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Sniper Critically Injures Teenage Boy

Crime: Attacker's eighth victim, 13, is shot while entering a Maryland school. As fear grows in the Washington suburbs, investigation intensifies.

October 08, 2002|STEPHEN BRAUN, JONATHAN PETERSON and LISA GETTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BOWIE, Md. — The sniper taking deadly aim in Washington's suburbs struck again Monday, critically wounding a 13-year-old boy as he stood outside the doors of his middle school--the eighth victim in a series of shootings that began last week.

Forensic evidence linked Monday's attack to the earlier shootings, which left six people dead and one wounded, police said. The latest shooting prompted officials to intensify their investigation and bolster security for thousands of anxious students and families from Baltimore to Virginia.

The gathering horror set off last week mounted again Monday with new urgency over a long, strained day that indicated that even the region's children were at risk.

In suburban Maryland, where most of the shootings have occurred, frightened parents rushed to their children's schools, police teams stood vigil in schoolyards and public officials urged residents to patrol their own street corners.

"All of our victims have been defenseless, but now we're stepping over the line. Our children don't deserve this. I guess it's getting to be really, really personal now," said Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose, whose eyes moistened with tears as he spoke angrily.

On Monday evening, Moose announced that at his request the federal government had created a multiagency task force, which will work under his direction with authorities in the areas where the shootings occurred. It will include elements from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore and other agencies.

Moose's detectives in Montgomery County were confronted Wednesday and Thursday with five killings in less than 16 hours--victims shot as they performed the mundane tasks of everyday life such as shopping and pumping gas.

Three of those fatal shootings and a similar one late Thursday just inside the District of Columbia--as well as the wounding of a woman about 50 miles away in Virginia on Friday--were linked to the same variety of high-velocity .223-caliber bullet found Monday inside the chest and abdomen of the eighth-grade Bowie middle school student. The bullets in two of the killings were too badly mangled to provide any forensic evidence, officials said.

On Monday night, police officials in Prince George's County, where the school shooting occurred, and federal firearm investigators said ballistics tests performed on a fragment removed from the wounded teenager confirmed the link with the other cases.

"Based on circumstances and our tests, the projectile is identical to those recovered at the other crime scenes," said Joseph M. Riehl, assistant special agent with the Baltimore office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The eighth-grader was in critical but stable condition at Children's Hospital in Washington, where he underwent nearly three hours of surgery. Dr. Martin Eichelberger, the trauma surgeon who performed the operation, said the bullet shattered inside the boy's chest, piercing his stomach, pancreas, spleen, diaphragm and one lung.

Surgeons gave a bullet fragment to a Prince George's detective, who then turned it over to ATF agents for ballistic tests. "We were able to find one that was simple to get to and extract it," Eichelberger said.

Vowing to apprehend the rifle-wielding "bad guy," Prince George's County Police Chief Gerald Wilson confirmed that police were looking for a white "box truck," the vehicle already being sought by Montgomery County police in connection with at least one of last week's slayings.

William Aleshire, a Bowie city councilman and retired D.C. Metropolitan policeman, said the truck may have been carrying temporary Virginia registration tags--a report that police officials declined to verify. "They gave out a tag number for some sort of white truck," Aleshire said.

Even if police are "able to narrow down what vehicle the suspect is driving," Wilson cautioned, the sniper "may be traveling in a different vehicle now."

Federal and local police officials moved Monday night to consolidate their detective work into the shootings.

Moose said he had requested the formal involvement of federal law enforcement officials "because of the magnitude of the investigation and the likelihood we are going to need additional resources."

It was unclear whether the consolidated effort would lead to federal charges if a suspect is apprehended. But even before the latest shooting, federal authorities had dramatically escalated their involvement in the investigation over the weekend.

The FBI, meanwhile, was preparing a psychological profile of the shooter, to theorize about the person's background, possible motivation and pattern of shooting. The FBI also deployed agents to a command post in Montgomery County, while ATF agents performed ballistic tests and Secret Service agents and U.S. marshals assisted in the investigation and school security.

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