- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2003

Police in West Virginia want to talk with whoever is behind three recent sniper killings that have state residents fearing a repeat of the spree that terrorized the Washington area last fall.

“Through the newspapers we’ve told … this individual to get in contact with us. Let’s talk, let’s find out what the problem is,” said Dave Tucker, the sheriff of Kanawha County, where the shootings occurred last week.

The killings — two in the valley surrounding the state capital of Charleston and one in the city itself — involved victims shot in the head with a single bullet.

While ballistics testing reportedly linked the killings to the same small-caliber weapon, Sheriff Tucker stopped short yesterday of calling the shootings the work of a serial sniper. “I can’t put a name on it,” he told reporters during a nationally televised news conference.

The three shootings, all occurring at night near a gas station or convenience store, bear striking resemblance to the sniper spree that spanned Maryland, Virginia, the District, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana last fall. Two suspects, John Allen Muhammad and his accused teenage partner Lee Boyd Malvo, are awaiting trial in Virginia for those shootings.

The pair were arrested in October and charged in the spree that left 13 dead and six wounded. Investigators who ended the Washington spree, after corresponding with the suspects through the mail, have now joined the probe into the West Virginia shootings, Sheriff Tucker said yesterday.

“They’re on board with us and giving us some good advice,” he said.

Officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said agents using the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) were on the case trying to link the shootings to a single firearm.

Saying only the bullets were being examined in a laboratory, Sheriff Tucker would not confirm the early reports that they were linked to a single gun. “The only thing I can say is that it’s a small caliber,” he said. “There is similarities. That’s not saying it’s the same. They’re working on this as we speak.”

The NIBIN database contains tens of thousands of images of bullets and shell casings recovered from crime scenes. A match on the database to evidence recovered from a recent shooting could help agents determine the history of a given weapon.

Sheriff Tucker said police have developed several suspects although none have been taken into custody. He said investigators are on the lookout for a dark-colored or maroon truck and a heavyset white male.

The descriptions spawned some skepticism as observers recalled the false “profiles” in the Washington area sniper attacks, when news reports suggested a white male was responsible for the shootings and authorities announced a white van had been seen fleeing some of the shootings.

The attacks continued while police pulled over white vans. Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo were eventually arrested while sleeping at a Maryland rest stop in their blue Chevrolet Caprice, a car that police say they had modified so one person could lie down in the back and fire a rifle through a small hole in the trunk while the other drove.

The most recent attacks in West Virginia also have caused authorities to take a new look at a shooting outside a Charleston supermarket in March.

Last week’s shootings killed three persons. Jeannie Patton, 31, and Okey Meadows, 26, both of the Campbells Creek, W.Va., area, were killed in separate incidents outside convenience marts Thursday in eastern Kanawha County. Gary Carrier Jr., 44, of South Charleston, was shot in the head Aug. 10 while using a pay telephone outside a gas station on Charleston’s west side.

Early news reports of the incidents said police believed a rifle was used in each shooting and that the shooter fired from a range of between 30 and 70 yards.

Sheriff Tucker said that, besides Mr. Carrier’s slaying in Charleston, the shootings have occurred in a rural area. Police are increasing patrols in Kanawha County’s 900 square miles and conducting door-to-door interviews with the hope of calming residents of the central West Virginia mountain valley where the killings occurred.


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