KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Nearly nine years have passed since sniper-style shootings at three Kanawha County gas stations killed three people and paralyzed the region with fear.
No one was ever charged in the crime until Charleston Police arrested and charged Shawn Lester, 36, of Charleston early last year. The shootings happened within five days and within miles of each other. Investigators determined the same gun was used to kill all three victims: a .22 caliber rifle.
Dave Tucker, who was Kanawha County's Sheriff at the time, and Chief Deputy Phil Morris stepped out into the national spotlight after media swarmed Kanawha County during the first days of the investigation. In one of a series of nationally-televised news conferences, Tucker urged the public to use the "buddy system" and be aware of their surroundings (watch the 8/18 news conference for more).
Local, state, and federal investigators from the FBI, ATF, and the Charleston Police Department all stood by the sheriff's side during the briefings. Members from each of those agencies made up a "sniper task force." They were the core group that followed up on all of the leads in the case. Some of the federal investigators actually worked the D.C. area sniper shootings the previous year.
Date/Time: Sunday, August 10, 2003 / 11:10pm
Location: Go-Mart, Bigley Ave. in Charleston
Victim: Gary Carrier Jr.
Date/Time: Thursday, August 14, 2003 / 10:15pm
Location: Speedway, Campbells Creek Drive
Victim: Jeanie Patton
Date/Time: Thursday, August 14, 2003 / 11:45pm
Location: Go-Mart, Route 60 in Cedar Grove
Victim: Okey Meadows Jr.
ABOUT THE VICTIMS
GARY CARRIER JR. was the first of the sniper victims. On August 10, 2003, he pulled up to the Bigley Avenue Go-Mart on Charleston's west side and started using the pay phone. That's when a sniper fired a single shot, hitting him in the head and killing him. The 44-year-old had four children and was from South Charleston. Gary worked at Charleston Tire. His murder was the eighth recorded in Charleston at that point in 2003.
JEANIE PATTON was the next victim four days later. She was pumping gas at the Speedway on Campbells Creek Drive when someone fired one shot that hit her head and killed her. This happened at about 10:20pm on August 14, 2003. Jeanie was 31 years old and from Campbells Creek. She worked as a cook for Kanawha County Schools and left behind a son and a boyfriend of 16 years.
OKEY MEADOWS JR. was shot about 90 minutes after Patton. He was standing in line to buy milk outside the Go-Mart on Route 60 in Cedar Grove when a single bullet hit him in the neck from 70 yards away, killing him. He was 26 years old and from Cedar Grove. Okey had a 3-year-old son and was the son of WSAZ engineer, Okey Meadows Sr.
During the course of the investigation, police say they had thousands of leads, but none led to the arrest of a suspect until March 2011.
Almost immediately after the shootings happened, investigators put the public on alert for a dark-colored, black or maroon Ford F-150 extended cab pickup truck with gold trim. It seemed to be the one similarity between the shootings in Campbells Creek and Cedar Grove.
Witnesses at both scenes mentioned a dark colored pickup -- and at least one person said they saw it speed away from the scene. The surveillance video system at the Go-Mart in Cedar Grove even captured a pickup truck driving on its lot prior to the shootings, but police were unable to determine if it was the actual suspect vehicle. Investigators even went so far as to have an animation created of the suspect vehicle, and then distributed it to the media. The clip shows what the truck might have looked like driving up and down Campbells Creek Drive.
Police also released a description and sketch of the person they believe was driving the truck: a heavy-set white male with dark hair and a goatee (pictured). They referred to him as a "witness."
Investigators also wanted to question a white male with a slim build, beard, and very white, hairy legs. Sheriff Tucker also alluded to a possible drug connection between the sniper victims, but never publicly provided evidence to prove it. This angered many of the victims' family members, some of whom spoke out to the contrary via the media.
At one point during the investigation, investigators said Brian Caldwell was a "person of interest" in the case, but he was never charged. He was, however, convicted and sentenced to prison on illegal weapons charges that were in no way related to the sniper shootings.
Click on the placemarks to bring up more information about that particular incident.
ANOTHER POSSIBLE CONNECTION
Police have not ruled out the possibility that a fourth shooting that happened months before the others is somehow connected to the August sniper shootings.
Randy Burgess, 29, of Mink Shoals, was leaving the Kroger at the Kanawha Mall in Charleston at about 8:30pm on March 20, 2003, when police say he was shot twice in the chest with a .30 caliber, high-powered rifle.
Police say Burgess then made his way back into the store to get help. He died the next day at the hospital. Investigators never really publicly linked Burgess' murder with the others, but we observed Burgess' picture on a bulletin board with the others during a follow-up interview with the FBI one year after the sniper shootings.
Joe Ciccarelli, the then-spokesperson for the Charleston office of the FBI, said they were not able to rule it out as possibly being connected.