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Bluff bids farewell to its serenity

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Since its earliest days, the community of Bluff has been a quiet kind of place.

The kind of place where people leave their doors unlocked and don't worry about their kids walking home from school or riding their bikes.But things feel different now.

In the week since three men shot and killed one Colorado police officer and wounded three others, including a San Juan County deputy sheriff who makes his home near-by, people here have reached behind them to click the lock when they shut the door.

"I just had a feeling they would come this way, so I've been locking my door and sleeping with two shotguns underneath my bed," said Inez Atcitty, a Navajo native who lives seven miles south of town along the San Juan River bank. "Even now I have butterflies in my stomach."

And in the day since their neighbor and friend Kelly Bradford was shot, the community of Bluff has been evacuated from its homes. Where kids were crawling the streets with the delight known only in those first days of summer vacation, now more than 300 law enforcement officers in flak jackets inhabit the city and helicopters skirt the river looking for signs of the fugitives.

The evacuation came swiftly following Thursday's 2 p.m. shooting, residents said. Within an hour, officers were knocking on doors telling people to get out on their own, or on one of six school buses brought into town. There was no time to think. No time to grab a toothbrush, a jacket or even a clean pair of underwear.

"This is all I have," said Charlotte Grey, indicating her blouse, shorts and tennis shoes. "I wish I'd brought my wallet."

Grey and Atcitty are two of about 175 residents who slept on cots at a temporary shelter set up by the Red Cross in the Blanding Junior High School gymnasium. Daytime hours were filled with conversation about things left behind and efforts to occupy the children when their attention waned from playing basketball or games of tag.

To keep boredom at bay Friday night, the Red Cross found a local businessman who agreed to bring his big screen television to the school so that evacuees could watch the Utah Jazz play the Chicago Bulls in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Bluff resident Skip Meier said all he could think about were his pets - two dogs, a cat and three newborn kittens - left at home in his hurry to leave.

It's not that I'm really worried, but there's nothing else to think about, so you get preoccupied with the little things," he said. "It's not like this is a physical or natural disaster where things will be lost, and it's best that we give (the police) room to work."

Many residents were allowed back into their homes briefly Friday morning to retrieve pets, feed livestock or pick up other essentials like medications. But getting into town required a police escort.

Atcitty's daughter Paula went in to feed livestock but had to wait in the car while police searched the home to make sure the area was clear. When she finished, police escorted her out of town again, she said.

One of the few residents still at home in Bluff Friday was Fire Chief Jim Hook. Officers needed Hook in town in case of emergencies, but his wife, Louanne, with whom he owns the Recapture Lodge, was staying in a Blanding motel with daughters Lacy, 4, Jill, 1.

"It's not like you even want to go home until you know they've caught those guys," Louanne Hook said.

The mood in Bluff has been a little tense since the manhunt started last week and increasingly so since the fugitives were spotted in the nearby Hovenweep National Mon-u-ment.

"Those are our friends and family members out there looking for these guys," she said. "I think everybody pretty much figured (the fugitives) had gone north or back to Colorado. When they showed up here it was a shock. It really gets you wondering why did they come here."