Timeline of DC-Area Sniper Shootings
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EDITOR’S NOTE _ There are now nine victims of a mysterious killer in the Washington, D.C., area. Here’s a look back at how the horror unfolded, shot by shot, day by day.
By JERRY SCHWARTZ
AP National Writer
There was nothing powerful about the sound. It was, an assistant store manager says, something like a lightbulb popping. And there was nothing cataclysmic about the damage _ just a small hole in the display window, about the size of a marble.
It was 5:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 2, and an epic nightmare was beginning.
But no one knew it _ no one, that is, except the person who fired the rifle into a busy Michaels crafts store at the Northgate Plaza shopping center in Aspen Hill.
No one was injured or killed by the single rifle blast. But then the sniper’s aim turned deadly.
It is 6:04 p.m., 44 minutes after the shot pierced the store window. James D. Martin is in the parking lot of the Shoppers Food Warehouse in Wheaton, a mile away from Michaels.
Martin, a 55-year-old program analyst for a federal department, has been shopping. But not for himself _ he is buying stuff for the kids at Shepherd Elementary School in Washington. People in his department at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations serve as mentors there, and Martin is devoted.
The lot is full _ cars are waiting in line for spaces _ but the report of the gun resounds over the sounds of idling engines. Across the street, officers at a district police station jump to their feet and out to the street, looking for the source.
But some shoppers are unaware. One walks by, assuming the figure on the ground is merely a motorist working under his car. When the officers find him, they perform CPR, but to no avail. Martin _ Civil War buff, ardent volunteer, father of an 11-year-old son _ is dead.
This alone is a peculiar thing for this community. Montgomery County is not to be confused with the neighboring District of Columbia. It is Maryland’s most affluent; ``violent crime is not regarded as a serious problem,″ says the county Web site.
At 7:41 a.m. Thursday, the sky is a brilliant blue. James L. ``Sonny″ Buchanan cuts the grass at the Fitzgerald Auto Mall on Rockville Pike in the county’s White Flint area.
Buchanan is a 39-year-old poet, a self-employed landscaper who likes to teach children about plants. He has moved to Virginia and a Christmas tree farm he owns with his father, but he still comes back to Maryland and mows the grass for the dealership, as he has for 10 years.
There’s a loud sound _ like a huge object hitting the ground, thinks body shop manager Gary Huss. Outside, Buchanan stumbles 200 feet into the lot and collapses, face forward.
A hundred dealership employees surround the bleeding man. They, too, react to murder with disbelief _ surely, the lawnmower exploded. When the ambulance arrives, about 10 minutes later, emergency workers find the hole in his chest left by the bullet.
Thirty-one minutes later, 54-year-old Prem Kumar Walekar fills the tank of his cab at the Mobil station on Aspen Hill Road in Rockville. He immigrated 30 years ago, and worked hard all his life to raise his two children, now in their 20s, to help his family back in India, and to bring his siblings to the United States.
He does not usually take to the road this early, but the day is beautiful, and he wants to finish early and enjoy the sunshine.
Police Cpl. Paul Kukucka is nearby, driving to the funeral of a fellow officer who died of a heart attack, when a woman runs toward him, her arms waving.
``This man has just been shot! He’s bleeding!″ she shouts.
Kukucka runs to the pumps and finds Walekar, blood flowing from his chest, dying.
A little more than a mile away, in front of a post office in Silver Spring, a Salvadoran immigrant sits on a metal bench and reads. Sarah Ramos was a law student in her native country; now she is a 34-year-old housecleaner, waiting for her ride to work. The shot, like all the others, comes from nowhere. It passes through her head and into the Crisp & Juicy carryout restaurant behind her.
``She was sitting on the bench, just sitting there,″ says a witness, Dolores Wallgren.
It is 8:37 a.m., and three people have died in the past 56 minutes.
With horrible and abrupt clarity, the police realize they are in the middle of a massacre.
The brass convenes at the Mobil station to plot their next move. They would send every officer available to patrol the area, ordering them to wear their bulletproof vests. Park police, state police, police from surrounding areas all are drawn into the maelstrom.
