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DC Area Sniper Claims Eighth Victim

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D.C.-area sniper claims eighth victim

NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES

FREDERICKSBURG, Va., Oct. 12 — Ballistics tests linked the slaying Friday of a Philadelphia man near Fredericksburg, Va., to the sniper who has terrorized the Washington area by killing at least seven other people in barely more than a week, law enforcement officials said Saturday. For the first time since the string of slayings began more than a week sago, police released two composite images of a white panel truck witnesses said they saw at some of the scenes in Maryland.

THE LATEST SLAYING was the sniper’s most brazen yet, claiming its victim as a state trooper stood across the street.

The FBI identified the victim as Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, of Philadelphia, a father of six who was co-founder of a marketing distribution company. Bridges was president and chairman of the board of MATAH Network, an organization that encourages blacks to support black-owned businesses and to promote black self-sufficiency.

Bridges was fueling his gray four-door sedan at an Exxon gasoline station about 60 miles south of Washington, near Fredericksburg in Spotsylvania County, when he was shot about 9:35 a.m. He was hit once in the shoulder by a bullet that struck a vital organ, the FBI said.

Authorities said bullet fragments were recovered from an autopsy of Bridges and were flown by helicopter to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms lab in Maryland. The fragments conclusively linked the case to the seven previous slayings attributed to the sniper, law enforcement officials said at a news conference Saturday.

Authorities told NBC News’ David Bloom that witnesses were able to give descriptions of two men in the van, which they said lent credence to their supposition that they were probably dealing with a two-person team.

STATE TROOPER ACROSS THE STREET

Smith described the shooter as “extremely bold,” saying he or she could almost certainly see a Virginia state trooper who was investigating a traffic accident just across the highway, also known as Route 1, a few hundred yards north of Interstate 95.

The trooper did not see the shooting but heard the shot and “ran to the assistance of the victim,” Smith said. “With a uniformed trooper across the street, obviously we’re dealing with an individual who is extremely violent and doesn’t care.”

The sniper has now killed eight people and wounded two others, including a 13-year-old boy, since Oct. 2, terrorizing the capital region, forcing the cancellation of many school activities and dramatically driving down retail business activity as frightened customers stay indoors.

WHITE VAN SETS OFF MASSIVE SEARCH

The spotting of the white van also echoed the circumstances of some of the previous shootings.

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

State police quickly set up checkpoints on freeways and secondary roads extending in all directions. After several hours of stopping white vans and cargo trucks and questioning occupants, no arrests had been made, and Smith said drivers of any white trucks and vans should expect to be stopped for now.

Montgomery County police released these composite images Saturday of a white box truck described by witnesses to at least two of the Maryland shootings.

Witnesses have previously reported seeing a white van or panel truck near at least two of the previous shootings attributed to the sniper in Maryland. Saturday, Charles Moose, police chief in Montgomery County, Md., scene of half of the previous attacks, released two composite images of a white panel truck compiled by digitally altering photos of a similar truck based on witnesses’ accounts.

The truck has a roll-up door in the rear and “severe damage to the rear bumper,” Moose said, noting that the damage was difficult to see in the sketch. It has two large lines of undetermined lettering on the sides.

Moose said that witnesses were still being interviewed and that a larger image or sketch would be released in the near future.

SLAYING PATTERN CHANGING

The killings began with six fatal shootings in less than 30 hours last week, but the four most recent attacks attributed to the sniper have been spread out over eight days at locations near major highways that allow for a quick getaway.

Although they have occurred in Washington itself and in several suburban counties, they also have been clustered primarily in two locations, in Maryland just north of the capital and in Virginia about 50 miles south.

Friday’s shooting fit both patterns, having taken place just one interstate exit away from the wounding of a woman at a crafts shop last week.

It also came a day after authorities confirmed that a man who was shot to death Wednesday night at another Virginia gasoline station was the seventh person killed by the sniper.

Like the others, that man, identified as Dean Harold Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg, Md., was felled at distance by a single shot, which investigators of the other shootings have said was from a .223-caliber rifle.

Police said Meyers had just finished paying for gasoline and was alone when he was shot about 8:18 p.m. ET Wednesday. A white minivan was also seen leaving that station after the shooting, and police launched an intensive search, but Prince William County Police Chief Charlie Deane said Thursday night that investigators had found the driver and believed the van was probably uninvolved.

Investigators have said publicly that they have few clues, and law enforcement experts suggested that their best hope was that the killer would make a mistake.

Police have acknowledged the accuracy of media reports that they 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.

The Post reported Thursday that the tarot card also bore 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.

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