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9th Sniper Victim Is Confirmed

Crime: Tests show that civil engineer gunned down at a gas station was killed by the same rifle.


ROCKVILLE, Md. — Ballistic tests confirmed Thursday that a Maryland man slain by a distant gunshot at a Virginia gas station was the ninth victim of the serial killer circling the Washington Beltway, police officials said.

Northern Virginia police investigators said Dean Harold Meyers, 53, a civil engineer, was shot dead Wednesday night at a service station in Manassas as he stood near his gray Mazda. Prince William County police and federal firearms agents said Meyers was killed by a single shot--identical to .223-caliber rounds that have killed six others and wounded two over the last week in suburban Maryland and Virginia, and in Washington.

Even before an autopsy yielded bullet fragments connecting Meyers' slaying with the other victims, police concluded that the rifle-wielding assailant had struck again. The pattern was strikingly similar to two service station killings committed by the sniper last week during a 16-hour shooting spree in suburban Maryland--a solitary shot fired from hundreds of yards away with near-pinpoint accuracy.

"The fact this happened at a service station, the individual being shot just before gassing the vehicle, the circumstances speak for themselves," Prince William County Police Chief Charlie Deane said.

The latest slaying was a taunting reminder of the sniper's ability to roam the Washington region's highways at will, leaving residents vulnerable and confounding officials struggling to return schools and commerce to normal routines.

"This is clearly urban terrorism," said Montgomery County (Md.) State's Atty. Douglas F. Gansler, whose prosecutors are part of a law enforcement task force hunting the killer. "This guy has injected fear into this community down to the marrow."

Public officials across the Washington region continued to take precautions, limiting outdoor activities at schools, sending police to patrol campuses and urging residents to remain vigilant.

The killer has surfaced and vanished like heat lightning, convulsing peaceful stretches of Maryland and Washington, alighting in Virginia and then lying low for several days at a time before panicking untouched portions of both states.

"He's telling us he's untouchable and he goes where he wants," one law enforcement official said.

The Manassas shooting was the second in Virginia. Last Friday, the sniper wounded a woman as she stood near her car in a shopping mall lot in Fredericksburg. She was released from a hospital this week. Both Virginia communities are south of Montgomery County, where five people were gunned down last week and Prince George's County, where a teenager was wounded this week. A man also was killed in Washington near the Maryland state line.

Police said the sniper left behind no message. Gray-jacketed federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents did find a crumpled slip of paper with scribbled handwriting near a motel across the street from the gas station where Meyers died. But Deane insisted he was "not aware of any note or anything like that being developed."

On Monday, a fortune teller's Tarot card was recovered in matted grass near where the sniper had wounded a 13-year-old student outside a Bowie, Md., middle school.

The card was printed with a skeletal figure of death and reportedly bore a taunt, "Dear Mr. Policeman, I am God," and a request for police to keep its message confidential. Investigators could not be certain whether the card was the sniper's handiwork or a prank, but it was turned over to the FBI for fingerprint and genetic testing.

Investigators said Meyers was shot about 8:15 p.m. Wednesday as he stood near a center line of gas pumps at the Battlefield Sunoco, a station just off Interstate 66 near the Manassas Civil War battlefield.

Investigators said he was shot once in the head.

Deane would not comment about the range or type of weapon used by the sniper. But evidence search teams foraged for hours Thursday under a slanting rain in foliage several hundred yards from where Meyers fell.

A witness told investigators that a white panel van drove off moments after Meyers collapsed between the pump and his car. But Deane said Thursday night that investigators now doubted it is linked to the sniper. The driver of a white van approached police earlier in the day and convinced officials he had no involvement in the shooting.

"At this point, it seems likely we may be able to explain that vehicle," Deane said, adding that the driver's explanation seemed "reasonable."

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose, who is heading the combined local, state and federal search for the killer, stood by his team's week-old alert for a white box truck spotted by witnesses at several of the earlier shootings.

"We have not changed" the appeal for sightings of the elusive box truck, Moose said.

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