A group holding a weekly peace vigil in Howard County has endured curses, yelling and threats of violence. But on Saturday, police said, someone in a car fired a shot at the group that came within inches of one of the protesters.
Samuel E. Stayton, 66, of Columbia, said he was carrying a sign made of particle board and had it propped up on his belt buckle about 4:30 p.m. Saturday, about halfway through the vigil. "I heard this noise and felt a vibration in my sign," he said. "I looked at the sign and saw a little hole in the lower left corner."
Stayton said the hole went through the sign and missed his midsection by about four inches.
The sign read, "Peace on Earth."
"We believe it was a BB or a pellet of some kind fired by a moving vehicle," said Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. An officer went to the scene and took a report, but Stayton said he had not seen who fired the shot.
The vigil, which has attracted about 10 to 15 people each week since it began about two months ago, was organized by a local Quaker group in response to U.S. military action in Afghanistan, although not everyone involved is affiliated with the Quakers. The gathering is held Saturdays at Broken Land Parkway and Little Patuxent Parkway, a busy intersection near The Mall in Columbia.
Participants stand silently on the sidewalk carrying signs with slogans such as "Justice, yes. Violence, no" and "War is not the answer."
Saturday's shooting was the first violent incident the group has encountered. The demonstrators have been heckled before, and occasionally someone has flashed an obscene gesture. "Last week, I heard, 'War is good,' " Stayton recalled. "Another one said, 'War is the answer.' "
Organizer Sherry Morgan, of Scaggsville, said: "I recall one particularly disturbing incident [on a previous weekend] where a gentleman was sitting in the left turn lane yelling, 'You should all be killed.' "
Morgan said that on Sunday, the local Quaker meeting discussed the shooting incident and decided to continue the vigils.
Morgan said she came to beliefs about the war in Afghanistan after considerable thought, weighing her pacifist leanings against her feelings about people directly affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "Justice can be pursued without dropping bombs on a country," she said.
The demonstrators considered asking for extra police protection in light of the shooting incident, but in the end decided against it.
Stayton said that he will continue to attend. "It did shake me up a little bit," he said. "I wouldn't want to do it alone."
© 2001 The Washington Post Company