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Just a little too close for comfort

October 13, 2002 1:02 am

HOW CLOSE DID I come to that bullet that sailed across the Spot- sylvania Mall access road that Friday afternoon and into the Michaels store parking lot? Probably not that close, but certainly closer than I would like. Probably not close enough for some of my detractors.

I made that left-hand turn off State Route 3 at 2:30, give or take a minute, to run an errand at the mall. Between five and 10 minutes later, I was headed back out, and needed to pause for an ambulance turning left in front of me into the Michaels parking lot.

How oblivious we are to what is going on around us. I hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary, and assumed the ambulance was headed to assist some unfortunate soul who had suffered a heart attack inside Michaels or Haverty's.

Besides, I had other things on my mind. I'd arranged with my wife to arrive home early, and at this rate I'd be there in time to greet the school bus at the corner. But I was headed back out onto Route 3 on a Friday afternoon--no telling how long it would take to get from Point A to Point B.

(Turns out that wasn't even the worst of it. Now that they're working in earnest on widening Leavells Road, well, let's just say things'll get worse along there before they get better.)

It wasn't until I encountered a neighbor mom at the bus stop that I learned there'd been a shooting at the Michaels store a short time earlier. I mean, I just drove by there, and I didn't see anything, no cops.

Wait a minute--there was that ambulance.

And it wasn't until I saw the diagram in the next morning's newspaper that I realized the shot had apparently been fired from near the Pizza Hut, across my path. Was I in the cluster of vehicles that the gunman waited to pass in order to get a clear shot into the Michaels parking lot?

I am not exactly the paranoid sort. Ever since burglars removed everything of value from my parents' house in Baltimore 20 years ago, I've known that bad things happen to people who least deserve it and when they least expect it. As a news person, I'm more aware than most of stories from here, across the country, and around the world about accidents and senseless crimes that claim innocent lives.

Without question our wariness has escalated after the terrorist attacks, and more recently with the unsolved (at this writing) sniper shootings--now two of them in our immediate area. People around the Fredericksburg area seem to have had a head start on being vigilant, given the slayings of Amy Baker, Nancy Seay, Alicia Reynolds, Sofia Silva, Kristin and Kati Lisk, and other cases, solved and unsolved, that have touched this area over the past 13 years.

But the odds are, in spite of the countless dangers that lurk out there, that we will all live to see another day.

So in light of all of this, please, let's not have anyone from around here be quoted as saying, "I never thought anything like this would happen around here." Because unless you've spent years in a coma, you know that if it can happen, it can happen here. It can happen anywhere. No area, no matter how friendly, ordinary, or historically crime-free, is immune from the actions of the misguided few.

This area has proved time and again to be ripe for criminal activity. It is a growing area. Law enforcement is stretched to the limit, having to handle routine patrols and calls as well as long-term, high-profile investigations.

We are located along Interstate 95, perhaps the most heavily traveled corridor in the country. Such access is enticing for a criminal in search of an opportunity and a quick getaway.

It's ironic that the same aspects of life these days in the Fredericksburg area make it an enticing place to live for some and an increasingly unattractive place for others.

As is the case with other growing and economically healthy areas, there is wealth, but also a widening disparity between the haves and have-nots.

There is crime, but also remarkable stories of unity and adjustment to the changes at hand.

There are traffic jams, but there are more services and stores closer to home.

There are rising taxes, but rising salaries as well--according to Census figures, anyway.

What this all means is that we, as individuals or a community, should not consider ourselves any more or less vulnerable than anyone else. Right now it's our turn to be looking over our shoulders a little more often, to be a little more aware of our surroundings. But we're used to that.

Come to think of it, there may be few communities better than ours at keeping watch for suspect behavior, or for vehicles of a certain description. If looking out for ourselves and our neighbors is becoming second nature, that's not a bad thing.

In fact, that might be just the reputation we want. Let's put it on some I-95 billboards.

RICHARD AMRHINE is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.





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