Police: Shooting similar to sniper attacks
Police: Lookout for white van with ladder
FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia (CNN) -- The death of a man shot while pumping gas in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on Friday "certainly looks similar" to the series of sniper attacks in suburban Washington, police said. Seven people have died and two have been wounded in the sniper attacks which started October 2.
The victim of Friday's shooting was identified as Kenneth Bridges, 53, of Philadelphia. The co-founder of a marketing distribution company, he was in the area on a business trip.
Friend Gary Shepherd said the family was "shocked and saddened by this senseless event."
"Ken was a loving husband, father of six children and an outstanding citizen of the Philadelphia community," Shepherd said. "While no family should have to endure this type of tragedy, the Bridges family hopes that this killer is brought to justice as quickly as possible."
Evidence gathered at the scene was turned over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. ATF special agent Mike Bouchard said it likely would be Saturday morning before they could determine whether Friday's shooting is linked to the shootings in the Washington area.
Five people were killed in Montgomery County, Maryland, during a 16-hour period from October 2 into the next morning. A sixth sniper victim was shot dead the night of October 3 on a Washington street and on October 9, a man was shot and killed in Prince William County, Virginia.
Two other sniper victims were wounded, one on October 4 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, and another on October 7 in Prince George's County, Maryland.
All were shot once with a .223-caliber bullet.
Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, who is heading the sniper investigation, asked the public to be on the lookout for a white Chevrolet Astro-type minivan, with a ladder on top. He said police still are working on a drawing of the van.
Witnesses near the scene of Friday's shooting reported seeing two people in a white van. Immediately after the shooting, traffic on all bridges leading from Virginia into Washington and Maryland was slowed to near gridlock as authorities scrutinized cars and their occupants at roadblocks.
"We actually funneled it into one lane of traffic," said Virginia State Police Col. W. Gerald Massengill.
State police ordered white vans to pull over, and questioned their occupants. But no suspects were taken into custody.
Law enforcement officers said they have a description of the two people reported inside the van being sought.
"We do have a number of leads, and from the scene this morning, we developed additional information that we'll be following up on, and hopefully will be productive," said Massengill.
Public urged to look for strange behavior
Moose also suggested the public watch for behavior that is suspect.
"Someone who was not at work during the incident, has not been keeping their schedule, has taken on some kind of attitude about the joy of all of these events, has taken on some kind of anger towards the police," he said, adding that anyone witnessing those behaviors should call the sniper tipline.
A Virginia state police officer was working an accident across the street from the gas station when the incident occurred.
"It probably took him less than a minute to get to the victim," Maj. Howard Smith of the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Department said.
"Obviously, with a uniformed trooper directly across the street, we're dealing with an individual that is extremely violent and obviously doesn't care," he added.
At the scene of Friday's shooting, police were seen carefully placing into a plastic bag a yellow piece of paper retrieved from across the street from the gas station, but it is not known if that paper had anything to do with the case.
Earlier in the week, authorities found a Tarot card and a shell casing near the site of a shooting at a middle school that critically wounded a 13-year-old boy.
That Tarot card -- the so-called "Death Card" in the fortune-telling deck -- had the message "Mister Policeman, I am God." It is believed to be the only communication to law enforcement from the sniper.
Geographic profilers have been studying the locations of the nine confirmed sniper shootings in an effort to draw a picture of the sniper.
Three of the sniper shootings have targeted people filling their cars at gas stations, and three were near highway entrance ramps. (Trail of the sniper)
Friday's shooting occurred about five miles from where a 43-year-old woman was shot and wounded last Friday outside a Michaels crafts store, also in Fredericksburg. She was released from the hospital Tuesday. (Shooting victims)
FBI calls for help
Law enforcement authorities are asking the public to help, but are also asking them to make sure both the information they have and the number they call is appropriate.
Moose said people offering tips are tying up the 911 emergency services lines, which are only for people needing immediate help from police, fire or ambulance services.
FBI officials operating the "sniper hotline" in Washington are overwhelmed by well-meaning citizens calling with thousands of messages that are not helpful, according to authorities at the agency field office.
Sixty FBI agents, support personnel and FBI academy trainees are attempting to handle the flood of calls on more than 40 phone lines located in the field office near Capitol Hill.
"We're getting a thousand calls an hour," said Chris Murray, spokesman for the FBI office.
"We want the public's help. We need leads and fresh information, but frankly it doesn't help for someone to call and say, 'I saw a white van six months ago,'" said one FBI agent.
If callers have information and cannot get through on the hotline, they may also send their information through the FBI's Internet Web site, www.fbi.gov, where, in the upper left corner of the page, there is a "submit a tip" link.
So many calls came into the sniper hotline Thursday that the phone system in the field office "crashed," officials said.
Public concern over the search for the sniper also has prompted some citizens to call the hotline to offer personal opinions or criticisms of the investigation. Officials say such calls are becoming a problem to hotline operators who are attempting to keep the lines clear for potential witnesses or others who have information or potential leads that may help solve the crime spree.
Hours after the fatal shooting Friday, police investigated what was thought to be the sound of gunshots outside Kenilworth Elementary School in Prince George's County, Maryland, but found no evidence that a gun was fired.
A spokesman for the Spotsylvania County Public Schools school board in Virginia, said all schools were in lockdown -- meaning outdoor activities are canceled -- and that there are deputies on every campus.
"It's a very difficult thing to believe is going on," said Jerry Hill, Spotsylvania County Public Schools superintendent. "I believe they're as safe in the school with a lockdown, certainly safer than they would be out in the community right now."
Stafford County, just north of Spotsylvania County, and Fauquier County, farther north, also locked down schools.