James Martin crossed the parking lot and headed into the Shoppers Food Warehouse in suburban Washington Wednesday afternoon. A single shot rang out. Martin fell dead. One shot. One kill.
Police couldn’t understand why Martin, a program analyst with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, would be a target in what seemed like a sniper-like hit. In Montgomery County, Maryland, one of Washington’s most affluent suburbs, murder is rare. About 25 people a year are killed in the heavily-populated county, less than the murder rate for just one month in the nearby nation’s capital.
Yet Martin’s mysterious, unexplained murder came just 45 minutes after someone fired a shot into an arts and crafts store two miles away. Although no one was injured, police wondered if the shootings were related. They would get their answer at 7:41 a.m. Thursday when James L. “Sonny” Buchanan, a landscaper, was gunned down while he operated a mower near White Flint Mall.
Like Martin, Buchanan died from a single shot from a high-powered rifle. Two shots. Two kills.
Three miles away and thirty-one minutes later, Premkumar Walekar, 54, popped a gas nozzle into his taxicab at a Mobil station. A single shot ran out. Walekar staggered a few feet from the cab and fell, dead when he hit the ground. Three shots. Three kills.
Twenty-two minutes after that, Sarah Ramos, 34, sat on a park bench outside a post office two miles from the Mobil station. Another shot. Ramos slumped forward, dead from a head wound. Four shots. Four kills.
“What the hell is going on?” The question came from a paramedic at the scene. The sound of sirens echoed through the Rockville area of Montgomery County. County officials locked down the schools. Teachers herded children inside and kept them away from windows.
One hour and 11 minutes later, Lori Lewis Rivera, 25, stopped at a Shell station to vacuum out her minivan. Station attendants heard a single shot. They ran outside to find Rivera bleeding on the floor of a van. She died before paramedics arrived. Five shots. Five kills.
A short time later, 72 year old Pascal Charlot stood on a street corner in Washington, several miles from the last Montgomery County attack. Then he fell bleeding to the sidewalk. He died on the way to the hospital.
Six shots. Six kills. Six ordinary people going about the ordinary business of the day. Now dead. Six shots. In less than 15 hours, Montgomery County’s annual murder rate increased 25 percent and another murder was added to Washington’s fame as the murder capital of the world.
Witnesses saw a white delivery-type truck at the scene of one of the kills. Police stopped every white truck they saw. No luck.
And there was the seventh shot, the bullet that ripped through the window at a Michael’s Arts and Crafts Store on Wednesday. Was it the start of someone’s murder spree? A practice round? Police don’t know.
The cops admit they don’t have much.
”We do have someone that so far has been very accurate in what they are attempting to do, and so we probably have a skilled shooter,” said Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose.
They have a psycho – someone with a rifle, a sharpshooter’s skill and no regard for human life.
They have an equal opportunity killer whose victims cross ethnic, racial and gender lines, a killer whose only pattern is random selection of ordinary people at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said a Montgomery County police officer at the scene.
It can’t make sense.
Murder never does.