Published Online: November 12, 2003
Published in Print: November 12, 2003, as School Safety

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Justified Caution

It's a vindicating, if chilling, piece of news.

Five schools in Baltimore County, Md., may have been targets last year of alleged snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo. The two are accused of terrorizing the Washington area last fall with a shooting spree that killed 10 people and seriously injured three, including a 13-year-old boy shot outside a middle school in the Washington suburb of Prince George's County, Md.

Charles A. Herndon, a spokesman for the Baltimore County school system, verified that Oct. 29 testimony in Mr. Muhammad's ongoing capital-murder trial revealed that five district schools were on a slip of paper found in the sniper suspects' Chevrolet Caprice after the two were arrested.

What Arbutus Elementary and Middle schools, Campfield Early Learning Center, Maiden Choice School, and Catonsville Middle School have in common, Mr. Herndon said, are close proximity to major roadways that could have provided easy escape routes for potential gunmen.

Learning of the list "has been very chilling" for the district and its communities, he said.

The sniper shootings occurred over a three-week period and affected the lives of more than 1 million students and teachers in roughly 30 school systems, some located as far as 125 miles from Washington. Within hours of the first shootings, districts throughout the region began restricting access to school buildings. Outdoor activities at many schools were moved inside or canceled. Even movement in school hallways was curtailed. ("Sniper Attacks Prompt District 'Lockdowns,'" Oct. 16, 2002.)

The 108,600-student Baltimore County district, a suburban system outside Baltimore, was one of many that resorted to such "lockdown" procedures during the shootings, Mr. Herndon said. Those precautions invited criticism from some community members, who complained that the policies were an overreaction, given that most of the shootings occurred closer to Washington.

Though district officials never questioned the need for caution during the sniper crisis, Mr. Herndon said, learning that Baltimore County schools showed up on a possible hit list "has proven to us that we took the proper precautions at the time."

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Vol. 23, Issue 11, Page 9

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