Woman shot, killed in D.C. suburb
FALLS CHURCH, Virginia (CNN) -- Authorities were searching for a cream-colored Chevrolet Astro van with the left rear taillight out after a woman was shot and killed Monday night in a parking garage near a Home Depot store.
Police did not know yet whether the shooting was related to the string of sniper shootings in the area but were treating it as if it were.
"It's too early to tell at this point. However, we are working and investigating it with that potential in mind," said Fairfax Police Chief Tom Manger.
He said the woman was shot once in the upper body and was dead at the scene. According Ellen Qualls, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Governor's Office, the victim was with her husband.
Manger said the victim had finished shopping at the Home Depot and was at her vehicle on the ground level of a two-story parking garage outside the store.
Though he would not say whether it appeared the shot was fired from a distance, as has been the case with the other shootings, Manger said: "There's no evidence of a robbery."
He said authorities were not certain if the van was involved in the attack but still wanted to find it. Manger said the van being sought also had a silver ladder rack on its top.
Virginia State Police dispatcher Jim Ball earlier said troopers were looking for the white Chevrolet Astro van that witnesses reported seeing shortly after Friday's shooting at a gas station near Fredericksburg, Virginia.
He said it was not immediately clear if witnesses saw a similar vehicle again Monday night but that authorities were treating it as if the van was there.
The shooting happened around 9:15 p.m. at the Seven Corners Center on U.S. Highway 50 in Falls Church, Manger said.
Manger said there were "several" witnesses, but he would not say whether they saw the sniper. He said investigators were still looking for the origin of the shot.
Raymond Massis, a witness, said he heard a shot as he approached the front of the Home Depot.
"People started panicking -- I was one of them. A few seconds later people started running. We heard the sirens," he said. "I looked back toward Route 50, which is about 20 to 30 yards away from me, and saw the body laying down."
Employees at the shopping center Monday said customers ran into their stores saying they heard a single shot. The one-bullet attacks have been a hallmark of the sniper case so far.
"One customer did tell us that they heard a loud bang," said Liz Cui, an employee at the Starbucks coffee shop in the shopping center. She said the parking lot was filled with investigators and police cruisers.
Police sealed off the parking lot and told reporters to move back. "We think we might have evidence in the parking lot," one police officer said at the scene.
Sniper task force rushes to scene
Manger sought to ease fears among residents in the area, saying police officers were "saturating" the area to make sure it was safe.
Authorities blocked off Interstate 495 -- the so-called "Beltway" -- and set up roadblocks along U.S. Highway 50, which leads from Virginia into Washington and connects to I-495. They also closed the George Washington Parkway, the American Legion Bridge and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Officers were writing down the license plate number of every vehicle moving through the roadblocks. Police helicopters with searchlights hovered over the interstate and other nearby roads.
Police began easing the roadblocks several hours after the killing.
The sniper task force -- made up of police, FBI agents, members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Secret Service -- converged on the scene. The Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department is leading the investigation.
If linked to the other attacks, the shooting would make Fairfax County the fifth one in the Washington area in which the sniper has struck, killing eight people and wounding two others. Each victim has been shot with a single .223-caliber bullet.
In the same shopping center as the Home Depot is a Michaels craft store. The sniper began his shooting spree on October 2 at a Michaels but missed his intended target. The sniper wounded a woman at a Michaels two days later in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Authorities are offering a $500,000 reward leading to the arrest and conviction of the shooter.
Discovery of rifle downplayed
Meanwhile, the task force investigating the attacks cast doubt Monday that the discovery of a high-powered rifle, a book about snipers and other material at the Baltimore apartment of an ex-Marine was in any way connected to the shooting spree.
Baltimore police also seized a white van owned by the 37-year-old former Marine similar to one described near Friday's shooting, a department spokeswoman told CNN.
Initial tests on the gun and ammunition did not produce a match with the ballistics evidence found at the sites of the sniper attacks, law enforcement officials said.
Baltimore police went to the man's apartment after his girlfriend allegedly shot him in a domestic dispute Sunday evening. The girlfriend is in custody, a law enforcement source told CNN, and authorities said the ex-Marine agreed to be questioned further.
Investigators asked the Army and Navy to check records for any current or recently discharged sniper-trained personnel who recently have been in metro Washington. Pentagon sources said there were no military-related suspects in the sniper case.
Also Monday, authorities announced they have established a post office box so people can send in information about the case -- a possible indication that police are trying to establish contact with the sniper, who would likely be reluctant to call or e-mail.
The man leading the investigation, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, declined to comment on whether that was the case.
President Bush, speaking out on the string of deadly slayings, said Monday the spree is "a form of terrorism."
"I'm just sick -- sick to my stomach -- to think that there is a cold-blooded killer at home taking innocent life," Bush said. "I weep for those who have lost their loved ones. ... Any time anybody is randomly shooting, randomly killing, randomly taking life, it's cold-blooded murder."
Evidence recovered at first shooting site
Although the weekend was free of attacks linked to the sniper, no more than two days have gone by without a shooting since the attacks began.
Two men were gunned down in separate Virginia incidents while they were pumping gas at filling stations near major interstates -- one killed Wednesday in Manassas and the other Friday near Fredericksburg, a brazen shooting carried out within sight of a policeman.
Five people were killed in Montgomery County on October 2 and 3. A Washington man was gunned down the night of October 3. A woman was wounded in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, on October 4, and a schoolboy was wounded October 7 outside his middle school in Bowie, Maryland.
A possible new piece of ballistic evidence has emerged at the scene of an October 2 shooting at Michaels craft store in Wheaton. Recently, a customer at the store got a magazine and found what appeared to be bullet fragments, and the material has been turned over to investigators.
"Evidence has been recovered from the first shooting at the Michaels store that Wednesday evening," Moose said.
The 13-year-old boy remained in critical but stable condition Monday at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington.
Authorities found a Tarot card and a shell casing near the scene in Bowie. The "death card" in the fortune-telling deck included a handwritten message: "I am God."
Meanwhile, authorities were preparing a composite sketch of the white Chevrolet Astro minivan reported seen near Friday's shooting, Moose said.
Investigators also were tracking tips that came in after they released a composite picture of another white vehicle, a box-type truck with damage to the rear bumper. Witnesses reported seeing such a truck at several shooting sites. Moose said he was pleased with the response from the public.