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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Profilers try to pinpoint US sniper
FBI at crime scene
Police and the FBI are still searching for clues
The latest killing by a sniper in the Washington area has added another victim to the list but also appears to have given police a new leads to the killer.

Nine people have been killed and two wounded in 11 attacks, all of which have involved the shooting of the victim with a single bullet from a long distance.

The few clues available are being used by police and psychological and "geographic" profilers to try to build a picture of the suspect by analysing patterns of behaviour and the locations of the shootings.

Police comb crime scene
The murder sites have been searched exhaustively

The police search is focused on a cream-coloured Chevrolet Astro van seen close to the latest shooting in the town of Falls Church.

After the earlier attacks, police had said they were looking for a white van, but more information might now be available to police to work on their profile of the killer.

The Fairfax County Police Chief, Tom Manger, said that witnesses to Monday's shooting were able to give police licence plate numbers of vehicles seen leaving the scene.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, he gave few further details and declined to answer questions on whether licence plate data gave the police clear leads to the identity of the killer.

But from what he said it was clear that witnesses have provided more information on this shooting than on any of the others.

"There was some additional information that we were able to get from last night's case and I am confident that that information is going to lead us to an arrest in the case," the New York Times quoted him as saying.

Home range

The details being revealed by the police may be scanty but they do provide various leads that profilers can use in trying to establish the type of person the police are hunting for.

One technique increasingly being used by police across the world is geographic profiling.

Sniper attacks
2-3 Oct - Five people killed in Montgomery County, Maryland
3 Oct - Man killed in Washington DC
4 Oct - Woman injured in Fredericksburg, Virginia
7 Oct - Boy injured in Prince George's County, Maryland
9 Oct - Man killed in Manassas, Virginia
11 Oct - Man killed in Fredericksburg, Virginia
14 Oct - Woman killed in Falls Church, Virginia

Based on initial work by a Canadian detective, this profiling uses sophisticated computer programmes to map the sites of crimes in order to predict where criminals are likely to live.

"The theory behind geographic profiling is that most criminals will operate relatively close to home in a comfort zone defined by where they live, work, play or commute," according to the New York Times.

The computer programme will plot the crimes on a map and then predict an "anchor point" - from which the criminal leaves or to which the criminal returns after a crime.

This method can reduce the areas over which police have to conduct their searches.

Well planned

Other forms of profiling are concentrating on the nature of the attacks - single, accurate shots from a powerful rifle - and on the discovery of a tarot card at the scene of one of shootings.

Stuart Meyers, president of Operational Tactics Incorporated in Gaithersburg, said he thinks the killer is a "sniper wannabe" who relishes the attention his deadly attacks get from the media, according to the Baltimore Sun.

One of the victims was shot at a Maryland school
Victims have come from diverse backgrounds and age groups

Mr Meyers' company trains police military personnel around the world.

"What he's doing is he's murdering innocent people and he thinks he is a sniper and the media is blowing it up," he said.

But he adds that the killer plans well to ensure that there are safe escape routes.

Witnesses watch the victim

And a reason for the lack of good eye-witness evidence so far has been explained by William Bartholomew, a retired sniper for Baltimore County's police SWAT team.

He says someone shooting a victim from a distance of 100 to 150 yards, hiding in a van or behind trees, is unlikely to be immediately spotted by witnesses.

"Your attention is drawn to the person who is bleeding to death," Mr Bartholomew told the Baltimore Sun.

"You can have 100 people at one location, and all 100 sets of eyes are going to go to the person who fell."

The tarot card clue has led one profiler, James Fox of Boston's North-Eastern University, to says that the sniper "enjoys the notoriety he has achieved and his ability to outsmart the police".

Professor Fox told the BBC's World Today programme that the killer is likely to be "pretty ordinary, someone who does not get the respect that he thinks he deserves and through this killing spree he is trying to be in command".


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15 Oct 02 | Americas
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