There is one clue: According to a witness to the Ramos shooting, two men in a white ``box truck″ with black lettering sped away from the scene. All across the area, police stop and search white delivery vans.
But they cannot protect Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25-year-old mother of a preschooler. She pulls her burgundy minivan up to a Kensington Shell station’s coin-operated vacuum, removes her daughter’s car seat and begins to clean her car.
At 9:58 a.m., a single bullet strikes her, knocking her to the ground.
Mechanic John Mistry is working nearby under the hood of a car when he hears the loud ``crack.″ An electrical short, he figures. But when he looks up, the lights are still on.
Mistry and fellow mechanic Jimmy Ajca run out of the garage to find Lewis-Rivera under her van door, blood trickling from her mouth.
Small bubbles dribble from her lips as she struggles for breath.
Nor can police protect Pascal Charlot. The 72-year-old handyman is gunned down while standing on Kalmia Road and Georgia Avenue in Washington, half a block from the border with Montgomery County.
It is 9:15 p.m. In a little more than 27 blood-soaked hours, six people have been killed _ each apparently with a single, .223-caliber bullet fired at long range, each for no apparent reason.
On Friday, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose appeals for an end to the murders. ``We implore him to surrender, stop this madness,″ he pleads.
But the shootings do not stop. Instead, they spread to other places.
At 2:30 p.m. Friday, a 43-year-old woman from Spotsylvania, Va., the mother of two young sons, is parked in front of the Michaels craft store in Fredericksburg, 50 miles south of Washington. She has made her purchases, and is loading her champagne-colored Toyota minivan.
The bullet hits her in the lower right side of her back, exits under her left breast and is embedded in the rear of the minivan. Miraculously, her vital organs are spared.
``She’s very lucky,″ says Spotsylvania County sheriff’s Major Howard Smith.
She is the first to survive this rampage. Police will not give her name; there are fears that her safety is still in jeopardy.
On Saturday, nothing. On Sunday, nothing.
On Monday, a 13-year-old student at Benjamin Tasker Elementary School in Bowie, Md., changes his daily routine, and almost pays for it with his life.
Normally, he attends a prayer service at a neighbor’s house before taking the bus to school. But on this day, he skips the service, and his aunt drives him to school. As he walks to the front door, he crumples to the ground, shot once in the chest.
His aunt is a nurse. She scoops him up and drives him to the hospital. He survives.
And this time, the gunman leaves a message. A police search a wooded area 150 yards from the school turns up a .223-caliber shell casing and a tarot card _ the Death card.
On it, someone had written this:
``Dear policeman, I am God.″
People are unnerved by a villain who seems to be everywhere, all powerful and invisible. Some keep their children out of school. Soccer and baseball leagues cancel their games, and outdoor recesses are put on hold.
Adults find themselves looking over their shoulders as they scurry about, nervously doing chores that once entailed no risk.
``You think you’re safe, but you’re only as safe as your next step,″ says Sharon Healy, whose son Brandon attends school at Tasker.
On Wednesday, Dean Harold Meyers stops at the Battlefield Sunoco station, seven miles south of Manassas, Va. He is 53, a project manager and design engineer from Gaithersburg, Md., who has worked for the same engineering firm for 20 years.
He finishes filling the tank. He prepares to return to his black Mazda. There is a shot. It is 8:15 p.m., and the body of Dean Meyers lies crumpled on the station’s concrete floor.
And then, a little more than 37 hours later, another death: Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, of Philadelphia, is gunned down at yet another Virginia gas station. A witness across the street from the Exxon station on Route 1 in Fredericksburg says he heard a single shot, saw a white van nearby.
It all fits the pattern. But for now, authorities say, they cannot be certain that this was the latest victim of a self-elected God.
EDITOR’S NOTE _ Stephen Manning, David Dishneau, Gretchen Parker, Angela Potter and David Crary in Maryland and Adrienne Schwisow in Virginia contributed to this story.