“We’re treating it as if it’s related and will continue to treat it this way,” Prince William Police Chief Charlie Deane said Thursday.
At a crowded press conference, he said witnesses had provided valuable information and evidence was consistent with a sniper shooting. He would not discuss details of the evidence.
Prince William County police identified the victim in Wednesday’s fatal shooting near Manassas as Dean Harold Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg, Md.
Meyers was shot after pumping gas at the Battlefield Sunoco, 7203 Sudley Road, at 8:18 p.m. Wednesday, according to Sgt. Kim Chinn, Prince William County police spokesman. The gas station is three-fifths of a mile from Interstate 66.
At a joint press conference Thursday morning at 9, Chinn, state police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms spokesman Harold Scott had little new information.
Witnesses to the shooting saw a white panel minivan leave the scene, police said. On Wednesday, police also said witnesses saw two white men leave in the van, but this morning Chinn said she could not confirm that report as “reliable, solid information.”
She did confirm the reports about the van, however.
“The van was seen leaving the area at the immediate time,” Chinn said.
The van left in the direction of Interstate 66, which State Police shut down after the shooting.
“Yes, [state police] did shut down all of the ramps immediately,” Caldwell said. “We began stopping white vans the second that was put out.”
When asked if police are pulling over all vans matching the description, Caldwell said police are stopping those residents report as suspicious.
“Obviously you can’t stop every white panel van,” Caldwell said, so they are relying on tips and reports from the public to identify suspicious vehicles or activity.
Caldwell described the van as “somewhat unusual” because of the panel design, meaning is has only front passenger windows and the sides are solid.
“We don’t know about the back doors, whether there are windows or not,” Chinn said.
The van is also described as looking like a Dodge Caravan, Chinn said.
Tips can be called into a central hotline set up Thursday. That number is 1-888-324-9800. The line is being manned by FBI agents, Montgomery County, Md., police said this morning.
Information from this line will be shared between the agencies involved with all of these sniper cases to enable police to better coordinate information.
Though neither Chinn nor Caldwell defined suspicious behavior, police want residents to call with anything that makes one feel uncomfortable or seems out of place, no matter how insignificant it seems.
“We need them to call so we can decide,” Chinn said. She said officers will look at leads on a case-by-case basis.
“It is a very, very dangerous situation” for officers to pull over suspicious white vans, Caldwell said, but added that all police officers are trained for felony stops. “We don’t recommend that they stop them alone. We would like backup.”
Prince William police are being assisted by Manassas Police, State Police, and FBI and ATF agents.
Scott said all evidence collected at the Manassas scene would be taken to the ATF lab for analysis, but said he could not comment on any evidence, or even on what types of evidence they might find.
“Any evidence that would help solve this investigation” would be analyzed, he said.
Scott described the investigation and search for evidence as “meticulous.”
Police do not know why Meyers was in the Manassas area last night, Chinn said. An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday morning, Chinn said.
Another shooting incident put the Prince William and Manassas area on edge Wednesday when the window of a food truck was shot out on the Va. 234 bypass about 1:15 p.m., but that shooting “doesn’t appear to be [related],” Chinn said.
“There was no projectile that hit it,” she said. “The window shattered.”
Chinn said the window was probably hit with bird shot. “It was the opening day of hunting season.”
Police continue to receive dozens of calls of suspicious vehicles.
“We have had an increased [police] presence on the streets actually for the last several days,” Chinn said.
It is not known if Wednesday’s fatal attack is related to eight earlier sniper shootings, six of them fatal, in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia since Oct. 2. Manassas is approximately 30 miles west of the nation’s capital and about 40 miles southwest of Bowie, Md., the site of Monday’s shooting that wounded a 13-year-old boy outside a school.
We are certainly working the case with that (a possible link) in mind,” Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said Thursday morning.
Investigators say the sniper — or snipers –fired from a distance with a high-powered hunting or military-style rifle. All the earlier victims had been felled by a single bullet; authorities wouldn’t comment Thursday on whether the Manassas victim also was killed that way.
Officials announced Thursday they had set up a single tip line for people wanting to report information. That number is 1-888-324-9800.
Meyers was an engineer with no immediate family, neighbor Barbara Stewart told the Associated Press. She said he liked to spend time outdoors, work in his yard and go canoeing.
Carol Iverson, 79, lived next door to Meyers for 15 years before she moved.
He was perfectly delightful,” she said. I can’t say enough good things about him. He always had a kind word. He always had time to stop and talk.”
Staff writer Tammy Minnigh can be reached at (703) 878-8087. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.