Raw fear in the suburbs as sniper kills again

Tenth victim falls prey to a mysterious, long-range serial killer who is terrorising the neighbourhoods around Washington DC
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The Independent US

These should be mellow times in the wide band of commuter suburbs that surround Washington DC. The kids are back at school and the green umbrella of the trees will soon be turning rusty.

These should be mellow times in the wide band of commuter suburbs that surround Washington DC. The kids are back at school and the green umbrella of the trees will soon be turning rusty.

But the region is the hunting ground of someone on a horrifying killing spree. The mood, instead, is of raw fear.

Yesterday, it happened again. At about 9.30am, just as the morning rush into the capital was easing, another life was claimed. A man filling the tank of his car at an Exxon petrol station close to Fredericksburg, Virginia, crumpled to the ground, felled by a bullet fired from a high-velocity rifle.

Police could not immediately say if it was the work of the serial killer but in the minds of those who live around Washington there was little doubt. The news stations, scrambling to keep up with the story, were disinclined to show caution. He has struck again, they blared. No one is safe.

The killing – the victim was soon declared dead by authorities – brought to 10 the number of civilians shot apparently by this person Most of the incidents have been in two counties in Maryland just to the north of the capital. But the range of the killer seems to be spreading further, encircling the city in a ring of horror.

And petrol stations are a favourite. The sniper waits for the driver to leave his car and start pumping. Then he aims and fires. On Wednesday, the target was Dean Meyers, a 53-year-old man who was hit in the head and killed instantly while filling his car at Sunoco station near Manassas, Virginia. A Shell garage in Maryland was the site of the killing of Lori Rivera.

Ms Rivera died on 3 October, a day on which the killer claimed five lives in a few hours in Montgomery County, Maryland, just beyond the northern edge of Washington. One male victim was killed the evening before. One more person was wounded the following day and then there seemed to be a brief lull. There were no killings last weekend. No one dares hope this weekend will be death-free.

The killer is relentless, the appetite for death unquenchable. It has thrown the police forces of the capital and the surrounding counties into a frenzied effort to catch the attacker. Nothing similar has before been witnessed in the region. Each day that passes without a capture brings the risk of more blood.

Exactly what leads the police have, we are not being told. But we know a few things. Above all, there are the reports that the killer moves around in some kind of white minivan. The theory was bolstered when a witness reported seeing a white Chevrolet minivan at the scene of yesterday's shooting.

Then there was leaking to the media on Tuesday that police had found a tarot card at the spot of one of the Montgomery County shootings. It was a macabre message from the killer. The card was "Death" and on it was written a single line, "Dear Policeman, I am God".

The identification of the white van led the authorities to lay a dragnet across the area close to yesterday's shooting. Traffic on the Interstate 95, the artery that runs the length of the East coast of the United States, was brought to a near- standstill as police stopped every single white van as they did on other roads in the area. Police Chief Charles Moose said he was calling in a special projects unit of the FBI.

The urgency of the manhunt was palpable. Helicopters swooped in the grey skies. Schools in the county were put on lockdown mode – no children allowed out, no parents allowed in. There is no sheltering the children from the neurosis of terror that has seeped through all of the region. Because children are victims too. Benjamin Tasker, a 13-year-old boy at Middle School in Bowie, Maryland, is in critical condition after being shot on Monday.

No one can feel they are safe. There is no pattern to the kind of people mown down. They are ordinary folk; men, women, children, going about daily tasks when death strikes.

Any outdoor chore that used to be completed almost without thought – filling your tank, going to school – is now fraught with an all-too-real peril.

It is especially frightening for anyone working in a petrol station. They fear going outside. If there are woods near by, they look into them constantly, looking for any flicker of movement.

Bebi Tasawar, who has three children and works in a glass-fronted 7-11 store near the scene of Wednesday's kill-ing in Virginia, is afraid to go to work knowing the sniper had been within 10 miles of her store. The parking lot is unlit and the store is adjacent to thick woods.

"When we go outside to throw the trash out, we're looking around. It's scary," she said. "You don't know when you walk out the door what will happen next. After all, he could be watching us right now."