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Sniper Suspects Linked to Fatal Shooting of Louisiana Woman

Warrant issued after weapon used in the Washington area is tied to Baton Rouge case.

November 01, 2002|Ralph Vartabedian | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The fatal shooting of a store manager in Louisiana was linked Thursday by police to a weapon allegedly used by John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo in a string of sniper attacks in the Washington area.

Baton Rouge authorities issued an arrest warrant for Muhammad and Malvo in the death of Hong Im Ballenger, the manager of a beauty supply store who was shot while closing up on the evening of Sept. 23.

Police said Ballenger, a mother of three, was robbed in the shooting, although they did not indicate how much money was taken. Ballenger's husband later said in interviews that she would have been carrying as much as $1,500 in store receipts as she closed up for the day.

Witnesses filed a description of a small, black male that matched Malvo, said Police Chief Pat Englade. Witnesses said the man fled the scene and disappeared into a park.

Englade said Baton Rouge police have not ruled out "the possibility that other individuals may be involved or that the individuals currently in custody may have committed other criminal acts."

Ballenger's slaying is the 12th that authorities have linked to Muhammad and Malvo in four states and the District of Columbia since September. The pair allegedly wounded an additional four individuals.

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said Thursday that the federal investigation "continues to span into new jurisdictions across the country" and that federal agents will "follow leads in an effort to determine the full extent of criminal activity."

Ballistic tests linked the Bushmaster rifle used in the Washington-area attacks to the Baton Rouge shooting, Englade said. Police there are continuing to investigate whether other shootings or crimes in the area might be linked to Muhammad and Malvo.

Muhammad, who grew up in the Baton Rouge area and still has relatives there, visited the area last summer, authorities have said.

Only two days before the Baton Rouge shooting, the pair allegedly shot and killed a liquor store clerk and wounded another in Montgomery, Ala.

Montgomery police said Thursday that those shootings now have been linked with ballistic evidence to the Washington cases. And police are raising the possibility that a third individual may have been involved in that attack, although they do not appear to have any evidence as yet.

The Washington-area sniper attacks began Oct. 2 with a shot taken through the window of a store that did not strike anybody. Muhammad purchased the 1990 Chevrolet Caprice allegedly used in the killing spree in Newark, N.J., on Sept. 10.

Also on Thursday, prosecutors in Prince George's County, Md., charged Muhammad and Malvo with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the shooting of a 13-year-old boy as he entered a middle school in Bowie. The boy, who has not been identified, remains in the hospital.

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