For Larry Killens it came down to this: What would scare his daughter least? Should he tell her to find a new way to walk to school, one that didn't pass the corner where five children were shot Thursday? Or should he tell her to keep going the same way?

Having her jump through hoops to go between home and school would only put 12-year-old Nethash Killens in a constant state of fear by turning three city blocks into a terrifying obstacle course, her father figured.

"I'm going to tell her to watch herself. Period. She's at an age where she knows what's going on," Killens said.

Besides, a circuitous route to Montgomery Elementary School wouldn't guarantee the girl's safety. Violence could just as easily explode in the surrounding blocks of the Shaw neighborhood. "You can't dodge bullets," Killens said.

Since Thursday's drive-by shooting, many parents in the community in Northwest Washington are pondering ways to ensure that their children get to and from school safely. In a neighborhood where few people can afford private schools and many don't own cars, some parents feel helpless.

"As a parent, I've always been fearful and worried," said a woman who lives at Fifth and O streets NW, across from where the shootings occurred. She did not want to be identified. "I was scared before the shootings and I'm scared now. You can teach your children to stay away from drugs, but you can't stop them from being an innocent victim.

"I would love to move," said the mother of two. "But I don't have the money."

One of the wounded children, 6-year-old Azelia Paul, attends Montgomery Elementary School at Fifth and P streets NW. Police said she was not a target of the shooters. Azelia was a block away from the school when she was wounded in the wrist.

Yesterday, parents, most of them mothers, stood outside waiting for their children to come out. But the school crossing guard noticed that a lot of children had stayed home.

Even before the 3 p.m. bell, Shirley Cooper rushed up N Street to pick up her 3-year-old niece from the preschool class. "Her mother and I decided I should come to pick her up earlier today," said Cooper, checking her watch. "I want to get her out of here and far away before school ends -- in case those people come back at the same time."

Her sister has set up an intricate day care system to make sure someone is always there to drop off and pick up her child, Cooper said.

"She has to work, but still she has to do what she can to make sure her daughter's taken care of," the woman said. "This is all so scary to us."

By the time the bell rang, Cooper and her niece, bundled in a turquoise coat and pink hat, had walked out of sight. When the heavy green doors to the school opened, Santa Claus was the first person to step out.

Santa, actually Mike Fisher, was a parent who had entertained the students at their classroom Christmas parties. "I come up here anyway, to pick up my son, every day," Fisher said, before he was surrounded by small children.

Delores Billups had waited at the entrance for 15 minutes before her daughter, Angel, a second-grader, bounced out.

"I walk her -- off and on -- because I have asthma and can't always come. But I was a little concerned after the shootings. I started to keep her home, but she was excited about the Christmas party."

Billups said she and Angel watched television news reports about the shooting Thursday, and talked about what had happened. "I told her she has to be careful, but I'm not sure she understands. What can you do?" Billups said. She said she would try to walk her daughter to school more often, though she is thankful for the respite that would come with the holiday vacation.

Principal Harriett Freeman, an assistant principal and office workers from Montgomery Elementary patrolled out front after school yesterday, encouraging the students to hurry home.

Denise Adams always has walked her two daughters, a preschooler and a second grader, to and from school every day. "I feel better," Adams said. "I don't want them walking to school by themselves.

"It's the only way a parent can protect their child. If you work, I think you have to make sure an adult takes the child and picks them up. You just have to do that in Washington, D.C.," said Adams, a native of the city who said her godmother walked her to school even when she was in high school.

Adams said she heard the principal use the school intercom yesterday morning to tell students to be careful on their way home from school.

A group of little girls leaving the school said their teachers talked to them, too.

"We hear gunshots a lot of times at night," one 8-year-old said. "I duck down by the bed."

All of the girls said the O Street Boys is the gang that caused problems in their neighborhood.

"They fight over stupid stuff," a 7-year-old said.

An 11-year-old in the group said her mother called from the hospital, where she was "getting ready to have a baby," to talk to her. "She said, 'Don't walk down by the shootings; go another way,' " the girl said.

Meanwhile, nothing will change because her niece and the other children were shot, said Juliana Paul-Myers, Azelia Paul's aunt and guardian.

"It makes me mad," she said. "It's everybody's fight, not just one person's. You don't have to be a victim to fight."

"I want to move," Azelia blurted as she munched on corn chips at home yesterday. Her wounded wrist was bandaged and she still was wearing a hospital identification bracelet.

But Paul-Myers said they would not leave the house her family owns, where she was brought up by her parents.

"You got to get tough and keep going," Paul-Myers said. "You just try to make it better. There ain't nowhere to run and hide."