Ohio highway shootings unnerve parents, drivers

Thursday, December 4, 2003

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Parents nervously took their children by the hand and walked them to school. Teachers were given maps to help them get to work without using the highway nearby. Outdoor recess was canceled for the rest of the week.

A deadly series of 12 shootings around here since May -- including one in which a bullet broke a window at Hamilton Central Elementary School last month in the middle of the night -- have unnerved parents, motorists and others.

The shootings -- which investigators believe are connected -- have taken place around a five-mile stretch of Interstate 270. One woman in a car was killed last week.

"Until they catch him, there's no way they're getting on the bus," said Michelle Maupin, who changed her routine to drop her 7-year-old daughter off at school.

On Wednesday, police used dogs to search woods for a weapon after residents reported a gunshot near the sites of the shootings. Columbus police spokeswoman Sherry Mercurio said officers were talking to a man, and later led a handcuffed man away from the direction of the woods. But authorities say the case is probably not related to the shootings.

Keeping watch

At Hamilton Central Elementary, police officers and sheriff's deputies watched over students arriving and leaving the brick school, which has 468 students in kindergarten through third grade. Three boys waved cheerily at an officer stationed at the door.

Some parents said they were not comfortable with their children being at class. Seventy students were absent Wednesday, according to the school system, almost double the usual number.

"We told them if anybody comes into the school, to get under the desk and hide," Maupin said.

Hamilton Central, about two miles from I-270, sits along a rural road, with a high school on one side and a school administration building on the other.

Colleen McGowan normally walks with her daughter along a gravel path to the edge of school property. But on Wednesday, she walked the second-grader into the school building. "I told her I'd be picking her up and taking her every day," McGowan said.

McGowan, 30, said she thought it was important for her 7-year-old daughter, Savannah, to be in school despite the danger. "You can't keep them home and keep them from their education," she said.

"I ain't a bit scared. If you're going to get killed, you're going to get it," said J.J. Stamper, 76, as he drank coffee at a McDonald's nearby.

But Yvonne Marcello, 47, said she is almost paralyzed with fear when she thinks about the shootings and crime in general in her neighborhood.

"I don't go out very often. I shouldn't feel so scared, but I do," said Marcello, who does not have a car and has to walk everywhere.

On Wednesday, only about half of the tables were occupied at China City restaurant less than a mile from I-270.

"We were busier before the shootings," said manager Jeffrey Zhu. "I asked a lot of customers. They usually drive this way, but not anymore."

As he left the slower-than-usual Los Camperos Mexican restaurant next door, Bob LaGore, 45, said he, too, is worried about driving on I-270.

"I drive slouched down in the seat," he said.

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