- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

Five people were gunned down one by one in the Washington suburbs in less than 16 hours, and authorities said today they were looking for a "skilled shooter" suspected of felling each victim with a single bullet.

While cautioning that the slayings had not definitely been linked, police said it was a strong possibility.

"We do have someone that so far has been very accurate in what they are attempting to do," Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said.

Investigators said they had found no indication the victims, killed in public places between 6 p.m. yesterday and 10 a.m. today, were related or had any conflict with anyone. One victim was shot to death while riding a lawnmower, another while cleaning her car at a gas station.

None of the five appeared to have been robbed. Police also said race did not appear to be a motive, noting the victims included a black man, a Hispanic man, a Hispanic woman and a white woman.

"We're across the board in genders and ethnic backgrounds," police spokeswoman Nancy Demme said.

Nearly 150 state troopers and federal authorities, including the FBI and Secret Service, were involved in the case. Police said they had no eyewitnesses, though one person reported seeing a white van with two occupants speed away from one of the slayings.

Police at first said they were looking for two people in a sport utility vehicle, possibly with a damaged tailgate. Mr. Moose later said they were searching for a white cargo van with black lettering, possibly with damage to the lift in the back.

Police urged residents to stay calm and asked parents not to rush to schools to get their kids.

But the shootings spread terror across parts of two states and the nation's capital. Schools in Frederick County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va., were locked down, and Washington schools canceled outdoor activities. Many shops were nearly deserted.

"It's scary," said Lillian Ansell, 79, who nonetheless showed up for her appointment at an area salon.

Parents picking up their children had to show a photo identification and give the names of their child and their child's teacher. Ceciliea Desousa picked up her 9- and 10-year old daughters from Harmony Hills Elementary School, near one of the shootings.

"It took five years off my life," she said.

The first person killed was a 55-year-old man who was shot in the parking lot of a grocery store last night, Ms. Demme said.

A man riding a lawnmower was killed about 7:45 a.m. today and another man, a taxi driver, was slain a half-hour later as he pumped gas. The owner of the gas station, Shin Song, said the cab driver began filling his car, went inside to buy a lottery ticket and use the restroom, then went outside.

The cabbie slumped onto a minivan, covering it with blood.

"He said call an ambulance and fell down, so I called an ambulance and tried to help him, but I didn't see anything," said the owner of the minivan, who refused to give her name.

A half-hour later, a woman was shot at a post office next to the Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring.

Dolores Wallgren saw the victim as she arrived to go to a beauty shop five doors down. The woman was slumped over on a bench, bleeding from the head.

"She was sitting on the bench, just sitting there," Ms. Wallgren said.

In the fifth shooting, a woman was killed at 10 a.m. at a gas station. Mechanics said they heard shots but didn't see who killed the woman, who was vacuuming her van.

A single shot apparently was fired at each location, but it was unclear whether they were fired from a vehicle or at what range, Ms. Demme said. Police said the windows of a store were shot at before the first shooting, but no one was injured.

Suzy Cooper, a hair stylist at Images Hair Design near the post office, said many customers canceled their appointments.

"We had quite a lot of people who heard the news on TV and were too scared to come by," Ms. Cooper said.

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