- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

A woman was shot and killed shortly after 9 p.m. last night in the covered parking garage of a Home Depot on Route 50 near Falls Church in an attack that bore all the earmarks of 10 sniper shootings in the Washington area that left eight persons dead in the past two weeks.
Police could not immediately confirm whether the shooting at the Seven Corners area of Fairfax County was related to the other sniper attacks, but they quickly clamped a dragnet on all major highways near the scene.
Hopes for a break in the case were raised, then dashed earlier yesterday when police released an ex-Marine with a white van and an A-R 15 rifle who was being questioned in Baltimore.
Virginia State Police issued a lookout for a white Chevrolet Astro van last seen traveling eastbound on Route 50 from Seven Corners. A search for a similar van was issued after the most recent shooting Friday morning in Massaponax, Va.
Fairfax County Police Chief Col. Thomas Manger confirmed at a news conference about two hours after the shooting that "several" witnesses were being interviewed to learn what they had seen or heard.
He also said police were looking for a white or cream-colored Chevrolet Astro van with a broken right tail light. A police officer who was part of the dragnet in the area said the van might have had West Virginia plates.
Police quickly swarmed the area, with detectives leading witnesses through the garage, pointing from spot to spot and asking frenetic questions. The Home Depot is in the Seven Corners Shopping Center, a 450,000-square-foot strip shopping center that also has a grocery store, an electronics retailer and a pet supply retailer.
The body of the victim lay under a sheet in the parking lot in front of the Home Depot, on the first floor of a two-story structure, 30 yards from the store entrance.
Zuhair Massoud of Tysons Corner was in line behind the woman just moments before she was shot. He described her as in her 40s.
"We were just about to pay. The poor woman had just paid and gone out with all of her stuff in a cart," Mr. Massoud said.
"The store was not very crowded, and we were just about to pay," he said. "We did not hear any shot.
"You hear about [the sniper] in the news, and you never think it's going to happen to you," Mr. Massoud said with a glazed look in his eye about an hour after the shooting.
Col. Manger would not comment on reports going out over police radios that they were looking for an olive-skinned man armed with a semiautomatic weapon.
Col. Manger said the victim, identified only as a white woman, was at her car after shopping in the store. She was shot in the upper body and pronounced dead at the scene.
He said it was "under investigation" where the shot came from and how far away.
The Home Depot is surrounded by other stories, including a Michaels on the opposite side of the shopping center. The first shot believed fired by the sniper and the only one not to hit anyone was fired into a Michaels in Aspen Hill, and the woman shot and wounded in Fredericksburg had been shopping at a Michaels.
Col. Manger was repeatedly asked about the sniper connection.
"I know that the question in everyone's mind is, 'Is this shooting related to the others that we've had in the area?' It's too early to tell at this point," he said. "However, we are working it and investigating it with that potential in mind.
Earlier yesterday, the longest lull yet in the Washington-area sniper's killing spree brought little relief as jittery residents flooded police with calls upon hearing car backfire, firecrackers or breaking glass.
The task force based in Montgomery County that is leading the investigation of the sniper attacks was on the scene last night in Fairfax County. The first five attacks were in Montgomery County. They were followed by single attacks in the District, Fredericksburg, Va., Bowie, Manassas, Massaponax and now Fairfax County.
As soon as police learned of the shooting shortly after 9:15 p.m., they set up checkpoints and closed roads in the area. Helicopters hovered overhead and police with their guns drawn were stopping vans and trucks and ordering their occupants out.
Traffic on Route 50 immediately in front of the Home Depot was getting by single-file with police checking each vehicle.
Among the roads closed were Route 50 from Merrifield to Seven Corners, westbound Interstate 66 at Route 123, Interstate 395 from Landmark to the 14th Street Bridge, the George Washington Parkway and sections of the Capital Beltway.
Baltimore police yesterday questioned a 37-year-old Baltimore man a former Marine who drives a white van who was shot by his girlfriend during the weekend. A Baltimore television station reported that police had found an A-R 15 rifle, shell casings and sniper manuals inside the man's southwest Baltimore apartment.
However, CNN reported last night that agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said early ballistics tests on the man's rifle did not match those of the sniper shootings.
