October 3, 2007

It's been five years and look at how we've changed

The other day I was pumping gas when I saw this car move from the gas pump over to vacuuming her car. I get gas at this station all the time and have no problem with that but I could never bring myself to vacuum my car here. I would rather go two blocks down and do it.


Because five years ago, October 3rd, at 9:58 am, in what was to be the fourth killing of the morning, 25-year-old Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera was fatally shot while vacuuming her mini van. The rampage didn’t subside til later that evening leaving 5 dead and thus begins the terror of the Beltway Sniper. In realty it wasn’t the beginning but it was the deadliest day of this reign of terror.

Fear struck so many around the Beltway and even further out. By the end of the day I couldn’t help but think this was like a bad movie profiling some serial killer on the loose. It was all so surreal and I just had that thought a year prior during 9/11. Wasn’t 9/11 enough?

People were terrified. The schools were locked down and the kids couldn’t play outside. Instead they were inside practicing what to do for code blue and code red alerts. When did our lives become like the move “Red Dawn”? These things didn’t happen here, especially around DC. It wasn’t really IN DC but all around it in the rural areas and primarily at gas stations. It changed the way we lived our lives and not just for those three weeks of terror but forever.

During those three weeks we all became very aware of our surroundings and every step was carefully planned out. One night I was coming back from a friend’s house in Frederick. Gas was getting low but I didn’t want to stop anywhere unfamiliar or rural. I was living in Bethesda at the time and there were two gas stations near me. As I was driving home I reviewed all the logistics of each gas station in my mind. I decided on the gas station that was surrounded by tall buildings since the other one had easy view of one rural street where someone could hide. People would weave when getting gas so as not to be a sitting duck.

White vans/cargo trucks became a thing to be feared. Whenever I would see one I would look for the orange sticker on the back indicating this white van/truck had been checked and cleared. How crazy is that? There was even a day that traffic got bad and people feared putting children on their school buses for fear of being picked off by the sniper while sitting in traffic. Mini Red’s Dad and I even discussed all of this and feared her red hair would make her a target on the play ground. We knew our thoughts were crazy but we had to be sure to keep her safe no matter what. Underneath, though, we all thought it would never be directed at a child until that day the 13 year old was shot walking into school. That was the most fearful day out of those three weeks because this meant they would stop at nothing not even a child. Thank goodness that child was being watched over by his aunt who saved his life.

At the time I was working on a base that was secured and I hated going to work and having to trust the bus and the school to keep Mini Red safe. The buses changed their routine and how they dropped the kids off. The kid’s route from the bus to the school was blocked and all schools were surrounded by police.

I think we all just wanted to hide inside but that would have given them more power. I hid one day… I just couldn’t bear it and I couldn’t let Mini Red out of my sight. I used that day to gather my wits to then forge forward.

There came a day when I needed gas again. I couldn’t leave Mini Red home alone since she was too young and I didn’t dare take her to a gas station with me. I called my Mom and she suggested I have Mini Red lay down on the floor in the back of the car while I pumped gas. I just couldn’t have Mini Red do that and feared that would scare her so Mom offered to keep her and I ran an errand for her in return. As I headed down the road I saw The Guardian Angels pumping gas at the Shell Station where Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera was shot. I decided that is where I would go for gas after running Mom’s errand. By the time I got back and was heading to that gas station I saw The Guardian Angels leaving. Damn! I couldn’t cross three lanes in time to go to the other station so I went to that Shell. I was terrified but collected myself with the theory that “lightening never strikes twice…” I pulled up to the pump facing the vacuum machine where it all happened. I got out and started the gas pumping and quickly got back in the car and slumped down. I was looking straight ahead into the darkness from where the shot came that kill Lori Ann. Suddenly, the pumping of the gas stopped with a big CLUNK and scared the crap outta me. I was lucky I didn’t pee my pants.

A few days later John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were captured at a rest stop up in Middletown, MD. I swear you could feel the pressure lift off the DC Metro area and there was a collective sigh of relief from us all. It was over! But was it really? We were scared to let our guard down even after finding out how they did it with the hole in the trunk of the car. Even after figuring out how many they had killed across the country. It took quite some time to let our guard down and to this day I can’t even think about vacuuming my car at that Shell station.

First through third grade for Mini Red began with traumatic events and we saw the world change and more than just Mini Red growing up. First grade there was 9/11, Second grade was The Sniper and Third grade was Hurricane Isabella. By the time she started fourth grade I was holding my breath for fear of what would happen that year.

Those three weeks felt more like three months and it’s hard to believe that was five years ago. The world is a much different place now. The war has been fought here and we have felt terror on our own turf. We have felt it from an enemy abroad and the enemy within and both are equally terrifying. Our guards are still up and our skin is thicker but it doesn’t seem to be over yet and each day brings something new to guard against and a new way to protect ourselves.