On the suburban front line, sniper's warning forces parents to confront their worst fears

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The Independent US

Edward Shoemaker stood at the end of Julep Avenue, looking in every direction, but focusing mostly on his nine-year-old grandson. William stood a few yards away, playing in the sunshine with his friends beneath falling autumnal leaves.

Edward Shoemaker stood at the end of Julep Avenue, looking in every direction, but focusing mostly on his nine-year-old grandson. William stood a few yards away, playing in the sunshine with his friends beneath falling autumnal leaves.

While William was carelessly waiting for the yellow Montgomery County school bus to take him to Glenhaven Elementary School yesterday, his nervous grandfather was on the look-out for a killer.

"It's very scary," said Mr Shoemaker, throwing a glance over his shoulder. "It's not safe anytime."

Suburbia has become the front line. On Tuesday evening, police revealed that the Washington area sniper had left them a $10m (£6.5m) ransom note warning: "Your children are not safe anywhere at anytime."

Police confirmed that the most recent shooting – which fatally wounded Conrad Johnson, a Maryland bus driver,on Monday morning – was indeed the work of the sniper, who has now claimed 13 victims and 10 fatalities. It was also revealed that the gunman had left a second letter for the police at the scene of Tuesday's shooting.

But among the tree-lined streets of Montgomery County, where the neat gardens and white wooden homes could have come straight from the saccharine-dipped brush of Norman Rockwell, people were interested solely in trying to keep their children safe.

"I awoke last night to find that my eight-year-old daughter had got into bed with us, she was so scared," said Barbara Dassing, standing with a couple of other mothers who had seen their children on to the bus. "Someone said their 13-year-old son had got into bed with them. What do you say to them? You say there is a bad man out there and the police are trying to catch him."

"Basically the kids are fine but they are concerned," said Doreen Brandes, headteacher at Sligo Middle School in Wheaton, where all the blinds were drawn in line with security advice. "It's important they come to school for a number of reasons – to preserve a sense of normality and to carry on with their education."

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