Manassas, Oct. 10 (Reuters): Police investigating the shooting death of a man at a Virginia gas station today said it was too early to say whether an elusive sniper in the Washington area had murdered his seventh victim.
In the past week, the gunman has killed five people and wounded one in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, killed one person in the US capital, and wounded another in Fredericksburg, Virginia, about 80 miles south of Washington.
“At this point, we can not say if this case is related to those shootings,” Prince William County police chief Charlie Deane said, adding that his department was comparing information with members of the task force investigating the sniper shootings.
The shooting in Manassas, 30 miles southwest of Washington, happened shortly after 8 p.m. on Wednesday just as the victim finished filling his car with gasoline. The 53-year-old man died on the scene and police said they were looking for a Dodge Caravan seen in the area.
“We do have some witnesses and one of the bits of information from them is this white van,” said Sgt. Kim Chinn, spokeswoman for Prince William County police. “It was a white minivan, described as a panel vehicle, with only front passenger windows and no windows in the back.”
Last week, when the sniper first struck, police said they were seeking the drivers of a white commercial delivery truck.
In Rockville, Maryland, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said investigators were seeking a link between the latest shooting and the sniper killings.
”At this point we don't have any definitive information ... to say this is linked or not linked but we are working the case certainly with this is mind,” Moose said.
He added, however, that early indications from the latest crime scene suggested a link.
”Last night's situation in Prince William County, the first people at the scene were fairly comfortable saying that additional portions of the task force be dispatched” there, Moose said.
One of the previous victims was shot while filling her car at a gas station and another of the attacks occurred at night.
Each victim was hit by a single shot fired from an assault or hunting rifle, police said. There was no indication the victims, aged 13 to 72, knew each other but ballistics evidence connected the crimes.
The gunman also reportedly left a Tarot card representing death with the message“Dear Policeman, I am God” not far from where a 13-year-old boy was critically injured outside a school in Prince George's County, Maryland, on Monday.
Police were angered that the Tarot card clue was leaked to the media and have refused to publicly discuss its significance.
The Washington Post on Thursday quoted police sources as saying the card also contained a handwritten request from the sniper that the note not be revealed to the news media.
”This was a personal message to us, and the intention of the (shooter) was to develop a relationship with us,” one detective who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
No one has reported seeing the gunman in any of the eight related incidents. Police said the weapon was probably an assault rifle or hunting rifle accurate up to about 650 yards (600 metres).
Authorities are offering a reward of $307,000 in the sniper case. The Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Marshals and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have joined state and local police in the investigation that spans four jurisdictions.
”We are working very hard with the authorities down here to solve this,” said ATF Special Agent Harold Scott.