For a few fleeting moments after the Broadway show ended Tuesday night, John Longinetti and his family were paralyzed with fear.

Two loud bangs had gone off in nearby Times Square and the masses, collectively on edge from recent mass shootings, began to panic, shrieking and running in all directions looking for a place to hide. They left behind phones and purses, got separated from their children. Some were even trampled.

It was two or three harrowing minutes before the sound’s source was revealed – a motorcycle backfiring.

But Longinetti said his first thought and the thought of others near him was that it was an active shooting.

“If a shooter had been there, I hate to say it, but we would have been fish in a barrel,” said Longinetti, 46, of South Portland, who was there with his ex-wife, 16-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter. “There was nowhere to go.”

That false alarm in New York City this week encapsulated the country’s current mood – anxious and unsafe but also resigned to the fact that this is somehow normal. It could happen anytime and anywhere.


Mass shootings have become an indelible part of life in the United States, but the frequency and the seeming randomness of the events have altered people’s behaviors, perhaps irrevocably.

It doesn’t always manifest in fear, the way it did this week for Longinetti, but seems to have contributed to a more generalized anxiety about being out in the world.

Dr. Marshall Robinson, a Portland psychologist, said it’s too early to tell if the recent shootings have affected his patients, but he said it’s clearly on people’s minds.

“It might not be the first thing, but I do think it adds a level of stress, particularly for people who have a propensity to be anxious,” he said. “Even though it’s still not something that is statistically common, it is happening with more frequency and people have infinite exposure to these events, so it seems like it’s happening close to them even if it’s not.”

First, it was schools. Then movie theaters. Then churches. Now, even big box stores and city streets seem like possible targets.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said his wife attended a National Night Out event in Portland last week, promoting community policing.


“She was telling me she almost felt a little paranoid being there … and that was a place with a lot of guys carrying firearms,” Joyce said. “I think people can’t help but feel more vulnerable anywhere they go. There is no location where violence hasn’t occurred.”

When shootings appear to be motivated by hate, specifically hatred of a certain category of people, the fear seems to increase even more.

Ezekiel Rubio has lived in Maine since 2002, but spent most of his life in El Salvador. He said the shooting in El Paso, Texas, that killed 22 people at a Walmart, and likely was motivated by the gunman’s anger over immigration of Hispanics, made him feel like more of a target, even here in Maine, which has been spared from this type of event.

“I am still shaken a little bit when I see these problems,” he said.

Rubio said he came to this country to escape violence and corruption and, as much as he enjoys life here, he can’t help but feel a shift.

“The direction we are going now is completely wrong,” he said.



Even before the shootings in Texas and then Dayton, Ohio, people had been altering their behaviors in certain settings.

Robinson, the psychologist, calls it hyper-vigilance. People have always taken steps, or shortcuts, to manage their lives but fear of violence creates a new layer.

“That’s what terrorism is all about,” he said.

Anna Keenan and Michelina Ruggieri, both 17 and students at Bonny Eagle High School, said they’ve been participating in lockdown drills since elementary school. It’s all they know.

The two teenagers were at the Maine Mall at lunchtime Thursday. They said they are aware of the shootings, of course, but try not to dwell on them or allow them to instill fear.


“We’ve been coming to the mall for years, nothing has happened to us,” Ruggieri said. “If you’re constantly worried about something like that, how would you enjoy life?”

They don’t avoid crowds or public places, but they take precautions. They pay attention to surroundings and know where exits are. Again, they said, it’s part of their normal.

“I feel like because of our age, we have to be super aware already,” Keenan said.

Mark Lipof runs a Jewish summer camp in Bridgton called Camp Micah. When the El Paso and Dayton shootings occurred, camp staff knew but the campers didn’t. They aren’t allowed to have their phones while at camp and can’t access the internet. Lipof said he was thankful for that.

But he’s seen a clear shift in how young people are dealing with a changing world.

“Kids are brought up to be scared,” he said. “Here at camp, it’s utopia and we try to keep it that way.”


Once they leave, though, Lipof said they are bombarded by information.

Lipof said he’s also taken security measures this year he never felt the need to take in years past. Anti-Semitic crimes have been increasing and he runs a camp for Jewish kids. No chances.

He said parents have mostly been receptive to the increased security measures. He did get a couple of calls from some who worried about the optics.

“It is sad that it’s even necessary,” he said.

When the staff takes campers off site, they’re on high alert.

“I’ve never liked trip day anyway,” he said, referring to the occasions when campers leave the camp and go into the community or elsewhere. “Nothing has happened in the 40 years I’ve been doing this, but we’re still taking precautions we never took before.”


Sheriff Joyce said the climate has led to big and small changes in how he and others do their jobs.

For example, he said, deputies are always dispatched to Naples on the Fourth of July to patrol the fireworks show. It’s one of the biggest shows in southern Maine and thousands of people line the causeway between Long Lake and Brandy Pond.

Last year, for the first time, deputies closed the causeway during the show.

“I think we had the thought, ‘Well, what if someone wants to make a statement.’ There’s nowhere to go,” Joyce said.


Rubio said he’s noticed changes since he came to Maine in 2002. He says Maine is a wonderful place, but he feels increasingly sad about what has happened. And he sometimes feels like a target because he’s Hispanic.


Rubio took a chance when he fled El Salvador. He grew up in a climate where violence and corruption were everywhere. He was laid off from his job, lost his mother to cancer and decided to seek a better life here.

“It was a chance to survive,” he said.

But the U.S. has become a more violent place, he said. A less tolerant place. An angrier place.

Rubio said his Catholic faith and the connections he’s made here guide him, but he still has fear.

Joyce said the scariest part for law enforcement is that there is no obvious link between the many mass shootings. He said they are most often carried out by troubled young men, and that’s a big group.

“So many are so young, their lives are just starting. How do they have this much hate?” Joyce asked.


He said if people are feeling more fearful, they shouldn’t hesitate to call police.

“We’d much rather check something out and learn it’s nothing,” he said.

False alarms have an impact, too, though. Longinetti hasn’t stopped thinking about his experience near Times Square this week. When he was driving back to Maine, his emotions were all over the place. Angry. Sad. Defeated.

“I think the fact that people could go into such a panic so quickly is an indication we’ve got a real problem,” he said, still picturing the face of the woman who was on the ground and grabbed his hand, hoping he would protect her. And the boy who got separated from his parents and needed help finding them.

Asked how his own kids handled things, Longinetti said, “amazingly well.”

“Maybe they’re more resilient, I don’t know,” he said.


There hasn’t been a mass shooting in Maine, at a school or a mall or a festival or a church.

The state has been spared, but is not free from fear.

Lockdown drills are commonplace in school, even elementary schools where children likely don’t understand the need for such precautions. In public places – movie theaters or malls – people actively look for exits or escape routes. Loud noises startle.

Robinson said the cycle for a while has been that high-profile events provoke an acute response that abates after a time, until the next one occurs.

But he conceded that the recent rash could have a longer lasting impact.

“People might be feeling like, will we ever get back to normal, or is this the new normal,” he said.

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