A sniper and the driver of his getaway truck remained at large and at the forefront of many suburban Marylanders' fears yesterday as police investigating this week's murderous rampage in Montgomery County said a fatal shooting in the nation's capital has been linked to the killer.
Montgomery County detectives also rushed to Fredericksburg, Va., in a helicopter last night to determine whether an assault - a woman was shot in the back outside a craft store - had similar characteristics of the mysterious, random attacks in Maryland that left five dead on Wednesday and Thursday.
The killing Thursday night in Northwest Washington, some 11 hours after the barrage of Maryland shootings, left a 72-year-old man dead with what has become a grim trademark of the sniper - a single, lethal shot apparently fired from a distance with no obvious motive.
Police said last night that forensic evidence confirmed that Pascal Charlot was the sniper's sixth victim. Charlot was walking along Georgia Avenue near the Montgomery County line when he was shot in the chest about 9:20 p.m.
Officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who are helping with the investigation, said yesterday that the gunman killed his victims in Montgomery County with a high-powered rifle that likely fired .223-caliber rounds of ammunition. Firearms authorities confirmed last night that the same rifle was used in the Washington killing and in at least three of the Maryland shootings.
Such weapons can be accurate up to 650 yards, officials said, and the .223 rounds travel at more than 3,000 feet per second, inflicting tremendous damage on impact. By contrast, a round from a handgun travels at 1,200 feet per second.
To help police find patterns in the shootings, a "geographic profiler" from the ATF was expected at police headquarters last night, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said. The profiler will help detectives learn more about the gunman's actions and where he might be headed.
The Virginia shooting occurred about 50 miles south of Washington in the parking lot of a Michaels craft store. The sniper had targeted a Michaels craft store in Montgomery County on Wednesday night, when he fired a single round through a window but didn't hit anyone - the only nonfatal shooting in his initial onslaught.
"Certainly, it's interesting," Moose said of the Virginia shooting. "We feel it's important enough to send investigators there."
Va. woman survives
The victim, a 43-year-old resident of Spotsylvania County, was loading packages into her minivan when she was shot. Police said the woman, whose name wasn't released, is expected to recover.
Police said the bullet entered the lower right side of her back and exited under her left breast. She was taken to Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, then to Fairfax Hospital. Police said she is listed in stable condition.
The Michaels store is next to the Spotsylvania Mall on Route 3, less than a mile from Interstate 95, which runs through Fredericksburg. Security cameras are set up in the mall's parking lot.
Police said they don't know how many shots were fired. Some witnesses reported hearing two shots; other witnesses said they heard just one.
"At this point in the investigation, we have no leads at all," said Maj. Howard Smith of the Spotsylvania County Sheriff's Department. "We have no one who saw any vehicles that were suspicious."
When asked whether the bullet could have come from the same type of gun that was used in the Montgomery County shootings, Smith said, "At this point, there's no way to tell until the evidence has been examined by the ATF. It's impossible to tell until the ATF lab gets the [bullet] fragments."
Smith said all evidence, including the woman's minivan, will be given to the ATF. He also said the shooting in Spotsylvania could have been a copycat crime. "Obviously, that certainly is a concern," he said.
Mood is 'very anxious'
Meanwhile, Montgomery County began returning to normal yesterday. Schools opened on time, and afternoon sporting events and extracurricular activities resumed a day after being canceled.
More cars were on the roads, and people who had stayed home Thursday returned to work.
But residents were still on edge as they tried to make sense of the random shootings of people doing nothing more than pumping gas, cleaning out a minivan and picking up groceries for a church meeting.
"The mood of the county is very nervous, very anxious," said County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. "People are fearful about what's happening, but they're going about their daily life as best they can."
To try to reassure residents, prevent more attacks and find the killers, Montgomery police and state troopers increased patrols throughout the area while looking for their one solid clue - a white delivery truck seen speeding away from one of the shooting scenes.
Police revised their description of the truck yesterday, saying it was an Isuzu box-type truck with black lettering on its rear and sides. Its rear bumper is bent, not its lift gate as they originally reported. Police also said the truck has six wheels - four on the rear axle.
Moose also said the witness saw two men in the truck, suggesting that two people were involved - "you've got a driver, and you've got a shooter."
The truck has eluded police, but officials say they believe it is connected to all the shootings.
"We're going to stay on that until we're comfortable we've found the truck," Moose said. "If it wasn't involved, then why hasn't it driven up here to headquarters? Let us clear them and their truck. I can only assume there's a reason."
Moose urged anyone with information to call his county's tip line at 240-777-2600, which experienced several glitches and was so overwhelmed by calls yesterday that many people could not get through, officials said.
County officials also publicized a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the suspects in the killings, which began Wednesday evening.
About 6 p.m. - 40 minutes after a bullet ripped through the window of the Michaels craft store - James D. Martin, 55, of Silver Spring was in the parking lot of a Wheaton supermarket, where he was buying groceries for his church and a mentoring program for elementary students.
Martin, like the other victims, was hit by a single bullet.
The shootings continued the next day. James L. "Sonny" Buchanan Jr., 39, of Abingdon, Va., was killed about 7:40 a.m. while mowing grass outside a car dealership near White Flint Mall in Rockville.
A half-hour later, Premkumar A. Walekar, 54, an Indian immigrant who lived in Olney, was pumping gas as he did almost every day at a Mobil station at Aspen Hill Road and Connecticut Avenue. He was shot in the chest.
About 8:40 a.m., Sarah Ramos, 34, of Silver Spring was sitting on a bench outside a post office at Georgia Avenue and International Drive. She was waiting for a ride to work when she was shot in the head. Seconds later, a witness told police that he saw a white box-type delivery truck speeding away from the scene.
Just before 10 a.m., Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, of Silver Spring was vacuuming her minivan at a gas station in Kensington when she was shot to death.