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Man Killed At Gas Station

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Man killed at Virginia gas station

Oct. 11 -- The sniper terrorizing the Washington, D.C., area is changing tactics and operating more carefully. NBC's David Bloom reports, and Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose speaks with ``Today's'' Katie Couric.

NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES

ROCKVILLE, Md., Oct. 11 — Police on Friday were investigating a fatal shooting at a gas station near Fredericksburg, Va. — a crime that bears similarities to several others attributed to the sniper terrorizing the Washington, D.C., area. Traffic on nearby freeways slowed to a crawl as authorities questioned occupants of white vans and trucks resembling a vehicle that witnesses said was seen leaving the shooting scene.

THE MALE VICTIM, who was not immediately identified, was gassing his vehicle at an Exxon station in Spotsylvania County, just south of Fredericksburg, when he was shot about 9:30 a.m., authorities said. The victim was rushed to Mary Washington Hospital, but Virginia Gov. Mark Warner’s office later announced that he had died.

Spotsylvania County Sheriff Ronald Knight said the man was shot as he was gassing up his vehicle and indicated that the shooting at the gas station, which is at the junction of Interstate 95 and state Route 1, appeared to be similar to some of the sniper attacks.

Authorities issued an all-points bulletin for a white Chevy Astro minivan with ladder racks on top that some witnesses saw leaving the scene and heading north on Route 1. Authorities were stopping white vans and cargo trucks and questioning occupants throughout the region. HOV — high-occupancy vehicle — lanes were shut down to prevent vehicles from quickly leaving the area.

SUSPICIOUS VAN STOPPED

Knight said that one white van was stopped nearby as it “was bumping cars trying to leave the area.†He said officers were questioning the occupant of the vehicle.

A white van or box truck was also spotted near the scenes of two other shootings linked to the sniper.

Bruce Bingham, who works at a Mobile station across the street from the shooting scene, told MSNBC TV that he and co-workers heard a single shot ring out and saw a white Chevy van at stoplights in front of the Exxon station.

“We’re not sure that the shot came from the van,†he said, adding that the van drove off moments before police arrived.

One previous shooting attributed to the sniper — the shooting of a woman outside a craft store — occurred only one freeway exit away from the scene of Friday’s attack.

Authorities stressed that it was unclear whether Friday’s shooting was linked to the sniper attacks that have left seven people dead since Oct. 2, but members of the task force investigating the shootings quickly left their headquarters in Rockville, Md., and rushed to the scene.

Word of the shooting came shortly after Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose announced at a news conference that the FBI was assembling a “graphic aid†for distribution to the media that may help solve the case. He declined to elaborate on the nature of the materials, but indicated they would be released later in the day.

News that the release was being planned came a day after authorities confirmed that a man shot to death Wednesday night at a Virginia gasoline station was the seventh person known to have been killed by the sniper, who also has wounded two other people since beginning the spree on Oct. 2.

The man, identified as Dean Harold Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg, Md., died of “a single gunshot wound to the upper part of the body,†Prince William County Police Chief Charlie Deane told reporters Thursday after an autopsy.

SLAYING ‘CONCLUSIVELY LINKED’

Ballistics evidence “conclusively linked this shooting with others in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area,†Prince William police said in a statement late Thursday afternoon.

Oct. 10 — Dean Harold Meyers’ neighbors were shocked at his death. NBC’s Joe Johns reports.

All of the victims have been felled by a single high-powered shot from what investigators of the other shootings have said was a .223-caliber rifle. Two other people, including a 13-year-old boy, have been wounded in attacks attributed to the sniper.

Deane pleaded for the killer to give up. “There’s enough damage been done,†he said.

Since the latest shooting Wednesday night, investigators with a local, state and federal task force have scoured the scene, near Manassas, a historic city in Prince William County about 30 miles southwest of Washington, for clues.

Police said a white minivan was seen leaving the station after the shooting and launched an intensive search, but Deane said Thursday night that investigators had found the driver of such a van who was in the area and believed that it was probably uninvolved.

Gas station owners feeling vulnerable

Since the slayings began last week, almost 200 law enforcement officers have searched the Washington region for two men in a white cargo truck or van that was seen speeding away from one of the shootings Oct. 3.

PROSECUTOR PROMISES DEATH PENALTY

Deane said Meyers had just finished paying for gasoline and was alone when he was shot about 8:18 p.m. ET.

More than 100 law enforcement officials descended on the area to search for clues, Deane said, and authorities blocked off several streets around the station while they interviewed witnesses.

Meyers lived alone in Maryland but worked in Manassas as a project manager and design engineer for a Virginia-based group of architectural engineering firms, The Washington Post reported.

Carol Iverson, 79, who lived next door to Meyers for 15 years in Gaithersburg before she moved away, told The Associated Press that the two had stayed close, with Meyers coming to Iverson’s home for dinner only last week.

“He was perfectly delightful,†she said, her voice breaking. “I can’t say enough good things about him. He always had a kind word. He always had time to stop and talk.â€

Clara Johnson, another neighbor, recalled that Meyers looked out for cats in the community. Whoever killed Meyers is “a person that has no heart, no love, no concern — but most of all, no love in his heart,†she said.

At a news conference, Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert said that if and when a suspect in the sniper slayings was arrested, he would seek to prosecute the case in Prince William County and would seek the death penalty.

Ebert’s office has sent more people to death row than any other jurisdiction in Virginia, records show.

Authorities established a central hot line Thursday — 888-324-9800 — for any tips related to the shootings. Previously, there were several hot lines because the earlier shootings happened in various jurisdictions.

Police have said publicly that they had few clues, and law enforcement experts suggested that investigators’ best hope was that the killer would make a mistake.

Police have acknowledged media reports that they had found a bullet casing and the tarot card signifying death with the words, “Dear Policeman, I am God,†written on it at the scene in Bowie, Md., where the teenage boy was critically wounded Monday.

Killers use 'calling cards' to taunt

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the tarot card also contained a handwritten request from the sniper that it not be revealed to the media. Sources said some detectives had hoped that if they honored the request, the sniper might communicate with investigators again.

The tarot card reportedly was found about 150 yards from the entrance of Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie. The sources said it was discovered in a matted-down area amid the trees, suggesting that the sniper had lain in wait before picking out a target.

Deane, the Prince William chief, said there had been no communication from the killer in the latest shooting.

$305,000 REWARD

The Secret Service, the 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.

A reward has grown to more than $305,000.

Investigators have discerned no pattern among the victims. Before the latest slaying, in Virginia, was attributed to the sniper, the six previously known slayings all took place within five miles of one another in Washington and in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland.

MSNBC.com’s Mike Brunker and Alex Johnson and The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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