SOCIETY COULD NOT have asked any more of Dona Elizabeth Ferguson of Capitol Heights, Md. She was devoted to her children and worked hard to keep them on the right path. She held down a full-time job on the overnight shift in a supermarket and spent afternoons caring for other children at her church's small, private school. Between shifts, she tended to her own children at home. On Wednesday, Mrs. Ferguson was hanging ruffled tan drapes in her living room window when a gunman's stray bullet ended her life.

Dona Ferguson and her children lived in a community so fraught with danger that they spent most of their time in the rear of their house with the curtains drawn. Gun-toting drug dealers ruled the streets outside their front door, and she wanted to keep her children as far away from them as possible. A stray bullet through one of her windows several weeks earlier had convinced her that locked doors were no protection from gunshots. She was planning to move as soon as another place could be found. Unfortunately, a bullet fired at a drug dealer fleeing down her driveway found her first.

Law-abiding residents such as the Ferguson family shouldn't have to huddle in fear of drug-dealing disputes and gunfire. But without the aggressive police protection afforded neighborhoods where drug dealing and shootings are rare, they have little choice but to hide. A neighbor familiar with both the Ferguson family and the nearby drug scene said it was unusual to see residents come out of their houses. Because of the drug dealing and violence, "They go to work, come back and close their doors," the neighbor said.

No community should be held hostage to that kind of intimidation and danger. But because terror was allowed to rule their street, a young family on the way up has been cruelly deprived of its hardworking and devout mother. Dona Ferguson "loved everybody she came across and never showed any hate for anyone," said a church elder. "That's just a great loss." It is also a waste and a shame.