Police have two men in custody

An officer on the scence at Parham and Broad Streets in Henrico County Monday morning.

An officer on the scence at Parham and Broad Streets in Henrico County Monday morning.

(MARK GORMUS – Richmond Times-Dispatch)

The Saturday night shooting behind the Ponderosa Restaurant in Ashland is connected to other sniper shootings in the Washington area, police say.

“We can and do confirm at this time that the ballistics evidence recovered during our investigation has been matched with the other shooting cases,” Hanover County Sheriff V. Stuart Cook said at a press conference this afternoon.

He said two men were taken into custody by members of the Richmond area task force and “are being questioned in regards to the sniper shooting.”

“We want to assure you that we continue to press forth with all our resources,” Cook added.

Asked whether Richmond area residents should feel some sense of confidence, he replied: “I can’t answer that. We are continuing to investigate this.”

Henrico County police took one man into custody around 8:30 this morning after converging on a white minivan parked at an Exxon gas station at Parham Road and West Broad Street. The car appeared to be a Grand Voyager, a 1994 or 1995 model, with temporary tags X833-882.

map where the van was surrounded

No details have been released about when or where the second man was taken into custody.

State police also were searching a Citgo gas station across the street from the Exxon station.

Officers gingerly picked through four garbage cans after roping off the area with yellow police tape.

The Citgo station sits on the north side of Parham Road at its intersection with West Broad Street. ATF agents are also on the scene.

The Exxon remains closed, and police towed a white van from that station earlier this morning after the the man was taken into custody.

Eastbound lanes on Broad were reopened but westbound lanes were still closed early this afternoon. The intersection with Parham had been closed this morning.

Don Neilson, a service department employee at Royal Isuzu, said he saw the whole thing unfold. The dealership is next to the Exxon.

“I saw the police put on their bullet-proof vests and take out what looked like assault rifles. They focused on a white van that was parked next to a pay phone,” he said.

“It was surreal. They hunched down in front of the dealership. They went up the hill right in front of us, and they were on that van in about three seconds with rifles pointed at it.”

Police appeared to struggle with the door as if it were locked, Neilson said.

“They tried a second time, and it opened with the officers pointing their guns at somebody in the car. They pulled a man out, kept their rifles on him, put him to the ground and handcuffed him.”

Neilson described the man as slightly built with dark hair. Other witnesses described him as Hispanic-looking, with shoulder-length hair and a mustache.

Keith Underwood, an auto dealership service manager, also watched the events.

“More police showed up. We had undercover cops, Henrico County cops, they were getting out of their vans. They had compact binoculars and they kept looking up at the Exxon station. A little bit later they pulled up bigger binoculars.”

They were looking at a white Plymouth van, with gray trim along the bottom, parked closely beside a telephone booth at the front of the Exxon station.

Underwood said the telephone was on the other side of the van so he could not see if the driver was using it.

“I started noticing that they were coming out of all directions, up the back of our dealership – they were walking up. The car was at the Exxon station running the whole time, pulled up right next to the phone booth.”

Three armed officers slowly walked up the hill to the passenger side of the van where they pointed their weapons. “They tried to open the door a few times. You could tell they were yelling. I was in the building and I couldn’t hear anything.”

“But I could see they were getting frustrated that the door was still locked,” he said. Then “the door popped open [a policeman] swung the door open, grabbed the sliding door, swung that open, their torsos went in and pulled the guy out.”

He did not see them remove a weapon from the van. Underwood said he did not know at one point the man in the van became aware of the police.

Meanwhile, the 37-year-old man shot at the Ponderosa House Steak House in Ashland Saturday evening remains in critical but stable condition at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical College of Virginia Hospitals.

A spokeswoman said no further surgeries are planned in the next few days. The surgeon, who has operated on the man twice, is to hold a news briefing at 2:30 p.m. outside the hospital.

Area school officials will hold a news briefing at 4 p.m. today. All area schools are closed today.

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose this morning said that “We are going to respond to a message we have received. We are preparing our response at this time.” Virginia Public Safety Secretary John Marshall declined comment when asked by a reporter after the news conference whether the public could expect a resolution of the case soon.

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