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Killing in D.C. Is Linked to Same Sniper

Crime: Police also check whether a nonfatal shooting at a Virginia mall is part of spree.

October 05, 2002|LISA GETTER and JONATHAN PETERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

KENSINGTON, Md. — The fatal shooting a 72-year-old man on a Washington street corner was linked by police late Friday to five random slayings in suburban Maryland that have prompted an intensive dragnet for a sniper and possible accomplice who have spread panic throughout the nation's capital and its suburbs.

Police also are examining whether a seventh shooting at a suburban Virginia shopping mall Friday afternoon may be connected to the crime spree.

"People are on edge," said Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose. "We're all human. We're all afraid."

Authorities say the suspect used a high-powered assault or hunting rifle and demonstrated the skills of a trained marksman.

As sketchy details emerged Friday about the shooting spree, police throughout the capital region continued to scrutinize small, white commercial vehicles, acting on one of the few tips from the Maryland crime scenes. The suspects were still at large Friday night and the public remained on edge.

Pascal Charlot was shot in the chest Thursday night as he stood on a street corner in the District of Columbia, several miles from the Maryland attacks. He died an hour later. Bullet fragments recovered during an autopsy were submitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for comparison with the other cases. The same high-powered rifle was used in the Washington shooting and at least three of the Maryland deaths.

On Friday, a woman was shot in the back outside a Michaels arts and crafts store in Fredericksburg, Va., while loading purchases into her car about 2:30 p.m. The woman, who was not identified, was listed in serious condition Friday night.

ATF agents were examining evidence collected at the scene of the shooting to see if it could be linked to the others.

The five deaths in Montgomery County left the community of shopping centers and leafy residential streets, about 10 miles from the White House, in a state of anxiety Friday. Between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the killer gunned down people going about such routine acts as mowing grass, vacuuming a car, pumping gasoline, going to the grocery store and sitting on a bench.

Tests on wounds and shell fragments suggested the shooter used a .223-caliber rifle, firing high-velocity rounds, police said. Many military and civilian rifles use such ammunition, which can penetrate bulletproof vests, said Kevin McCann, a special agent in the ATF's Baltimore office.

Law enforcement specialists said the lethal efficiency of the shootings and the powerful weapon suggest the killer might have a military background.

"It's highly likely this guy is a hunter or ex-military or both," said Reid Meloy, a San Diego forensic psychologist who profiles suspects for the FBI. "It's highly likely he has an intense interest in weapons."

He suggested that more shootings are probable. "When an individual is not caught, he'll attempt to kill again in a one- or two-day period," Meloy said.

The spree began Wednesday night at another Michaels store in Maryland when a bullet whizzed over the head of a cashier. No one was killed.

"I thought, 'Dang, that was awfully close,' " said Ann Chapman, the cashier, recalling that the bullet ripped through the store window, passed a cash register next to her, pierced an advertisement and ricocheted off a rack of inspirational prayer books.

One private investigator suggested Friday that such crimes are typically committed by young men, but that reports of the shooter's accuracy might suggest someone slightly older, with a great deal of experience with guns.

Also, some aspects of the crimes suggested the shooter was asserting at least some self-discipline, said Clint Van Zandt, a retired FBI official and expert on criminal psychology, pointing to the hiatus between the Wednesday night and Thursday morning shootings and their cool efficiency. "These individuals are calculating," he said. "They know what they're doing."

Van Zandt said the proximity of the first five shootings--clustered within a few miles of one another--suggested the shooter spends a lot of time in the area. "I would look for individuals who live, work, have relatives, girlfriends in that geographic area," he said.

Meloy suggested that the shooter has experienced personal failures and has a tendency to blame others. "Unfortunately, he has sense of that entitlement. That I have a right to strike back."

Investigators also suspect the gunman has an accomplice, a theory based on the account of a witness who saw a small white truck racing away from one of the crime scenes.

Police said a man surrendered to authorities in Arlington County, Va., claiming responsibility for the shootings. He was charged with filing a false police report.

The family of one of Wednesday's victims, James E. Martin, 55, who was shot at a store parking lot, released a statement saying he had been shopping for groceries for his church and for a mentoring program for students at an elementary school in Washington.

"Jim Martin was a devoted husband, son and brother," it said.

*

Times staff writer Arianne Aryanpur contributed to this report.

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