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'I feel blessed today'

National | SNIPER: Gunman misses Ohio motorist's windshield by six inches, but reignites fear over unsolved shootings that began last May

Issue: "Iraq: The WMD debate," Feb. 21, 2004

Douglas Berry thought he was being as careful as possible. Shaken by reports of a serial sniper in Columbus, Ohio, the GM factory worker avoided driving on I-270, the highway loop around Columbus where more than a dozen cars have been hit by gunfire. But then, without warning, the sniper moved south.

On Feb. 8, Mr. Berry was driving on I-71, about 35 miles southwest of Columbus, when he heard the crack of gunfire. A bullet lodged in the hood of his gray Mercedes, just six inches shy of the windshield. The same thing had happened moments earlier and one mile away, this time to four women traveling in a white van.

Although no one was injured in either incident, the shootings served as an ominous reminder that Ohio's Interstate sniper is still at large-and getting more brazen. He fired both shots in broad daylight from highway overpasses where the sniper made no attempt to hide himself. He simply stopped his car, climbed out, took his shots, and drove away. Three separate eyewitnesses provided the most detailed descriptions to date, but a traffic stop soon after the shootings failed to nab a suspect.

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Investigators quickly confirmed that physical evidence found at the shooting sites tied the latest incidents to a rash of sniper attacks that have plagued the Columbus area since May 10. The sniper has now struck 23 times, killing one victim and terrorizing thousands of drivers across the region.

Mr. Berry said he noticed immediately when a dark car stopped on a bridge ahead of him as he traveled northbound on I-71. His car was once damaged by vandals throwing rocks from an overpass, so he was instantly wary when he saw a figure emerge from the car. "I saw him park his car, get out of it, walk to the rail and take his shot," Mr. Berry told the The Columbus Dispatch. He didn't see a rifle, so he assumed the shooter was using a handgun-but a big one. "Even with the radio up loud, I could hear the shot. It was large caliber. This wasn't a .22 [caliber], a .25 or even a .32, this was big."

Like the women in the white van, Mr. Berry described the shooter as a middle-aged white man with a medium build. They remembered seeing a dark car, and another passing motorist called 911 to report a man on an overpass next to "a little black sports car."

Authorities are hopeful such information will lead to a break in the case that has grabbed national headlines for more than eight months. Local authorities have gotten help from the FBI and from Washington, D.C., investigators who worked the case of John Muhammad and Lee Malvo, but much about this latest rash of shootings remains a mystery. Two men have called 911 claiming to be the serial sniper, but authorities say one or both calls could have been hoaxes. Ballistics tests have also proven frustrating. While the Washington snipers used the same rifle in their attacks, investigators have so far matched ballistics in only eight of the 23 Ohio incidents. That might mean the shooter is a gun collector or that multiple gunmen are involved.

Such details don't matter that much to Douglas Berry. He'd love to see the killer caught, but he knows that in the meantime, he dodged a bullet-literally: "I feel blessed today."

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