North Ridge residents remain on edge

North Ridge residents remain on edge

By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)

North Ridge residents still feel unnerved following the February 6 slaying of renowned piano teacher Ruthanne Lodato.

Even with an increased police presence, residents say they remain alert, locking their doors at all times and treating strangers with a suspicious eye.

Ken Hill, president of the North Ridge Citizens’ Association, said hundreds of people attended Friday’s wake and Saturday’s funeral for the 59-year-old resident, known for her volunteer work in the community and at her parish, Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. The services may have helped family, friends and neighbors deal with the emotional toll of her death, but he said tensions are still running high in the area.

“We lock our door now when we didn’t used to,” Hill said. “We pay attention to who’s knocking and check it out before opening the door. That’s normally the way it is in most big cities, and although [Alexandria] isn’t a big city, now I guess we’re a big city attitudinally.”

On February 6, city police say an older balding man with a gray beard knocked on the door of Lodato’s home in the 2400 block of Ridge Road Drive around 11:30 a.m. and opened fire when she answered. The music teacher and a caretaker at the residence were both hospitalized, but Lodato succumbed to her wounds later that day.

A copy of the 911 call obtained by the Washington Post revealed that after the shooting, the caretaker took Lodato’s uninjured mother to the safety of a neighbor’s home.

Alexandria Police Department spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said Tuesday there were no new details in the investigation. Detectives are still awaiting the results of forensic tests conducted at the crime scene. But she noted that they have spoken to residents at hundreds of homes and received more than 500 tips regarding the case.

Nosal also mentioned that after debating whether to release a new composite sketch of the suspect without a beard, investigators decided against it.

“We decided that we have no way to know what his face looks like underneath the beard,” she said. “We know that the current composite is accurate from the time [of the shooting], and we don’t want to put something out there that will throw people in the wrong direction.”

Since the killing, Bruce Johnson, a North Ridge resident and former acting city manager, said he pays more attention to people as he traverses the neighborhood.

“I walk my dog every day in the neighborhood and at night just before I go to bed,” he said. “I don’t feel any different in terms of security, but I may look around more and notice my surroundings more. It’s not out of personal fear or concern for my safety, but [in case] I see something that might be useful in the investigation.”

But Johnson acknowledged that his view might not be the norm, even within his household.

“We did have a neighbor bringing cookies to us the other day,” he said. “When the door rang, I noticed [my wife] peeked a little bit to make sure she knew who was at the door.”

And Sunny Yoder, a North Ridge resident for 30 years, said while she doesn’t feel any less secure than before the homicide, she is taking the same precautions.

“I was not far from that already in that I didn’t just answer the door without at least looking to see who’s there, but it’s fair to say at this point that if I don’t know the person specifically by name, I don’t answer my door at all,” she said.

Yoder said she appreciates the increased police presence but is confident nobody will attempt another brazen killing in the neighborhood.

“I consider this to be a very, very rare event,” she said. “Although I’m delighted to have police in the area, I don’t connect the fact that there surely won’t be another such crime here with the fact that they’re here.”