Intense dragnet fails to capture serial sniper

SPOTSYLVANIA — Minutes after a serial sniper struck his 10th victim in as many days, police choked off exit ramps, northbound Interstate 95, secondary roads and bridges.

But they were too late. The sniper had vanished into the rainy, gray morning. As some wary Fredericksburg-area residents briskly zigzagged into stores yesterday and gas pumps near Interstate 95 remained mostly vacant, authorities conceded the sniper’s lightning-quick attacks — every other day last week — pose a daunting challenge.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Maj. Howard Smith of the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday, after announcing ballistic evidence “conclusively links” Friday’s fatal shooting of a Philadelphia businessman as he was pumping gas in Spotsylvania to the other attacks in greater Washington.

The multistate dragnet includes a search for a white box-style truck, depicted in a composite sketch released yesterday by the FBI and Montgomery County, Md., authorities, and a white minivan, possibly a Chevrolet Astro, which might be connected to Friday’s slaying near Fredericksburg. Even as authorities singled out those vehicles, they urged the public not to exclude other suspicious activities or vehicles.

The most intense police presence after Friday’s shooting was concentrated on I-95 and portions of U.S. 1 north of Fredericksburg to Washington, but state police said vehicles also were stopped to the south.

Authorities would not detail their response plan, finalized on Thursday. But police said they are monitoring roadways north and south of Fredericksburg, and that state troopers will call for backup before questioning vehicle occupants during traffic stops.

Investigators also would not discuss the possibility of a decoy — that a white minivan that some witnesses reported seeing speeding toward I-95 after Friday’s shooting might have been meant to draw witnesses’ attention away from a shooter positioned in woods or in another vehicle.

As the reward topped $500,000 Saturday, including a $50,000 donation from Spotsylvania officials, authorities said they had received more than 2,000 tips about Friday’s shooting — about 40 calls per minute, Spotsylvania Sheriff Ronald T. Knight said.

Authorities would not specify what ballistic evidence linked Friday’s slaying of Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, to the shootings that have now claimed eight lives and left two people wounded in Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

Kiran Krishnamurthy is a staff writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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