SILVER SPRING, Md. – Kathy Franco cased the strip mall off Cherry Hill Road twice before she decided to shop at the Babies "R" Us store there. She wanted to make sure there were no woods nearby where a sniper could hide.
She was already angry that a sniper has disrupted life in the Washington area. But when she learned Tuesday that he was specifically targeting children, her anger turned to rage.
"This isn't a person as far as I'm concerned," she said as she pushed 6-week-old daughter Katherine and 2-year-old son Liam in a shopping cart at the Silver Spring store. "Whoever or whatever this is, it's not a human being if he targets children. There's nothing that can justify that."
On Tuesday, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose released a chilling passage from a note left by the killer at the scene of a shooting Saturday in Ashland, Va.
"Your children are not safe anywhere at any time," Moose read in slow, unemotional tones.
The announcement came as officials investigated the shooting death of a 35-year-old bus driver less than a mile from where the killing spree began Oct. 2. If this case is linked to the others, this would be the sniper's 10th killing.
After the first eight victims were adults, parents dared to believe the sniper would not target children. Then a 13-year-old boy was critically wounded outside a Bowie middle school Oct. 7.
Moose's announcement explained to Janet Stinebaugh why Richmond, Va., area schools closed for two days.
"When the schools closed, I questioned the real motive. My first reaction was, what do they know that we don't know?" said Stinebaugh, who has daughters ages 10, 13 and 16 in Chesterfield County public schools, about 13 miles outside Richmond.
Her children will be going to school Wednesday. She said she has to trust that administrators made the right decision, but understands parents who want to keep their kids home.
"It may be that I go to the bus stop with them," she said. "I know that the mother who drives the one in high school takes them right to the door, so that makes me feel a little better. I just refuse to be fearful."
Back in Silver Spring, Ronald Briggs was thinking of taking his 2-year-old son Jalen shopping Tuesday for a Halloween costume. The curly haired boy loves the cartoon character, Rolie Polie Olie.
But after Tuesday's revelation, it could all be moot.
"With that, if they don't catch him by Halloween, I won't be taking him out anywhere, except day care and home," the investment analyst said as he held the boy's hand outside a Target store. "I'm sure they'll say that on the news and the police will say that anyway."
Franco, 33, who is on maternity leave, has had to abandon her favorite McDonald's Play Place because it's too close to Interstate 95. It's just as well: The door to the jungle gym is locked, closed because of the sniper.
Since the shootings began, the Washington property manager has started doing her grocery shopping at a nearby military base. Recently, she saw a woman in the parking lot telling her kids to line up "like little ducks."
She now tries to do the same with Liam and Katherine — so she will take a bullet instead of them.
"As a parent, we protect our children like a lioness," she said, her soft red hair seeming to burst into flame. "So whatever I have to do to protect them, I will.
"I look at them as a blessing even more now."