000 households, appears to instruct recipients to report to the wrong polling places for the Sept. 14 primary election. The executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics said she plans to send out a second mailing with accurate information.

District's SAT Scores Climb

Results Still Below Average, but Gap Narrows

SAT scores were released last week and showed a substantial improvement for District students, up 14 points to a combined score of 814 out of a possible 1600. The combined score, system officials said, reflected an improvement for seniors of six points on the math section and eight on the verbal. Officials said they are not satisfied with that performance but were happy to post a 14-point gain when the national average remained the same -- 1026.

School Vouchers Going Unused

290 Drop Out or Don't Respond to Grant Offers

School vouchers, which allow students to switch to private or parochial schools, aren't a hot commodity in the District. More than one in five students who received vouchers to pay for private tuition are not using them, District officials said. Of 1,359 low-income students notified that they had won grants, families of 290 have dropped out or not responded. Families contacted by the nonprofit group hired to run the program said that they preferred the academic offerings at public schools in some cases and in others said the logistics, including getting kids to other schools, were too daunting.

Cosby, Ramsey Share the Airwaves

Two Urge More Responsibility Among Blacks

Bill Cosby finally showed up -- by phone. After canceling in the past, he called in as he had earlier promised to WTOP's "Ask the Chief" show, and he and D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey revisited their shared cause of urging more parental responsibility among African Americans. Cosby's highly critical comments of the black community angered some, who said his demand that blacks stop blaming whites for their problems let whites off the hook. Cosby said he was prompted to make his comments after he heard Ramsey calling for more parental responsibility.

Metro to Train Passengers for Disaster

Group Will Learn Evacuation Procedures

Metro will begin training a select group of commuters this month in ways to evacuate trains and subway tunnels and to help fellow passengers during a terrorist attack or rail disaster. Officials have developed an unusual program that will include walking the volunteers into dark subway tunnels.

Drive-by shooting: Police officials examine evidence in the 4300 block of Third Street SE, where four people, including a 4-year-old boy, were wounded Tuesday afternoon.