An agitated throng of people, several with young children, converged on downtown Modesto on Friday night to see detectives deliver Scott Peterson to the jail.
Kelly Huston, spokesman for the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, said the magnitude of the crowd was a surprise.
"We were considering doing a last-minute booking change," Huston said. "Our No. 1 goal was to make sure he was booked safely, and that included that he didn't get lynched when he came in the driveway. There were people out there screaming, 'Murderer.'"
Officers arrested Peterson, 30, in San Diego County on Friday morning on murder charges in the deaths of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son.
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Detectives returned Peterson to Modesto in a two-car caravan.
Minutes before Peterson's arrival, about a dozen uniformed police officers started moving people back to make room for the detectives' cars to get down the driveway to the back door of the jail.
Officers said they had never seen so many people turn out to witness a suspect being escorted into the jail.
The officers had blocked off 12th Street between H and I streets and had parked their patrol cars in the street to make a lane for the detectives to get to the jail driveway.
As the cars approached, the crowd broke out into cheers and applause. Some people held up homemade signs; one read simply, "Murderer." Others aimed their cameras at the car to get a picture of the murder suspect.
Peterson, wearing a white polo shirt and tan shorts, was seated in the back seat of the car behind the driver, Detective Jon Bueh-ler. Detective Craig Grogan, the lead investigator in the homicide case, sat next to Peterson.
Peterson showed no response to the cheers and within seconds was out of sight.
"We're here tonight in support of Laci and her baby and her family," one woman said. "We've been waiting a long time for the cops to arrest Scott, and we just wanted to be here when they brought him in. Tonight is a piece of history."
Bee staff writer Daryl Farnsworth can be reached at 578-2337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.