Investigators question 100 people in sniper-like killings
Source: Victims all attended same high school
CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CNN) -- Investigators in the killings of three people at Charleston-area gas stations last week are questioning 100 people they consider suspects in those shootings, Kanawha County Sheriff Dave Tucker said Monday.
"We have 100 suspects at this time, and they're being interviewed as we speak now," Tucker told reporters Monday afternoon.
Twelve teams made up of local law enforcement authorities and some federal agents are working on making contact with all of the 100 suspects, a law enforcement source told CNN.
Investigators are also looking for a dark-colored, possibly maroon, full-sized pickup, Tucker said. But law enforcement officials said the truck, perhaps a Ford F-150, is common in the West Virginia mountains, noting that Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and at least two police officers drive such a truck.
The law enforcement source said investigators are checking motor vehicle records to find names of people who drive similar trucks.
The source also said that as part of the investigation, authorities have checked the backgrounds of the three victims and found that they all attended the same high school, although not at the same time.
It's not known if this is a significant clue or just a coincidence, the source said.
Tucker said his Kanawha County deputies are trying to avoid "tunnel vision" in their probe. He said his agency is receiving assistance from some of the investigators in last year's sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C., area, and those investigators are "giving us some good advice that we're following."
Tucker would not say directly that the killings are all related, but said there were "similarities" between the bullets recovered from the crime scenes.
"We'll not leave out anything once we start an investigation like this," Tucker said. "Anything moving, we're going to be looking at."
Law enforcement officials in West Virginia told CNN they are leaning toward the theory that their killer lives in or is very familiar with the area "because he had to know the roads." Sources said investigators don't believe that a stranger to the area easily could have navigated the 15 miles of winding rural byways between two of the crime scenes in the hour between the killings. (Chronology of shootings)
Jeanie Patton was killed at about 10:30 p.m. EDT Thursday at a Speedway filling station on Campbell Creek Road south of Charleston. The single mother of a 14-year-old boy worked part-time as a substitute cook and custodian for the Kanawha County school system.
Patton, 31, was killed by a bullet to the back of the head as she was walking inside to pay after pumping gas.
An hour later, Okey Meadows was fatally shot at the Go-Mart on U.S. 60 east of the city.
Meadows, a 26-year-old, Air Force veteran, was fatally shot in the head while buying milk and paying through a security window.
The former high school wrestler and fitness fanatic was applying for college and planned to study electronics or criminal justice. The divorced father leaves behind a 3-year-old son, Isaiah.
The third victim, Gary Carrier, 44, was shot in the head just after 11 p.m. August 10 while using a pay phone outside a Go-Mart store on the west side of Charleston. (Families remember victims)
His father describes the mechanic and NASCAR fan as a patient guy who got along with everyone. Reportedly divorced, Carrier was the father of four children, ranging in age from 10 to 25 years old.
Witnesses saw the dark-colored truck at the Go-Mart where Meadows was killed. One witness -- a woman talking on a pay phone a few feet away from where Meadows stood -- told police she saw a black pickup truck with an extended cab and gold trim.
"It is our belief the shooter made the shot from inside the truck, due to the fact that, immediately after the shot, the truck sped away, with tires spinning," said Kanawha County Sheriff's Department Chief Phil Morris.
No shell casings were found -- another reason police believe the killer fired from inside a vehicle.
Witnesses are certain about the pickup truck because they saw it lingering outside the convenience store a full 20 minutes before the third killing. The only description of the driver is that he is an overweight white male.
Investigative teams have also been in touch with convenience store owners in the area to determine if there are any disgruntled former employees who need to be checked, the law enforcement source told CNN.
FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents are assisting state and local police in the investigation, Charleston's mayor told CNN.
"I believe this person will slip up," said Jones, a former law enforcement officer. "Maybe they'll talk to somebody. I think it will be solved by a lot of police work."
The killings have stunned residents of the Charleston area, raising fears of sniper attacks similar to those that terrorized the Washington area last year.
While police have not definitively linked the three shootings, there are a number of similarities.
"They're connected by the site ... that they were shot at a convenient store, shot in one single hit shot, the fact they were shot at a distance, and I think the most important thing, that the bullets that we recover, they have similar characteristics," Tucker said Monday on CNN's "American Morning."
The slug from one of the shootings was too damaged to compare accurately to the other two, police said.
Tucker told CNN that in addition to investigating the case, police are letting frightened residents know they are covering all the bases to find the killing.
"They're asking all types of questions," Tucker said. "The most that seems to be (is that) they are concerned. I was up there yesterday and talked to them, and reassured them that we're doing everything we can."
Tucker said the local investigators have been in contact with police who tracked the Washington area snipers last year.
"Our investigators have ... received a lot of good information from the investigators that work on that case," he said.
John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo are charged with killing 10 people and wounding four during a three-week spree in October 2002. Investigators also have linked the pair to slayings in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Washington state.
Muhammad's trial, for a Prince William County, Virginia, killing, is scheduled to begin October 14; Malvo's, for a Fairfax County shooting, on November 10.