The Globe and Mail – October 6, 2002
Washington — Psychological profilers say the deadly marksman who has coldly cut down a cross-section of Americans in Washington’s suburbs is a meticulous thrill-killer taking great delight in thwarting police.
“He’s got a God complex, killing these people at random and from a long distance,” said Gregg McCrary, a former FBI psychological profiler. “He is enjoying fooling the police. He’s likely to do it again.”
Authorities said Sunday they have precious little to go on in their frantic hunt for a sniper who has shot seven people from random locations, hitting them with one high-velocity round before disappearing.
The killer operated from long range, selecting and dispatching a victim before anyone realized what was happening, from far beyond the range of closed-circuit security cameras.
Not a single cartridge casing has been left behind by the assailant.
Six people have died since the shootings began last Wednesday. A seventh is in serious condition after being shot as she loaded shopping bags into her mini-van in Virginia outside a Michael’s craft store.
None of the victims ever saw the attacker. Police believe the sniper may be using a telescopic sight atop a rifle capable of hitting targets up to half a kilometre away.
While they wait for leads to pan out, authorities have turned to a Vancouver geographic profiler to suggest where the sniper may live.
Dr. Kim Rossmo, using methodology developed at Simon Fraser University that is used by the RCMP, suggested the killer is likely from Washington’s northern suburbs. Five of the six shootings occurred there, all within a few kilometres of each other.
“Crimes occur close to an offender’s home, but not too close,” Dr. Rossmo told reporters in Rockville, Md., a comfortable suburb adjacent to Washington’s northwest border.
Most criminals crave anonymity but need familiarity with roads in order to plan their escapes, he said, while refusing to discuss where the sniper may live.
Several questions aimed at Dr. Rossmo were cut off by the chief of Montgomery County police, Charles Moose.
The FBI has also put together a psychological profile of the sniper to narrow the field of potential suspects.
Paul Ciolino, a former Chicago homicide detective, said even with a composite psychological sketch of the shooter, police face a daunting challenge.
“This is the worst kind of killer to come up against,” said Mr. Ciolino. “There is no idea what his motivation is. He doesn’t have an agenda. He’s not communicating with people.
“Police are clueless at this point, and they will be unless they get a break or he makes a serious mistake.”
The seven victims were unconnected in any way, apparently chosen at random by a killer who seems to have had no motive other than the pleasure of killing.
Candace DeLong, a former FBI profiler now living in California, said whoever is responsible for the shootings is likely male, young and immature.
“Someone less than 25 years old,” she said. “This looks like a thrill-killing. Someone who’s good with their gun and wants to show that off. This offender or offenders won’t stop until they’re caught.”
Asked how she can be certain the assailant is a male, she said: “I’ve never heard of a crime like this being committed by a woman.”
Friday’s shooting 80 kilometres south of Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., is particularly troubling to police. It widens the geographical area the sniper is working in.
The first bullet — a .223-calibre projectile favoured by hunters for their accuracy — flew through the window of Michael’s craft store in Rockville, Md., on Wednesday night. Four people were killed over the next 16 hours within a few kilometres of each other. A fifth died a short distance away on Thursday.
Police were hoping the killing had stopped before a ballistics report linked the Virginia shooting to the others.
“This showed us that, no, it was just a lull,” said Chief Moose. The shootings began in his jurisdiction of Montgomery County.
Restaurant managers and merchants reported a sharp drop in business along the shopping corridor north of Washington known as the Rockville Pike.
Those who did venture out did so warily.
“I guess I’m depending on my guardian angel,” said Pat Keesling, who lives near one of the Maryland shooting scenes.
Residents in those areas were encouraged to go on with their lives.
“We can’t let the fear take over,” Montgomery County executive Doug Duncan said Sunday.
Mr. Duncan said the FBI is also developing a geographical profile — a link between crime scenes and where a criminal lives.
Police are trying to determine if there is any significance in the fact that a Michael’s store was involved in the first and last shooting.
The nearest thing to a clue has come from a witness of shooting No. 4, of Sarah Ramos, a 34-year-old Hispanic woman who was sitting on a bench near a bus stop reading when she was shot dead on Thursday morning.
This witness claims to have seen a white van speeding from the scene with two men inside. But there were no such sightings at the other crime scenes.
James Martin, a 55-year-old government program analyst, was the first victim. He was killed Wednesday evening as he crossed the parking lot of Shoppers Food Warehouse, a discount supermarket about 12 kilometres north of the D.C.-Maryland line.