Montgomery County police and other agencies involved in the sniper investigation said flatly that the man was not yet a suspect in the shootings that began Oct. 2. WBAL-TV in Baltimore reported that the FBI was aware of the man.
Baltimore police told The Washington Times that the man was being held in the Southern District police station in the city's Cherry Hill neighborhood. He was released at about the time of the shooting in Fairfax County.
MSNBC reported last night that a tarot card was found in the van and a sign on the dashboard read, "Gihad in America."
A neighbor who had seen the sign called it "very disturbing" and said the first time he had seen the van in his neighborhood was Friday night and he had called the FBI the next morning.
A tarot card also was found near Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie where a 13-year-old was shot and wounded Oct. 7.
Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose, who was heading the multijurisdictional task force investigating the shootings, said the Baltimore case wasn't connected to the sniper attacks but told reporters yesterday that progress had been made in the search for the killer.
The chief didn't explain publicly the type of progress made, but NBC News reported on its evening newscast that the task force was focusing its efforts on six suspects under police surveillance.
"I think the progress is going really well. Certainly, some of you may deem me an optimist," Chief Moose said. "Maybe your confusion is in the fact that we're not giving you what you may consider a lot of information, but I would encourage you not to read a lot into that. I feel extremely good about the progress."
Chief Moose would neither refute nor confirm news reports that a video might have recorded the face of a suspect at the seventh fatal shooting Wednesday at a Manassas gas station, or that the FBI had asked the Pentagon for names of recently discharged military members who had undergone sniper training.
"None of that came from us," Chief Moose said.
Yesterday marked the longest break in the spree in which 10 persons had been shot. The last previous killing came Friday morning when a 53-year-old Philadelphia man was gunned down in Spotsylvania County, Va., as he pumped gas. No attacks have occurred on weekends.
Yesterday was Columbus Day, a holiday for the many federal workers in the Washington area. By midday, none of the thousands of calls received by police was related to the sniper attacks.
Over the weekend, authorities shut down roads and highways at the slightest suspicion of a sniper shooting.
A 17-mile section of the Capital Beltway in Maryland was closed after a woman was shot by an unidentified attacker. State troopers kept a vigil at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac River until it was determined that the shooting was unrelated.
Many schools yesterday remained under lockdown, meaning outdoor recess and physical education classes were canceled and students were kept indoors.
As in past briefings, Chief Moose and County Executive Douglas M. Duncan thanked the thousands of people who had called the tip line, 1-888/324-9800, with information. The task force is offering a $500,000 reward upon capture and indictment of the killer.
Tipsters unable to connect with the tip line can send information to P.O. Box 7875, Gaithersburg 20898-7875, Chief Moose said.
Yesterday, area chambers of commerce and the Victims Rights Foundation announced a campaign to collect $250,000. Foundation President Gregory Wims said the fund would help pay medical expenses for a 53-year-old Fredericksburg woman and a 13-year-old Bowie boy wounded by the sniper, and to disburse to families of those killed.
The FBI has completed a psychological sketch of the sniper, but Chief Moose said it would not be released because it may prevent calls to the tip line about people who do not fit the profile.
FBI agents, taking thousands of calls from the tip line, immediately send the most urgent bits of information to nearest investigators, said Gary Bald, agent in charge of the FBI for Maryland and Delaware. All credible tips are investigated, he said.
Web sites for the FBI, ATF and Montgomery County Police are carrying information about the sniper hunt. The police site, www.co.mo.md.us, includes pictures of five rifles that shoot the .223-caliber ammunition used by the sniper.
Chief Moose, who was holding four daily briefings last week, reduced the number to one a day. Tomorrow's briefing is scheduled for noon. If a break occurs in the investigation, he said, he will call an immediate briefing.
In other developments, a D.C. police spokesman said that a white box truck detained yesterday apparently had no connection with the sniper attacks.
Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile said a Secret Service agent spotted the truck being towed on Route 395 near the exit ramp to Pennsylvania Avenue and observed that it had expired temporary tags. He called the police department. Sgt. Gentile said: "There is nothing at this time to indicate it had anything to do with anything."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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