Police turn to new technique in hunt for Montgomery sniper

Geographic profile tried

one victim is buried

October 07, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE - As the first of a sniper's six victims was buried yesterday, police combed through thousands of tips and turned for help to a little-used "geographic profile" that they hope could narrow their search for the killer.

Using the geographic profile "shows we're not willing to limit ourselves," said Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, whose department has never tried the investigative tool. "We're trying each and every thing available to us to assist us."

Police also are waiting for FBI specialists to develop a psychological portrait of the killer.

Both types of profiles will help police tailor their search, Moose said, but would be no substitute for traditional investigative techniques as they hunt for clues.

"We don't expect it to be exact," Moose said. "We don't want it to cause tunnel vision."

That detectives are resorting to such a technique to find the sniper demonstrates how little progress they have made since the first shooting Wednesday night. Police have no eyewitnesses; the sniper struck his victims with a single shot from far away. The victims have nothing in common - gunned down while pumping gas, picking up groceries or sitting on a bench.

Even when serial slayings appear to be committed at random, the killers are following a pattern, and often live or work near their crime scenes, according to D. Kim Rossmo, who is developing the geographic profile for Montgomery police.

"If we can understand the pattern, we can decode it," said Rossmo, a former Canadian police officer and now director of research for the Police Foundation, a nonprofit research organization in Washington.

Geographic profiling, sometimes known as geoforensics, uses a computer program that isolates where a criminal might live by analyzing crime-scene data with a complex mathematical algorithm.

Detectives have Rossmo's initial report, which is accompanied by a map that highlights certain areas in different colors, which might contain the killer's residence, police said. They declined to release the report or discuss it.

First developed in Canada 12 years ago, geographic profiles have been used more than 100 times in the United States and are usually successful in determining where a suspect might live or work, Rossmo said.

For example, Rossmo said, if someone commits a series of crimes in a 10-square-mile area, geographic profiling will often successfully narrow the search area to within a half square mile.

Police have fielded 4,500 telephone tips and investigated more than 900 "credible leads" in the case.

Yesterday, family and friends buried Prem Kumar Walekar, a taxi driver killed Wednesday while pumping gas at an Aspen Hill service station.

Nieces and nephews sang songs and remembered a man they called "Prem Uncle" while standing under a video screen that flashed snapshots from his life. Walekar, 54, of Olney, was remembered as quiet, funny, generous and caring, a man who showed his affection with a gentle pinch of a child's cheek.

Family friend Lazarus Borge told the mourners that Walekar "was indiscriminately shot dead by an elusive assailant. Those evil hands entered his life like a snap, in an instant."

Walekar was one of five people fatally shot, apparently at random, in Montgomery County in a 16-hour span Wednesday and Thursday. A sixth victim was killed Thursday night in Washington, D.C.

Tests conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms confirmed that the same weapon was used to kill Walekar and three other victims.

Investigators said yesterday that ballistics evidence also linked the shooting of a 43-year-old woman in Spotsylvania County, Va., on Friday with the Maryland murders. She was shot in the back in a parking lot at a Michaels craft store about 2:30 p.m. in Fredericksburg, Va.

She was in fair condition yesterday at INOVA Fairfax Hospital.

But forensics investigators said it might be impossible to link the two other Montgomery killings because the bullets were badly damaged. Investigators said they have little doubt all the shootings are connected.

Police also continued to search yesterday for a white delivery truck seen speeding from one of the shooting scenes. A lone witness has told police that two men were in the truck, which has block lettering on the sides and back, and a damaged rear bumper.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said he spoke to the pastor at Walekar's funeral, who told him he visited the supermarket where one of the other shooting victims was killed. The pastor told Duncan that he did not go to the supermarket to "be courageous," the county executive said, but because he wanted to "take back what evil has taken away."

Duncan used the story to highlight the need for county residents to heal in the wake of the shootings and return to their daily routines.

"As we go about another workweek and another school week, each of us, in our own way, step by step, bit by bit, has to do that as well," Duncan said.

Duncan said schools would open as usual tomorrow, and all outdoor activities would be held.

Police urged anyone with information to call a tip line - 240-777-2600 - and are offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of suspects.

The Associated Press and Sun staff writer Johnathon E. Briggs contributed to this article.

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