Police appeal to public to help catch sniper
ROCKVILLE, Maryland (CNN) -- Investigators probing a string of six apparently random killings in the Washington area hope a "geographic profile" will help lead them to a suspect.
D. Kim Rossmo, a former Vancouver, Canada, detective working with investigators, said geographic profiling compares the location of the crimes with other information collected by police to give investigators "some idea of the likely base or residence of the offender responsible."
"In effect, it provides an optimal search strategy," Rossmo said.
Five people were shot and killed in suburban Montgomery County, Maryland, during a 16-hour period from Wednesday night into Thursday morning. A sixth victim was shot dead Thursday night on a Washington street.
Friday afternoon, a 43-year-old woman who had been loading purchases from Michaels Crafts store in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a suburb south of Washington, was hit by a bullet that pierced her lower back, exited her chest and came to rest inside her Toyota minivan. She was in stable condition in a Fairfax hospital.
Maj. Howard Smith of the Spotsylvania County, Virginia, sheriff's office said testing by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms concluded the .223-caliber slug from the van of the Virginia victim matched rounds taken from three of the people killed in Maryland and the man killed in Washington.
Authorities said bullet fragments from the other two Maryland shootings presumably were fired by the same weapon but were too damaged to be conclusively linked.
Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said the FBI was also trying to develop a psychological profile of the killer or killers.
Authorities have received about 4,500 calls to a hotline, giving them about 900 leads, said Montgomery County police spokeswoman Nancy Demme.
Rossmo, now director of research for the Washington-based Police Foundation, said crimes typically take place "fairly close to an offender's home, but not too close."
"At some point, for a given offender, their desire for anonymity balances their desire to operate in their comfort zone. Where that exact point is will vary on the offender, their mode of transportation and also maybe their degree of confidence," Rossmo said.
Police said the technique was not meant to predict attacks or a suspect's possible characteristics, nor would it replace the work of skilled investigators, "but there is something here that's going to assist them," Moose said.
Mourners attended a funeral Sunday for one of Thursday's victims, Prenkumar Walekar, 54, a taxi driver from Olney, Maryland, who was killed while filling his minivan with gas at a mobile station in nearby Aspen Hill.
The shootings began late Wednesday afternoon when someone fired a shot through a window at another Michaels crafts store, this one in Wheaton, Maryland, but no one was hit. A spokesman said there is no indication the chain had been targeted.
Authorities said each victim was shot once and that the victims appeared to have been chosen at random.
'They may be gloating'
Earlier, Moose urged residents to be vigilant. "We remain convinced that someone in our community knows who's engaged in this," he told reporters.
He urged residents to heighten their suspicions of people who appear unusual.
"[Someone] is aware that they haven't been around, is aware that they have been acting differently, that they have altered their schedule, that they may be gloating," he said.
Police continued searching for the white van, which the witness described as a six-wheeled boxy vehicle with its rear passenger side black bumper bent and two lines of dark purple or faded black block lettering on its front and sides.
The witness told police two people who "appeared to be males" were in the truck, Moose said.
"We remain very interested in the white truck," Moose said.
Moose said police would keep a high profile as students returned to area schools Monday. But he cautioned parents not to expect a police officer would be posted at "every school, every hour, every minute."
School officials had not determined whether to reinstate restrictions on outdoor activities for students at area schools, Moose said.
Authorities have offered up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the person suspected in the killings.