Charleston, W.Va. Memories of last fall's sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C., area, including one shooting outside a school, have raised the anxiety level here as students prepare to start the school year knowing a copycat shooter may be on the loose.
Three people have been killed this month in a series of sniper-style slayings at convenience stores in the Charleston area. Ballistics tests have confirmed that the bullets used in the killings came from the same .22-caliber gun.
"People are edgy. People are jumpy. There's no question about it," said Kanawha County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Phil Morris.
Public schools will open Tuesday for the 27,000 students in Kanawha County, where Charleston and other communities victimized by the shootings are located.
Supt. Ron Duerring said the district wasn't planning any "extraordinary" safety measures, but all school principals are prepared to discuss emergency response plans with concerned students.
Campbells Creek resident Rita Carr said she would drive her children to school rather than let them take the bus.
"I'm scared to send them," Carr said Saturday.
She said the shootings had created an atmosphere of panic and fear in Campbells Creek, where one shooting occurred.
"I don't even think they should have mentioned it on the news," she said. "We would have been better off if they had left it out."
Last October, a 13-year-old boy was shot and critically wounded outside a Bowie, Md., school, the youngest victim of the Washington-area sniper attacks. Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, and John Allen Muhammad, 42, have been charged with 13 shootings, including 10 deaths, stemming from the three-week shooting spree in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
In the Kanawha County schools, security had been boosted even before this month's shootings, prompted by violence at a school board meeting last month. A disgruntled school maintenance worker shot a teacher and doused two other people with gasoline.
"In light of what has happened ... we really have beefed up our security measures in all our schools," Duerring said.
Gary Carrier Jr., 44, was killed Aug. 10 while talking on a pay telephone outside a Charleston convenience store.
Four days later, Jeanie Patton, 31, and Okey Meadows Jr., 26, were killed in separate shootings about 90 minutes and 10 miles apart outside rural convenience stores east of Charleston. The county operates K-8 schools in Campbells Creek and Cedar Grove, the communities where the two were killed.