Md. boy latest victim in DC-area shootings

By STEFANY MOORE and SHARON OTTERMAN  |  Oct. 8, 2002 at 1:31 AM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush promised additional resources for a murder investigation in the Washington suburbs, as federal authorities linked the shooting of a 13-year-old boy to sniper attacks over the past week -- bringing the total number of victims to six killed and two wounded.

"All of these victims have been innocent and defenseless. But now we are stepping over the line, shooting a kid," said Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, with tears streaming down his face. "Whoever did this, this is getting to be really, really personal."

The latest victim of the shooter or shooters is in critical but stable condition at Washington's Children's National Medical Center, with doctors trying to stabilize his devastating internal injuries.

He is breathing with the help of a ventilator. The boy, who has not been identified, was shot once in the chest as he was being dropped off at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Md., on Monday morning.

At the end of a day-long police search around the school to recover evidence about the attack, an official of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said the bullet removed from the boy's body matched slugs from the string of attacks that killed or wounded seven other people since last Wednesday. WUSA-TV in Washington reported late Monday that investigators discovered a spent shell casing in woods about 150 yards from the school. The report said the casing was in an area with a clear sightline to the school entrance where the boy was shot.

There were no shootings over the weekend, but they resumed Monday.

"The forensic evidence recovered today has been linked to the shootings at the other scenes in Montgomery County, the District of Columbia and Fredericksburg, Virginia," said Joseph Riehl of the ATF.

The unprovoked attack on the young boy as he got out of a car in front of his school Monday spread fear across the region.

Schools in virtually every jurisdiction in the region took precautions to protect pupils and worried parents flooded in to pick up their children early.

Schools in Montgomery County, where the attacks began, and Prince Georges County, where the boy was shot Monday, were at "code blue" status -- meaning that they were not letting children out to play or for lunch and only releasing them to parents or guardians with proper identification.

Early Monday evening, Bush said he has committed additional federal resources to support the local police and had ordered the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education to assist schools in handling the difficulties the frightening attacks may have caused the youngsters.

"Laura and I send sought our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families," Bush said.

Police and investigators across the Washington metropolitan area are now collaborating on the case.

"What you can expect now is that this is going to in fact be a regional approach," said Gerald Wilson, Chief of Police in Prince Georges County, where the most recent victim was shot.

The boy was shot at approximately 8:09 a.m. EDT outside of his school in Bowie, Md., nearly 20 miles east of Washington. Soon after the boy's aunt dropped him off for school, she heard a single shot and saw the boy "slump over," said Wilson. The aunt rushed him to the nearby Bowie Health Center.

He was airlifted just before 9 a.m. to Children's National Medical Center in Washington, police said.

The bullet moved through the body of the boy, causing "multiple injuries" to a number of his vital organs, according to Dr. Michael Eichelberger, the boy's surgeon.

Dr. Eichelberger said he was "satisfied" with the results of the boy's two- to three-hour surgery but warned that his condition "could change at any time."

The single bullet, which Dr. Eichelberger said entered the boy's body and never exited, caused significant damage to his spleen, stomach, diaphragm and lung, the surgeon said.

At the school, 13-year-old Othar Haskins said the wounded boy was his friend. "He's funny, he's always around friends," Othar told reporters, crying and leaning his head on his mother's shoulder. "He helps you out when you need it. He's a good friend."

Soon after word got out that a boy had been shot in broad daylight, parents frantically streamed in to pick up their children, many of them also in tears.

At Seabrook Elementary School in northern Maryland, Dana Buckner did not allow her children to take the bus.

"I felt better having them with me," Buckner said to reporters.

"I'm worried. I'm going to have to send my kids to school tomorrow," she said.

Officials moved schools throughout the area into crisis mode, not permitting students to leave the building for lunch or recess. Most systems in the Washington area cancelled afternoon and evening activities and a large police presence was visible outside a number of schools as they dismissed class for the day.

Baltimore City schools cancelled afternoon kindergarten. In Virginia, Alexandria schools kept children indoors during recess and allowed no outside activities. Field trips were postponed in Arlington, and District of Columbia public schools cancelled all after-school activities.

The shooting spree that has stricken Washington area residents with fear began last Wednesday evening at about 5:20 p.m., when the suspect or suspects fired one shot through a store window, but no one was injured.

The first fatal shooting was less than an hour later and two miles away. James Martin, 55, was shot in the parking lot of a Wheaton, Md. grocery store.

The next victim was shot and killed on Thursday at 7:40 a.m. as he was riding a lawnmower at the Fitzgerald Auto Mall. The 39-year-old white male was identified as James Buchanan, of Arlington, Va.

A half-hour later, a taxi driver was killed at a Mobil gas station in the Aspen Hill area. Police identified him as 54-year-old Premkumar Walekar from Olney, Md.

Then, at 8:37 a.m., a 34-year-old Hispanic woman, Sarah Ramos, was shot in the head while she was sitting on a bench outside a post office in Silver Spring.

Less than two hours later at a Shell gas station in Kensington, Md. a 25-year-old white female was shot in the back while vacuuming her van. Police said Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, of Silver Spring, died at the scene.

Friday morning, the sixth victim, Pascal Charlot, a 72-year-old Washington was killed crossing a Northwest Washington street.

Later that day, a woman was shot in a mall parking lot, near Fredericksburg, Virginia about 50 miles south of Washington.

Just when a weekend respite had residents hoping that maybe it was all over, the killer or killers struck again.

The similarities in the shootings abound:

-- All of the victims have been hit at long-range by a single bullet.

-- Four of last week's shootings and the latest, in Bowie, occurred during the morning rush hour.

-- All seven victims were shot while doing routine tasks, such as mowing the lawn, pumping gas or loading packages into a car.

Doug Duncan, Montgomery County executive, said on Monday that there was a great deal of concern in the area the shooter would strike again.

"It's very frightening. There's widespread fear in this community and it's growing," he said.

Calls continued to pour in to a police TIPS line set up in the area. Moose said that as of Monday morning, there were 952 credible leads being followed up by local, state and federal investigators.

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