US shootings 'just the way it is'

10:00, Feb 10 2014

In the days since an unknown assailant shot and killed a beloved suburban music teacher when she answered her front door, a certain wariness has descended in the close-knit neighbourhoods of Alexandria, Virginia, where she lived her whole life.

Locksmith Sean Harvey said he has been deluged with calls to install peepholes into front doors since Ruthanne Lodato, 59, a mother of three, was killed at her front door on Thursday (local time).

"People are scared," said Harvey. "Someone knocks on the door, you want to open it. You don't expect someone to shoot you."

Josh Kabler took Harvey's business card and said he'd be calling for new locks and a peephole.

"My wife is really apprehensive," he said. But: "We're so accustomed to guns in society that this is just the way it is. People get killed in car crashes. People get struck by lightning. People got shot. That's just how it goes."

Pam Deichmeister is being cautious after the slaying of Lodato and the similar slaying, on November 11, of neighbour, Ronald Kirby, 69, a director of transportation planning and father of two, who was shot multiple times with an automatic weapon at his front door.

"I'm trying not to be paranoid. I think, 'look around, we live on a quiet street'. Then I think, 'but they lived on quiet streets'," she said. "It just makes you feel uneasy. And watchful."

On Saturday, as Deichmeister sat with her husband and two friends at St Elmo's Coffee Pub, worried talk of the unsolved killings hung over every conversation.

"It just seems so random," said Deichmeister's husband, Bob.

It's not as if random violence had not already hit many close to home. As Kabler said, it's just the way things are now.

Kabler is a graduate of Virginia Tech. His professors and people he knew were shot and killed in the 2007 massacre at the university that left 33 dead, including the shooter, and 17 wounded.

One of Pam Deichmeister's relatives was in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012 when a man opened fire with an automatic weapon and killed 12 people and injured 70 others.

And she was friends with Nancy Dunning, a well-liked Alexandria real estate agent, community volunteer and sheriff's wife who was shot several times in the back in her home in 2003, a killing that remains unsolved.

Bob Deichmeister remembered when another neighbour, Robert Rixse, a doctor, was shot to death in his doorway in 1984, a case that went unsolved for years.

Seated on a couch nearby, Steve Kronheim thought of a neighbour in Maryland killed by John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo in 2002 during the sniper attacks. Ten people were killed and three were wounded during the wave of shootings.

"I just feel like my perspective is changing as my sense of safety is threatened," said Marcia Bond, sitting across from Kronheim. "After the shootings at the Columbia (Maryland) Mall a few weeks ago, I was at a Starbucks and a man came and sat next to me without ordering anything. I began to make a plan for what I'd do if he got up and started shooting. I've never done that before.

"And now, after this murder, I find myself looking around, wondering, 'is anyone in this coffee shop carrying a gun?'."

In Alexandria, police detectives are sifting through more than 100 emails that have come in since they released the composite sketch of the suspect, described as an older, balding white man with a grey beard, said Crystal Nosal, a police spokeswoman.

- Washington Post