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A new specter casts pall over Halloween

Add to the usual doorstep goblins a new array of horrors that have parents worried as threats of terrorism linger.

By MELIA BOWIE

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2001


Add to the usual doorstep goblins a new array of horrors that have parents worried as threats of terrorism linger.

It was Monday, and 8-year-old Dominick Driver still didn't know what he wanted to be for Halloween tonight. Maybe a ninja or a wrestler, but those Scream costumes inside Spirit Halloween Superstore in St. Petersburg looked pretty cool, too.

With just days left until the big holiday, his stepmother, Darla DiPadova, had a decision of her own to make.

Concerned about anthrax and terrorist attacks, the Pinellas Park resident reasoned maybe this was not the time to be out trick-or-treating. She sat her trio of youngsters down for a talk, and they agreed to a compromise.

"I'm going to let the kids go trick-or-treating, and then I'm going to throw out their candy and buy them more," she said earlier this week over the wailing cries of ghoulish creatures decorating the newly opened Halloween store.

Like DiPadova, many Tampa Bay area parents are facing similar dilemmas as they try to ensure their childrens' safety without ruining their fun. Some have opted to forgo the festivities, while others scrambled to find alternatives that included hosting Halloween parties and candy exchanges with friends or imposing limits on the areas their kids may venture into.

"Usually we kind of span out, but this year it's just going to be in the neighborhood with people I know," said Lisa Shaffer of St. Petersburg as her daughter and son perused the aisles of the Fun Stuff shop on 66th Street N for a witch's hat. Despite recent events, "I wanted to keep it as normal as possible. I didn't want them to be afraid. . .t. I'll just be as vigilant as I always was."

But Mary Southcott worried her vigilance might not be enough to keep her 3-year-old son out of harm's way, so the pair will pass out goodies from home this year.

"I'm not going out because of everything that's going on with this anthrax thing," said the St. Petersburg resident. "You never know what you're going to get with this candy; you don't know what people could be putting in it."

In Tampa, the Sheriff's Office has enlisted a doctor's office to screen Halloween treats today from 5 to 8:30 p.m. using an X-ray machine at Northdale Community Center at 15610 Premier Drive.

Pinellas County deputies and St. Petersburg police said they have not deemed X-rays necessary but are cautioning parents to chaperone when possible, screen sweets and stick to well-lit areas and neighborhoods they know.

Meanwhile, extra deputies in Pasco County will patrol from 5 to 11 p.m. today. Officials said the deputies will ride in helicopters, bikes, marked patrol cars and unmarked cars. They will watch for traffic that could endanger trick-or-treaters, vandalism and other potential dangers.

Amid the gruesome masks and ferocious rat lawn ornaments populating a Halloween store in Brandon, Ken McKnight of Tampa said that he isn't going to alter the family's routine, but he will be on guard when he takes his four grandchildren out.

"I think we all have to be alert now," said McKnight, who was looking for a patriotic-themed costume for one grandchild. "But it's not just Halloween. I'm concerned about every day."

Joined by her family in last-minute Halloween preparations, Asia Jackson said her daughter and two sons opted to host their first party instead of hitting the St. Petersburg streets in the traditional hunt for candy.

"It will probably be a lot more safe," she said, noting numerous discussions went on with friends, family and co-workers in recent weeks about how best to celebrate. "Usually we go out as a big family, but I think there's a slight concern."

And while many strive to make sure this Halloween is no different than previous ones, it is inevitable that some changes will take place, said parents and their children.

Twelve-year-old soccer player Bianca Picon, who will be decked out as a cheerleader, said her mother advised her to stay in a group and avoid strangers and unwrapped candy. She also discouraged them from wearing costumes with weapons or dressing as servicemen, feeling it would be disrespectful.

Some homeowners have decided not to pass out candy at all, DiPadova said as her undecided stepson closed in on a wrestling costume. "They're afraid if something happens, people will come knocking back on their door," she said.

Glancing at the trio of children around her, DiPadova confessed: "I'm usually out getting them costumes a month before. Now I don't even really want to do it anymore. The spirit just isn't there."

Still, it's important to keep things as normal as possible these days, parents said.

"You can't shelter yourself and stay in your home for the rest of your life," said Jackson, who plans to don an Elvira costume for her children's Halloween party. She also will take them to the homes of friends and family for some last-minute trick-or-treating if time permits.

"This holiday is fun for the kids," she said. "I want to see them happy."

-- Times staff writers Ryan Davis, Jennifer Goldblatt and Tamara Lush contributed to this report.

Safety tips

Law enforcement and medical officials are offering these tips to ensure a safe Halloween:

Costumes should fit properly. Avoid disguises that could trip children or catch on something. Masks should not obscure vision. Reflective clothing advised.

Do not accept stickers, tattoos or any paper products. Avoid anything with a powder on it, as well as unwrapped foods or candy.

Make sure children have flashlights. Visit well-lit homes and try to do all trick-or-treating at twilight or before sunset.

Stay away from high traffic areas and unfamiliar neighborhoods.

Inspect all candy before allowing children to eat it.

Travel in groups and/or with chaperones.

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