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"Wanted" Sketch Issued by the West Virginia State Police.

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Authorities hunting a possible serial sniper in West Virginia released the sketch of a suspect seen in a pickup truck near convenience stores where two people were gunned down last week, police said on August 22, 2003. The sketch was based on accounts from witnesses at gas station convenience stores outside Charleston where Jeanie Patton, 31, and Okey Meadows, 26, were killed on Aug. 14.  Photo by Reuters (Handout)

   

   

   
USATODAY

'A direction to go in' Ballistic tests

link three W. Va. slayings

CAMPBELLS CREEK, W.Va Police said investigators now "have a direction to go" after linking three fatal shootings to the same .22-caliber rifle Thursday.

But for residents of this mountain hollow, where two of their own were gunned down Aug. 14, the news wasn't the least bit reassuring.

To them, it meant their worst fears might prove true: A serial sniper might be on the loose.

"I ain't about to go out after dark," Peggy Benton said Thursday over a grilled cheese sandwich at the Dairy Bar. "I don't know what's going on and what's not going on. It don't matter. It's scary either way."

The three victims were shot dead in separate attacks at night outside convenience stores on the outskirts of Charleston.

Gary Carrier Jr., 44, of South Charleston was killed Aug. 10 while making a phone call.

Four days later, Jeanie Patton, 31, and Okey Meadows Jr., 26, both of Campbells Creek, were killed within 90 minutes of each other at convenience stores about 10 miles apart.

The string of killings bears a resemblance to the sniper attacks that terrorized the Washington, D.C., area last fall. Two suspects were arrested in that three-week killing spree. They have been linked to 23 shootings that killed 15 people in seven states and the District of Columbia. They remain in custody in Virginia, awaiting trial.

The three victims here were shot in the head or neck from distances of 30 to 70 yards, authorities said. Police were investigating another shooting that was reported Wednesday night at a convenience store. No one was hit in that incident, and neither a bullet nor a spent casing had been recovered.

Investigators continue to consult with members of the task force that worked on the Washington sniper case. But they have hinted strongly that the Aug. 14 killings might have been drug-related.

A composite sketch was released of a man with dark hair short in front, longer in back long sideburns and a goatee.

That hasn't eased the worries of residents of Campbells Creek, a quiet, unincorporated community where churches outnumber bars six to one.

Killings are almost unheard of around here. And in the nearest large city, Charleston, only 10 people were murdered all of last year.

Now, five police cars patrol Campbells Creek, three more than usual. Officers on mountain bikes conducted a door-to-door canvass, as much to look for people who might have seen something as to reassure those who hadn't.

"You'd be crazy not to be afraid," said Russell Woods, 63, a retiree sitting in the shade on the deck of his mobile home. Like his neighbors, Woods said he won't rest easier until the killer or killers are caught.

He said he worries that police have only the sketchiest information. They're looking for a white man with a beard in a dark Ford F-150 pickup. "That's a lot of folks around here," Woods said..

In fact, more than 2,600 Ford F-150s were sold in the state last year, according to the West Virginia Automotive and Truck Dealers Association. The model is also the second-most-stolen vehicle in West Virginia, behind the Chevrolet Cavalier, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

While the investigation continues, a memorial remains at the Speedway gas station here. That's where Patton, a school cafeteria worker, died. A bundle of silk flowers, her funeral card and a cardboard sign that reads "RIP God Bless" mark the spot.

"This has lost us some of our sense of peace," Bill Moles Jr. said as he sat outside the FasChek grocery store.

"It doesn't really matter why it happened. Senseless violence is senseless violence."

Contributing: Wire reports

 

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