CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Now that all three sniper-style slayings at area convenience stores have been linked to the same .22-caliber rifle, investigators say they have "a direction to go in."
Ballistics tests confirmed Thursday what authorities and many residents had suspected - that the shootings unnerving this city were linked. Whether they were random has yet to be determined.
"Now that we know it came from the same weapon," Charleston police Chief Jerry Pauley said, "we've got a direction to go in."
A composite sketch was also released Thursday of a man with dark hair - short in front, longer in back - long sideburns and a goatee.
Witnesses told police they saw a large white man in a dark-colored, two-tone Ford F-150 extended cab pickup the night two of the killings occurred. The first shooting happened four days earlier.
Gary Carrier Jr., 44, of South Charleston, was killed Aug. 10 while making a telephone call outside a Charleston convenience store.
Four days later, Jeanie Patton, 31, and Okey Meadows Jr., 26, both of Campbells Creek, were killed within 90 minutes of each other at rural convenience stores about 10 miles apart and less than 20 miles east of Charleston.
All three were shot in the head or neck, authorities said.
Kanawha County sheriff's officials had said the Campbells Creek killings appeared to be drug-related, but Pauley said a multiagency task force of investigators hasn't reached that conclusion.
"We're still going at every avenue. Just now we know there is a connection (in the ballistics) between all three of them," he told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Friday.
Pauley wouldn't speculate on whether the ballistics evidence weakens the drug theory.
"I don't know if it hurts it or helps it," he said. "I just know that it gives us a direction, that we know all three of them were killed with the same weapon."
Carrier's death and the unrelated fatal shootings of a young man and woman in a parked Cadillac, also the middle of this month, have disquieted the quiet neighborhood across from the Go-Mart.
Natausha Brooks' young son hasn't spent the night by himself since he saw Carrier's lifeless body two weeks ago.
Brooks had heard the gunshots, saw the police lights and went outside to look. So did her school-age son.
"At first, he was having nightmares," Brooks said. "He sleeps with me now."
Mike Bailey of Sharon pumped gas into his pickup truck at the Go-Mart at sundown, unfazed by word that the slayings were linked.
"It doesn't really bother me," Bailey said. "If your ticket's going to get punched, it's going to get punched, so why worry about it?"
Brooks fears a suspect isn't close to being caught.
"He might go during the day, now that they're looking for him at night," Brooks said. "They're talking about the car that he drives. He's probably switched up now. He's no dummy. He watches the news too. It's everywhere, on every channel."
Authorities released two telephone numbers for the public to offer tips: (866) 989-2824 and (304) 357-0169.
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