Ten years ago today, a sense of normalcy was slowly returning to the Maryland, Virginia and D.C. areas.
Students were returning to playing fields and people were once again strolling in parks and taking in the fall colors. Even a visit to a gas station was taking on a new look.
For three weeks, their lives had been in turmoil.
Not knowing where the D.C. snipers would hit next, no one lingered anywhere. People dashed in and out of stores. Drivers of big trucks suddenly found themselves unlikely heroes as they shielded others at gas stations.
News of the capture of the two men responsible for the murders of 10 people and wounding of three others -- John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo -- brought elation and relief.
The two were taken into custody without incident in a rest area along I-70 in Frederick County, Md.
Muhammad was executed by lethal injection in a Virginia prison in 2009, while Malvo, who was a juvenile, remains incarcerated.
Two retired Maryland State Police troopers say it was a case like no other.
When shots rang out in Montgomery County on Oct. 3, 2002, MSP (ret.) Lt. Ray Wojcik was in class with federal, state and local officers. “Ironically,” he said. “The topic was domestic terrorism.”
As soon as they received word that four people had been shot in separate locations, the class was suspended, and the officers headed to Montgomery County. A case of domestic terrorism, they surmised.
For the next three weeks, Wojcik was spending 12-hour days in a command post fielding calls and coordinating follow-ups with liaisons from the FBI and Montgomery County.
When officers learned that a white box truck was seen leaving one of the early shooting scenes, police all over the East Coast started stopping vehicles matching that description - but it wasn't connected.
“I think the driver heard a shot or something, and decided to get the heck out of there,” he said. “Who could blame them?”
The snipers were captured in a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice.
A car matching that description was observed leaving the scene of a shooting in Washington, D.C. early in the investigation, but Metropolitan Police advised it was unrelated.
Three weeks after the random, deadly rampage started, police got the information they’d been waiting for.
Officers learned they were looking for two black males in a Chevrolet Caprice with New Jersey tags.
That’s when retired Lt. David Reichenbaugh said things got tense in the joint command center.
The former MSP intelligence division operations chief said he was adamant that the information be given to all law enforcement officers as soon as possible. Others, however, argued they shouldn’t let it out.
“I wanted a full court press. I wanted flyers made up and distributed. I wanted everyone to know what we were looking for,” Reichenbaugh said. “But, I was met with real resistance. I told them we’d be burying officers if we held back.”
Not willing to give in, the lieutenant said although he knew what his response would be, he called Col. David Mitchell, then MSP superintendent.
“Without hesitation, he backed me up. He told me he wanted every single barrack notified personally, and he wanted flyers distributed. He wanted Greg Shipley (the MSP PIO) putting it out to the news media. And, as I did, he wanted cops everywhere to know.”
Wojcik spent the next hour calling every barracks in the state with the new info on the car and suspects. Flyers were made up, and troopers were relaying them to various areas of the state.
Reichenbaugh was headed home in Frederick County, and was about to rendezvous with a trooper to hand off flyers when he was advised by the Frederick barracks to switch to another channel on his radio.
A truck driver had just called the barracks, telling him the Chevrolet Caprice he’d heard about on the news was in a rest area on I-70 near Myersville.
At the same time, Wojcik was picking up the phone in the command post to hear MSP Communications Officer Tina Murphy saying: ‘We've got your car.”