At random – A look back

Evelyn C. McDonald, Arts & Culture Reporter

By Evelyn C. McDonald
Arts & Culture Reporter

May 6, 2022

Originally posted March 12, 2020

Editor’s Note: Evelyn C. Mcdonald, arts & culture reporter, joined our staff in May 2015. Since then, she has taken us to plays and art exhibits; on various trips: one to the Railroad Museum in Callahan and Jacksonville’s Sally Corporation’s animatronics exhibit. Especially helpful amid a pandemic, Evelyn suggested books and movies to enjoy. Besides writing for the Fernandina Observer, Evelyn is very involved in two non-profit groups.

When we asked Evelyn to name her favorite article, she selected “At Random,”  an article we will share with you today.  Thank you, Evelyn, for volunteering your time with the Fernandina Observer. We appreciate all you have done.


The coronavirus situation made me think about another time in my life when the random nature of reality made daily living difficult.

On October 2, 2004, the Washington evening news had the story of a man being shot in a grocery store parking lot in Montgomery County, Maryland. That quickly enlarged to four people the next morning and the saga of the Beltway Sniper began. I was living in the Maryland suburbs in Potomac and working in Bethesda. Over the next few weeks, the story played out. People of all colors, races, and genders were killed all over the Maryland and Virginia suburbs in a random pattern. They were shopping, getting off a bus, sitting on a park bench – such ordinary things. Reports of cars speeding out of a crime scene led to all of us looking for a white panel truck or a dark sedan.

Eventually, the police refined their search to looking for a specific sedan with specific plates. On October 24 by some quirk, the snipers had parked at a roadside rest area on I-70 north of town. Their car was spotted by a trucker who’d pulled in for the night to sleep. He alerted the police about the car and they came and surrounded the car. As randomly as it began, it was over. The snipers were a man in his 30s and his young nephew. He had cut a hole in the back of the car just over the bumper. He and his nephew would pull the rear seat down and lie prone to shoot through the hole with a hunting rifle.

I keep a journal of various events and ideas in my daily life. I went back to find the entries from the Beltway Sniper saga. Here are some of them:

“It’s been a constant source of edginess, concern and glances over one’s shoulder since it began October 2. It changed life as we know it in this city. Outdoor events were canceled, schools were in lockdown, people didn’t make forays outside. If people had to get gas, they hopped out, kept low, then huddled in their cars. Twenty-two days – a real siege.

Staying home thus has some appeal. If I only go out one day on the weekend, I minimize my chances of becoming a target. It’s frightening and yet unreal. When I leave the house in the morning, my odds are better at being in a traffic accident. But we learn to forget that type of statistic.

Life in the crosshairs. We go about our business but we’re on edge. When the sniper left the card saying he was God, he was right in a way. He is the capricious god, the random roulette wheel nature of the universe. It’s the event that no amount of thinking can enable you to make sense of. Deep down I think we know that this is the way the world is. We just don’t like to believe it.””

Oddly enough, no solutions posed by either side of the gun debate would have had much impact on this situation. Arming everyone is no protection from a sniper. And eliminating automatic rifles would also have had no effect. The gun was stolen from a gun shop whose records were so incomplete that they had been cited several times and the owner forced to sell his business. I think he sold it to a friend or relative and continued to run it.

It’s not my intent to focus on gun control. I’ve thought of this incident over the years as the number of gun rampages has mounted. The last incident caused me to remember it again. I started to think about the people in a public place who turned around to see a man armed with multiple guns and ammunition belts. How they knew with sickening reality what was in store for them.

In a coda to the story, Montgomery County, Maryland set up a memorial place in Brookside Gardens, one of the loveliest of the county public parks. The Reflection Memorial sits beside a pond. A small stone has engraved:

Linger here and reflect on those lost to violence
Hope for a more peaceful world
Seek a reverence for life among all people.

Evelyn McDonald moved to Fernandina Beach from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in 2006. Evelyn is vice-chair on the Amelia Center for Lifelong Learning and is on the Dean’s Council for the Carpenter Library at the UNF. Ms. McDonald has MS in Technology Management from the University of Maryland’s University College and a BA in Spanish from the University of Michigan.

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Linda McClane
Linda McClane (@guest_64953)
2 years ago

Thank you, Evelyn for all the articles you have written for the Observer.