The lingering feeling among parents and others after an armed robbery at Cradlerock School in east Columbia last week appears to be neither shock nor fear, but keen indignation.

"Who has the nerve? How dare they?" said Nanette Hunter, president of the PTA. "Everyone had pretty much the same reaction."

The robbery, which occurred shortly after a back-to-school event, has shaken the school of more than 900 students, the only one in the county with 10 grades, from pre-kindergarten through middle school. In recent years, the school on Cradlerock Way has merged its elementary and middle schools and changed its name as part of a broader push to strengthen student achievement.

"We want kids to see the positives, to keep up their self-esteem and confidence, so it doesn't appear to be this place that has this cloud over it," Hunter said.

Howard police are continuing their search for two people who accosted a school janitor at gunpoint on the evening of Sept. 12 and made off with 30 laptop computers. Police said the robbery occurred shortly after 10 p.m. as custodian William Pierce Jr. was cleaning up after the first of Cradlerock School's three back-to-school nights that week.

Pierce was confronted by two young males wearing black masks. One carried a gun, and they forced Pierce to the school's media center, where they took the laptop computers, Pierce's driver's license and $100 from him. Before they left, they tied Pierce's hands behind his back; but he freed himself and called police.

"We're not 100 percent sure how they got in the building," said Principal Jason McCoy. "We have our routine of checking the doors. The custodians were doing that right before I left." McCoy said there were no signs of forced entry.

The principal sent a letter home to parents the next day explaining what had happened and telling them that the upcoming back-to-school nights would be held as scheduled. Police officers were at the school last week to provide extra security, and school officials have been implementing additional safety measures, such as giving custodians handheld radios to communicate with each other.

"I'm a parent here myself," said McCoy, who has a middleschooler at Cradlerock and who is serving his first year as principal there. "We feel it continues to be a safe school."

But he acknowledged that the theft of the computers, worth more than $30,000, is a blow to the school's instructional efforts.

"Anytime you lose 30 computers in a school, it's going to impact you," he said.

School officials and parents are debating whether to raise money for new equipment or arrange to borrow computers. The students at Cradlerock are coping, McCoy said.

"They know this is wrong. It hurts them instructionally," he said. "They have the same level of concern that we do."