The third episode of our true crime podcast series takes a look back on that darkest of days in the DC region's recent history: October 3, 2002. The day it became painfully clear somebody was determined to spread fear and death by randomly killing people with rifle shots fired from an unseen distance.
By day's end, four people would be shot and killed in Montgomery County, Maryland. Another man would be murdered just across the county line in the northernmost part of the District of Columbia.
"We were only one year away from 9/11," says Montgomery County state's attorney John McCarthy. In 2002, he was the chief deputy in that office. "And when this thing went down, it was so random and the shootings appeared to be everywhere. There was a question whether or not this was another form of terrorism."
The night before, on October 2, 2002, a man had been shot dead in a grocery store parking lot in Wheaton, MD - also in Montgomery County. That totaled six murders in a close proximity in just over 24 hours. The snipers had captured the attention they desired.
"They were different locations," says retired ATF agent Mike Bouchard. He was one of the people in charge of the federal side of the investigation 20 years ago. "People doing different things, different race, different sex. So it wasn't like somebody was just targeting a certain type of people. Robbery, wasn't involved. No witnesses to where shots came from. So, we were starting to think it could possibly be a sniper shooting from a distance."
We interviewed Bouchard and McCarthy for our podcast series. And we spoke to Dr. Caroline Namrow, a physician and mother of five who witnessed one of the murders that fateful morning 20 years ago this week. "I don’t think I’ve ever shaken that much in my life," Dr. Namrow explains. She had her two-year-old son in the back of the family's minivan when she stopped to get gas at the Mobil station on the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Aspen Hill Road in Aspen Hill, MD.
Moments later, she heard a loud blast and saw a part-time taxicab driver stumble toward her passenger side window. "And he said ‘call an ambulance’ and he collapsed," Dr. Namrow tells us. "And so I grab my phone and I turned around and my two-year-old was very happy sucking on his pacifier. And my hands were shaking and I got out of the car and I call 9-1-1. And I saw the taxi driver was laying down and there was a lot of blood."
54-year-old Premkumar Walekar would die as Dr. Namrow performed CPR with an off-duty police officer who happened to be passing by. "It’s really hard to think about, but I do think it about it every early October because why him? Why not me?" says Dr. Namrow.
Also shot and killed that day were James "Sonny" Buchanan, a 39-year-old landscaper cutting the lawn at a car dealership in Rockville, MD. Sarah Ramos, a 34-year-old housekeeper was shot dead while sitting on a bench in a shopping center parking lot a mile away from Mr. Walekar. Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera was vacuuming her car at a gas station on Connecticut Avenue in Kensington when she was murdered. Lewis-Rivera was 25.
That night, 72-year-old Haitian immigrant Pascal Charlot was walking on Georgia Avenue in Washington, DC when he was killed. The night before, on October 2, 2002, James Martin was shot in the back as he walked into the Shoppers Food Warehouse in Wheaton. Martin was 55 and worked for the federal government.
In this episode, we explore those first sniper killings with people who had intimate ties to the victims and crime scenes. And we discuss evidence collected that first day that lead investigators to quickly connect the murders. A fact announced by Montgomery County police chief Charles Moose. "Three of the killings have been linked to the same weapon," chief Moose announced to the world. And with that, a three-week reign of terror began across the DC region.
Editor's Note: Episodes of "Three Weeks of Hell: The DC Snipers" come out on Wednesdays. You can find episodes on FOX5DC.com in addition to YouTube, and wherever you get your podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeart, and TuneIn.