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Thursday, 10 October, 2002, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Theories on shootings run wild
Search at Exxon petrol station in Fredericksburg, Virginia - scene of fatal shooting
Four fatal shootings occurred at petrol stations
"It could be military, it could be a hunter, it could be someone who has an interest in weapons," Montgomery County police chief Charles A Moose has said of the person behind the shootings in Maryland, Washington and Virginia.

The lack of precision in the public statements by the police about suspect profiles is understandable given the apparently random nature of the shootings.


Is he a hunter gone mad ?

A schizophrenic with delusions of a direct line to God ?

A military marksman waging urban warfare on his countryman ?

A terrorist ?

And, whoever he is, is he working alone ?


Los Angeles Times

It is giving rise to a flurry of press reports and speculation about the profile of the killer and the reactions of the public.

The Baltimore Sun in Maryland says that the nature of the attacks - apparently by a sniper and with no clear pattern emerging in terms of victims or locations - is causing much greater anxiety "than news of an office shooting or a large-scale terrorist attack".

"Watching one person after another get picked off by an unknown sniper can have a paralysing effect," the newspaper cites mental health experts as saying.

'Military-style weapon'

Since the start of the shootings and evidence that several of them are clearly linked by the type of weapon used, mental health hotlines in Maryland have reported a major increase in calls, the majority of them expressing anxiety about the killings.

The lack of obvious leads for the police and the speculation that it is a skilled sniper who is shooting people has led to growing fear across the Maryland, Washington and adjacent areas, according to the newspaper.

Police Chief Charles Moose
Moose: Angered by media speculation about the tarot card left by the killer
In an editorial entitled "One Shot, One Kill", the Washington Post says that the evidence suggests the use of a "military-style" weapon that analysts say can kill people at five times the distance at which hunters shoot deer.

The editorial says more should be done on a national basis to make guns and bullets traceable.

"President Bush, who talks about preventive measures in the battle against global terrorism, ought to consider a similar approach to terrorism in his back yard," the Washington Post argues.

Looking from a greater distance, the Los Angeles Times says theories abound about the killer: "Is he a hunter gone mad ? A schizophrenic with delusions of a direct line to God ? A military marksman waging urban warfare on his countryman ? A terrorist ? And, whoever he is, is he working alone ?"

Military training

In all the newspapers, there seems to be a clear belief that the killer is a man.

The Los Angeles Times says that "the chilling efficiency of the shootings and the swift escapes has raised questions that the killer has had military or police training".

A former FBI criminal profiler, Robert Ressler, has been quoted by several newspapers.

The LA Times reports him commenting that "the weapon itself is indicative of a person on a power trip. It's a macho, civilian version of the military M-16".

"It appeals to the gun nuts and the paramilitary types, a favoured symbolic expression of the authority and power these people are trying to obtain," Mr Ressler said.

Police anger

The reporting by the press of the discovery of a Tarot card carrying the message "Mister policeman - I am God", has led to a welter of speculation on the motives and mental state of the killer.

Rupinder Oberoi
The shooting of Rupinder Oberoi is one of several being investigated
The Washington Post reminds its readers that one of the killers in the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999 had written "I am God" in a classmate's yearbook before the killings.

A Tarot expert is cited by the Post as saying that the card left at the scene of one of the shootings does not necessarily mean death, "it means transformation, a clearing away of the old to make way for the new".

The Montgomery police chief, angry that the press received news of the Tarot card, has angrily condemned speculation about the nature, motives and emotions of the killer.

An unnamed detective has said, according to US press reports, that the Tarot card could have been an effort by the killer to start a dialogue with the police.

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The BBC's Matt Prodger
"Police across Washington and Maryland are on high alert"

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10 Oct 02 | Americas
08 Oct 02 | Americas
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