- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 27, 2002

On the day the Washington area sniper case took on transcontinental dimensions from the Pacific Northwest to the Deep South and, finally, to an interstate rest stop in Maryland where two suspects were apprehended Walter Starling had one more poster to hang for the United Methodist Church.
And he's confident it's the last.
In Aspen Hill on Thursday, he hung a stark red sign that reads "Thou Shalt Not Kill" on a tree in Northgate Park, where Conrad Johnson, a Ride-On bus driver, was killed several days earlier.
Mr. Starling's long career in journalism he's now a copywriter for NBC-owned Channel 4 has instilled in him a sharpinvestigative sense. After hanging a poster where each of the 10 victims was fatally wounded, he surveyed the surrounding areas, taking digital photos that he plans to show to his family as documentation of the killer's methods.
He also noticed something that has gone unmentioned throughout the pervasive media coverage of the case: Every wooded area from which the sniper shot in Maryland and Virginia is littered with liquor and beer bottles, discarded food wrappers and other garbage typically found where homeless people live.
This detail could be a clue as to why the sniper chose the shooting sites: Perhaps the shooter slept in these wooded areas and determined that they were ideal for the seemingly random rampage.
"There was always a rear exit from each one of the shooting sites," the 50-year-old Mr. Starling said, pointing to a beaten path leading from Northgate Park to a busy road where the killers could have driven away, unnoticed.
Eight members of Mr. Starling's family, including sister Phyllis and her two children, live in the bustling Silver Spring community where the initial cluster of killings began Oct. 2. So for him, the ordeal was personal.
"It ends with a whimper," Mr. Starling says of the arrests Thursday morning in Myersville, Md., in which John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, were found asleep in their car.
Mr. Starling is a tall, soft-spoken man dressed strikingly in a brown leather bomber jacket for 20 years he was a pilot who covered traffic from the air for a local radio station and leads special projects for First United Methodist in Hyattsville, where he's been an active member for 18 years.
Mr. Starling got the idea to hang the posters at a dinner event Oct. 4 in Columbia, Md.
Felton May, bishop of the Methodist Church's Baltimore-Washington Conference, challenged members to finally use the 200 posters they had printed two years ago to place at homicide scenes in the metropolitan area.
He said Bishop May told the congregation: "Somewhere along the way, we lost our nerve, and we never put them up. And maybe it's time to do it now."
Mr. Starling then said to himself, "That's my family's neighborhood, so maybe I should do that." Then he took a dozen posters.
He's glad to say he didn't run out.
Mr. Starling has traveled to each site in his free time, logging hundreds of miles on a Jeep Cherokee that's now in the shop for repairs.
He doesn't think the posters had an effect on the sniper and doesn't know whether he noticed them. They were for the community's benefit, an emblem of moral solidarity.
Mr. Starling also doesn't know whether people called the toll-free number on the posters to receive counseling, but that wasn't his biggest concern.
"I felt it was an appropriate response," he said.
As for what should happen to the suspects if they are convicted for the sniper killings, Mr. Starling says, "That's not my part."
However, he continues: "There is nothing in the Bible that says just because you ask for forgiveness, you don't get punished. The Bible is all about mercy with justice."

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