Town may have been sniper target

October 14, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

FAIRPLAY - Sitting at the bar Monday afternoon at McNamee's Tavern, Earl Church didn't have to think long about the prospect of possibly being a sniper target.

"Downright scary, really," said Church, 59, of Fairplay. "If they could've got here, I could've got shot. They shot a bus driver. I don't know."

McNamee's, May's Service Station and the Nibble Quik convenience store at the intersection of Md. 65 and Md. 68 are the only storefronts near Fairplay. According to published reports, Fairplay appeared as a possible target on a laptop computer program allegedly used by sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo.


Muhammad's trial is set to begin today in Virginia Beach, Va., in the shooting death of Dean H. Myers, but residents and police still are edgy about what could have happened here a year ago this month, and what could happen in the future.

According to reports last week in The Washington Post, Fairplay was marked with a smiley face on a computer program used by Muhammad and Malvo.

Fairplay residents said they immediately assumed the small business center a mile up the road was the likely target.

Conrad Youngblood, 69, lives at the intersection of Md. 65 and Md. 63, the busiest intersection in Fairplay. He said he'd heard that Fairplay was targeted, and heard from friends that the stores down the street were on the snipers' would-be hit list.

"It's something, I tell you that. It puts chills down your back," Youngblood said.

Washington County Sheriff Charles Mades said there seemed to be little sense in selecting Fairplay as a target.

"I don't know what was in Fairplay that would have attracted them, aside from they could get away easily," Mades said.

For their part, area police said they still were concerned about the sniper shootings, either about how things went or whether it could happen again.

"Nobody ... thought they'd get this far, but then they never thought they'd get that far south on (Interstate) 95," deep in Virginia, Mades said.

"We're in such a mobile society today ... you hope you're in the right place at the right time" to stop a crime spree, Mades said.

Hagerstown City Police Chief Arthur Smith said he recalled meetings with local police departments in Maryland and West Virginia to prepare for a possible shooting. But even a year later, he didn't want to go into specifics because he thinks the sniper case has opened up the possibility of a similar attack by someone else in the future.

"It's not only something that could happen, I only think it's a matter of time before it happens again," Smith said. "We have to, in law enforcement, plan on it."

Martinsburg (W.Va.) Mall also appeared on the snipers' list of targets, according to the reports, but Martinsburg City Police Lt. John McMillan said it didn't surprise him.

"Knowing that we were a potential target, that concerns me, but does it surprise me? It really doesn't," McMillan said.

Jim Shipway, 49, of Fairplay, said he was surprised how close the snipers came. Muhammad and Malvo were taken into custody Oct. 24 at the rest stop on South Mountain, off Interstate 70, just a few miles from his seat Monday at McNamee's.

"It makes you think. You don't know what could happen at any time," Shipway said.

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