I was talking with my mother, cell phone in hand, idly straightening things as I walked around the main floor of our house. Then I walked past the living room window and froze: A police car circled our cul-de-sac and parked in front of our house. Followed by a second police car.

I hastily bid adieu to my mother (sorry Mom!) and hollered to CRR, “There are two police cars parked out front!”

Why the panic?

A seemingly random killing in Alexandria had occurred two days earlier, following another in November. Both within a mile of our house.

We like to think we live in a small town. Alexandria, Va., has fewer than 150,000 people, and the fabric of this city is still as tightly woven as when George Washington called it home. Many conversations include the phrase, “You know so-and-so, right?” and the answer is usually yes.

So these two recent unsolved murders in a neighborhood where crime is almost nonexistent, following on two earlier killings since we moved here, have rattled an entire community. The murders have this in common: The victims were shot in broad daylight in the entryway of their homes, either suggesting they knew the killer or unhesitatingly answered the doorbell as most people do in this area.

Or did, past tense. We are all paying attention to our surroundings now.

We talk about the oddball connections with the victims. The latest, Ruthanne Lodato, is the sister of my longtime gynecologist, who lives just a few blocks over from us. The November victim, Ron Kirby, was a respected transportation planner who was known by several friends and colleagues. One of the earlier victims, Nancy Dunning, was a real estate agent who wanted to sell our house on Windsor Avenue at a price we deemed too low (turned out her estimate was spot on, ruefully). Another was Robert Rixse, a doctor in our pediatric practice.

If you live in a minority or poor neighborhood of Washington, murders happen all the time and rarely break into the Washington Post metro section. But these killings made the front page, occurring as they did in an affluent neighborhood where everybody knows your name, as the “Cheers” TV slogan went.

It is a comfort to know that Alexandria is such a caring city, even as we mourn the dead and speculate about the possibility of a serial killer.

Back to the police presence on Sunday. I walked out and asked the three policemen what was going on. They said they had a “message to deliver” to my next-door neighbor. It probably wasn’t good news, but it was a relief to know it wasn’t related to the murderer in our midst.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

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