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Random Killings Hit MD. County

Donna Leinwand and Laura Parker, USA TODAY

KENSINGTON, Mary. -- Five people were slain by a "skilled" but anonymous shooter who apparently picked them off randomly over a 16-hour period as they carried out everyday chores.

"This is unlike anything we've ever seen," Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said. "This is not what happens here." Moose said that the killer apparently fired just six shots and that investigators "have no idea who or what we're dealing with."

The shootings occurred Wednesday night and Thursday morning in a county where the median household income of $ 71,000 a year ranks it among the nation's wealthiest. Home to many government workers, lobbyists and diplomats, the county's population of 875,000 also is ethnically diverse; one in four residents is foreign born.

The random nature of the shootings stunned residents of the suburban neighborhoods just north of Washington's "Beltway," the freeway loop that circles the capital city.

Officials locked down local schools Thursday as a massive dragnet got underway to search for what police described as a "skilled shooter" in a white delivery truck.

Montgomery County and state police were joined in the investigation by authorities from the FBI, Secret Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Police said it appeared the shootings were related, but were awaiting confirmation from ballistics reports.

James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston, said the pattern points "to a more immature shooter who is just getting his enjoyment out of turning the county into his personal shooting gallery."

Alexander Millhouse, who works at a gas station where cabdriver Premkumar Walekar, 54, was killed, said: "I was the only one here. It could have been me."

Several witnesses told police they saw a white cargo truck, possibly damaged in the rear, leaving some of the shooting scenes. One said it had black lettering.

The bizarre string of shootings began late Wednesday afternoon when a shot was fired through a store window in Silver Spring. No one was injured. Then, shortly after 6 p.m., James Martin, 55, of Silver Spring, a program analyst at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was shot to death in the parking lot of a grocery store in Wheaton.

The attacks resumed about 7:45 a.m. Thursday when James "Sonny" Buchanan, 39, of Arlington, Va., was killed while mowing a lawn in the White Flint area. At 8:15 a.m. Walekar, of Olney, was shot while pumping gasoline into his cab at a Mobil station in the Aspen Hill area.

About a half-hour later, Sarah Ramos, 34, of Silver Spring, was shot in the head while sitting on a bench outside a post office near a retirement village in the community.

About 10 a.m., the fifth victim, Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, was killed while vacuuming her van at a Shell gas station in Kensington.

John Mistry, 47, co-owner of the station, said he heard a bang and thought a fuse had blown out on a power pole. Moments later, several people rushed up to report the woman had collapsed.

"We thought she had had a heart attack. We couldn't see any blood," Mistry said.

Martin, the first victim, had probably stopped at the grocery store on his way home to his wife, Billie, and son, Ben, 11, when the shooter struck, said Don Spillman, his supervisor at NOAA. Martin, a program analyst at the agency, usually left work at 5:30 p.m.

Martin, who had a degree in business from Southeast Missouri State University, organized the office's adoption of a Washington, D.C. elementary school, said Spillman, who has known him for 12 years.

He was compiling a personal history that documented some of the major events in his life that he had hoped to give to his son, Spillman said.

Walekar, the second victim Thursday morning, left for work as a cabdriver just as his wife, Margaret, was coming home from her night shift as a nurse at Montgomery General Hospital and before his daughter, Andrea, had woken up.

"He was a really, really hard worker," said Andrea Walekar, 24, a senior at University of Maryland. "Everyone loved him. He told a lot of jokes."

She found out about the shooting when a co-worker at the Leisure World senior citizen complex in Silver Spring phoned to warn her to be careful when coming to work later that morning. She turned on the television and saw her father's cab.

"I knew it was his when I saw the two little American flags on the back windows," Walekar said.

Her father came to the USA from India when he was 18. He was a distributor for a magazine publishing company, and also drove the cab. Four years ago, he retired from the publishing company. He and his wife of 26 years planned to return to India after Andrea and her brother Andrew, 24, finished school and had settled lives, Andrea Walekar says.

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