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NYC: Growing Sense of Helplessness as a Killer Claims 5th Life

Working at an all-night bodega in the tougher neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens has never been a safe job.

But yesterday, a day after a shopkeeper was fatally shot in Crown Heights, in the latest of five unprovoked killings that the police believe were carried out by the same gunman, some local small-business owners and their employees say they feel increasingly helpless and afraid.

In three of the five killings, the gunman appears not to have stolen anything. He seems to be killing for sport. "If someone comes in for money, you're not going to be as scared," said Taher Ahmed, 43, who works at Hamshali Deli and Grocery, a 24-hour shop in East New York, not far from where the killing took place on Thursday morning.

"You know if you give him money, he may let you live. But if someone just comes in and wants to kill you, what can you do?"

The police said yesterday that the killing on Thursday, in which a Yemeni immigrant was shot as he worked at the Stop II Food Market, is now considered part of the pattern of four earlier killings, starting on Feb. 8. Three of the five victims worked at small groceries, one at an all-night laundry and one at an auto shop.

Like many other shopkeepers in the neighborhoods where the killings took place, Mr. Ahmed said the police had come to the store to interview him and had placed a "Wanted" poster on the front door.

But Mr. Ahmed, who does not own a gun, said there was little he could do to protect himself.

Maria Pacheco, who works in a coin laundry on Liberty Avenue in Queens, near where the first killing took place, said she felt the same way.

She said she locks the door and leaves as soon as the last of her customers have left at night. But reading about the five killings has made her feel increasingly anxious.

"He doesn't do it for the money," she said. "He must be crazy; it can't be anything else."

The fact that the gunman has said little and left money behind complicates the task of investigators, said one criminal profiler with two decades of experience.

"If he was making sure he took money, we could associate it with a drug binge," the profiler said.

All that is certain, the profiler said, is that "it's a thrill situation, where they have an abnormal need for power and control."

On Thursday, the killer said nothing before he began shooting, said Adel Aldialan, who owns the store where the killing took place.

He said he had spoken about the shooting with his nephew, Yakoob Aldialan, who was in the store at the time and shot three times, in the chest, arm and leg. He was in critical but stable condition at Brookdale Hospital.

In a bitter coda to that attack, thieves broke into the store Thursday night and stole $1,500 worth of cigarettes and $200 in small bills and change, Mr. Aldialan said.

A few shop owners expressed defiance, saying they could handle themselves and were not worried. Some had not even heard of the killings.

Still others said slayings were something people were used to hearing about in neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York, where two of the killings took place.

But several compared the slayings to the "Son of Sam" serial killings carried out by David Berkowitz in 1996 and 1997. Mr. Berkowitz killed six people and wounded seven. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced in 1978 to more than 300 years in prison.

George W. Lee, 44, who was shopping in Mr. Ahmed's store yesterday, said, "I hope these killings rise to the level of Son of Sam, so it gets attention and they're able to catch this guy."

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