Shootings mystery unnerves northern border towns

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- State, local and federal law enforcement officers are out in force in an area of northern Vermont after a series of nine shootings over the last month that have targeted homes and public buildings.

No one was injured in the nine shootings, which included a shot fired into a Vermont State Police barracks in Derby, but the thousands who live in this area of loggers and dairies are unnerved.

"No one is going to feel safe," said Andre Mathieu, assistant manager of the Derby Shortstop convenience store. "If it can happen at the state police barracks it can happen anywhere."

Derby is about 51 miles northeast of Montpelier, in an area of the state known as the Northeast Kingdom.

"It's the Northeast Kingdom. It's rural. We don't have a cop on every block," said State Police Detective Lt. J.P. Sinclair. "All the other agencies have been trying to put extra people on. If we get another one of these, there's going to be an army swarming into that area."

The shot fired into the barracks on Dec. 20 went through a window and an empty conference room and hit a trophy display case in a little-used hallway, he said.

Investigators determined the bullet had been fired from U.S. Route 5, which is next to the building.

The most recent shooting, on Dec. 22, struck a country club in nearby Newport. Three churches, three homes and an unoccupied vehicle have also been hit, but only one home and the barracks were occupied at the time.

Sinclair called the targets random.

"The private residences, the churches and the state police barracks, where do you find the common thread among those?" he said.

Sinclair said all the shootings took place in the evening and several were committed with a .40-caliber firearm, probably a handgun. Detectives have recovered bullet fragments.

"We are running with the assumption they are related," Sinclair said.

State police detectives were investigating with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as well as the Border Patrol and other local law enforcement officials, he said.

Russell Ingalls, the general manager of Mulkin Automotive about a quarter mile from the Derby barracks, said the police presence was intense, but comforting.

"It's hard to go up there without seeing a (police) presence," Ingalls said. "It makes you kind of proud when something like that happens and they are out there in force. It is reassuring."

Sinclair hopes residents will help solve the puzzle. "Go ahead and give us a shout," he said. "Maybe it's a key piece that means something to us."

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