Blazers lived in fear


Nov. 8, 2002, midnight | By Jennie Breads | 18 years, 2 months ago

For some, sniper fear caused changes in habits


A few steps to the left coupled with erratic turns to the right. Bob, weave. Bob, weave. For freshman Gabriela Diaz, these strange new maneuvers typified her new walk home from the bus stop.
"People gave me funny looks," Diaz admits, "but I didn't care. I just didn't wanna be shot!"

When the series of sniper attacks began on Oct 2, many Blazers shared similar feelings of fear, according to an informal Silver Chips poll of 100 students on Oct 14. Fifty-six percent reported feeling more anxious about their safety due to the shootings, and 32 percent said they altered their daily routines in response to the attacks.

The fear factor

Sophomore Andrea Sempertegui said during the crisis that she limited her outdoor activities as much as possible. "My parents put me on strict lockdown," she says, shaking her head. "I rarely went out, and if I did want to go somewhere, my older brother had to come with me."

Other students, like senior Bryan Martinez, were anxious about participating in activities that were once very routine. "I sat in the car when I had to pump gas," Martinez explains. "Otherwise I would have been a potential target."

While the public's intense fear of more attacks drove school officials to cancel sporting events and outdoor activities across the area, there was a mixed reaction from Blazers about the way officials dealt with the situation.

On one hand, Diaz argues that safety had to be the priority. "I wouldn't have felt comfortable if I had to play a game or spend lots of time outside," she says. "For safety reasons, it was probably a good idea that activities were cancelled."

Still, junior Nicole Gray argues, there came a time to put fears aside and continue with daily life. "It was frustrating that games were cancelled because the [girls'] varsity soccer team was having an incredible season," she says with a disappointed sigh. "It was at the point that we had to move on with our lives."

Senior Enrique Martinez concurs with Gray and adds that the presence of the sniper did not necessarily decrease anyone's overall level of safety. "Anyone at any time can still shoot you," he explains seriously. "The sniper just made us more aware of that fact."

In an opinion essay in the Washington Post on Oct 15, Paul Appelbaum, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of Massachusetts medical school and president of the American Psychiatric Association wrote that anxiety due to the sniper attacks was especially strong because of the random nature of the shootings. "This fear, the one that permeates the lives of Washingtonians, is worse than most because of the unpredictability of the threat . . . whites, blacks, Asians, both genders, adults and children—they all share the risk," he wrote.

Coping with anxiety

According to Seth Hassett, chief of the Emergency Services Disaster Relief branch of the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), fear was a completely rational response to the sniper attacks. The only time that fear becomes a problem, he says, is when "reactions keep you from living your life."

Hassett explains that for some people, the fear of being shot was so intense that they had difficulty concentrating and sleeping. Another sign that people needed to seek help was if they were so preoccupied with the event that they were constantly looking for updates in the news, says Hassett.

Although senior Elizabeth Inkellis denies that she was obsessed with the crisis, she says that during the attacks she did become an avid listener of radio news stations. "I used to listen to CDs all the time in my car," she explains. "But during the crisis I had my car radio locked onto stations that gave updates about the attacks."

In order to help students who had more difficulty coping with their fears, the CMHS website provided information to help members of the community. The website notes that in the case of any traumatic event, it is important for all teens to discuss anxious feelings with a trustworthy adult.

Although the crisis is over, MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast says it is still important to address any lasting effects of the attacks. In an Oct 25 update to parents, students and staff, Weast wrote that "mental health professionals remind us to remain aware of the prolonged effects of this stressful situation."

Weast also wrote that schools are obtaining new material to deal with traumatic events and that student absenteeism may be excused if parents write a note.

According to Hassett, during any stressful time in the present or future, people must also acknowledge the importance of unity. He affirms, "We were all in this situation together, and that was the great strength."

Despite the strength that Hassett says the Washington, D.C., area demonstrated throughout the crisis, Diaz's fear did not easily subside. Until the sniper was caught, Diaz says, she had no plans to cease her zigzag walk.

Instead, Diaz developed a new strategy to reduce the absurd appearance of her trip home. "I found that if I listened to music, people just thought I was dancing," she says with a laugh . . . and a sudden step to the right.



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Jennie Breads. Senior Jennifer Breads is the Managing Health Editor for this year. Aside from writing lots of health stories, Jennifer enjoys playing soccer and lacrosse and she is excited to be part of the Silver Chips team! More »

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