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Security Concerns Forces Cancellations, Disruption of Normalcy

A sniper’s reign of terror continues to force cancellations and changes in the way the metro area conducts business.

All area schools remain open but under tight security after police released some of the contents of a note that was found at the scene of the Oct. 19, shooting at a Ponderosa Steak House in Ashland, Virginia. The postscript read: “Your children are not safe anywhere at any time.”

Alexandria City School Board member V. Rodger Digilio responded, saying, “We have known that children were potential targets since the shooting at the middle school in Prince Georges County,” he said. “We are taking every precaution that we can and are working closely with police.”

All outside activity at the city’s public and private schools remains cancelled. Outdoor sports practices have either been cancelled or moved indoors. Some athletic events are being held at undisclosed locations both within and outside the metro area. T. C. Williams students must remain inside the school for lunch, necessitating an ever-changing daily schedule.

Police are present at all schools and throughout the area. “We have officers stationed at all of the schools and at other strategic locations throughout the city,” said Amy Bertsch, a spokesperson for the Alexandria Police Department. “We have detectives who are assisting with the regional task force and Chief [Charles] Samarra is in close contact with the other chiefs of police throughout the region. This has been the case since these shootings began and will continue until this person is caught.”

STUDENTS WILL NOT be in school on Tuesday, Nov. 5, election day. Instead, teachers will use this day as the work day that was originally scheduled for Nov. 11. Thirteen of the city’s schools and/or recreation centers attached to schools are polling sites.

Fairfax County and Arlington schools already use election day as a teacher work day.

“We had asked the School Board to close schools on election day because of safety concerns,” said Don Ludwig, the secretary of the Board of Elections. “I am pleased that they have taken this action and hope that they will consider making it permanent.”

Digilio said that the Board had agreed to close schools for students this year because of the current situation. “It is a safety issue,” he said. “All of us agreed that this was the right thing to do under these circumstances.”

MANY CITY ACTIVITIES have been cancelled, including the annual Breast Cancer Walk that was scheduled for Oct. 26, at Cameron Run Regional Park. “It is with much sadness and regret that I tell you this year’s walk to fight breast cancer has been indefinitely postponed,” said Lisa Oviatt, the director of the city’s office on women. “After much consideration and discussion with the Alexandria Police Department, the mayor’s office and the city manager’s office, we felt that, in light of recent events, it was best for the citizens of Alexandria and participants of the walk to not hold the walk at this time.”

Those who are registered for the walk may stop by the office on women during regular business hours or on Saturday, Oct. 26, between 8 a.m. and noon for a cup of coffee, a breakfast treat and their T-shirt and goodie bag. Money that has been collected will go toward helping women who cannot afford mammograms to obtain them.

The city’s historic hauntings in Old Town has also been cancelled. All outdoor youth recreational activities have been cancelled and city officials said adult sports leagues are being given the option to hold their competition at their own discretion.

Del Ray’s Halloween parade and party have been moved indoors at the Mt. Vernon Recreation Center. Trick-or-treat will be discussed by Council of Government members on a conference call that will be held on Thursday, Oct. 24.

“We all want to make a decision and say the same thing,” said Alexandria Mayor Kerry J. Donley. “Trick-or-treat is not a government-sponsored event so we can’t really cancel it but as a parent, I can tell you that my children won’t be out.”

The Alexandria City Council's retreat has been moved from the Winkler Preserve back to City Hall this Saturday. and the walking tour sponsored by Alexandria Archeology, also scheduled for this weekend, has been cancelled.

WHAT MORE CAN the jurisdictions do? “The decision to keep schools open is an administrative one and we have left it to the superintendent who is in daily contact with our police department,” said Sally Ann Baynard, a member of the city’s School Board. “We need to maintain an environment that is as normal as possible for our children but understand that no one is completely safe.”

Councilwoman Claire Eberwein echoed these sentiments. “I have every confidence in Chief Samarra and I know our police detectives are doing everything they can to aid the regional investigation,” she said. “This killer has disrupted our region and citizens need to do their part to help police by taking prudent precautions and remaining alert and observant. One course of action that I am confident is being pursued is a perimeter security check of school buildings to determine if there are certain entry ways that are more protected than others and to redirect students to those points at the start and close of school.”

Donley encouraged citizens to continue with their normal activities but exercise appropriate caution. “These are strange and unusual times,” he said. “Citizens should go about their normal routines but stay alert and report anything that they believe to be suspicious to police.”

The task force number is 1-888-324-9800.