Gunman on Bus Causes Standoff

SWAT team members stand by at the Mount Vernon Plaza shopping center, near where a gunman with bloodied clothes boarded a Fairfax Connector bus.
SWAT team members stand by at the Mount Vernon Plaza shopping center, near where a gunman with bloodied clothes boarded a Fairfax Connector bus. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Tom Jackman and Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 18, 2007

Minutes after a woman's body was discovered in a Fairfax County park yesterday, a gunman in bloody clothes jumped onto a nearby commuter bus and threatened to kill himself as police moved in. Officers pulled back and closed off busy Route 1. Nearly four hours later, the man surrendered peacefully.

Fairfax police said late last night that the man was connected to the woman's death, without specifying how, and that the case was being investigated as a homicide. One witness said an officer told her and others, in advising them to back away from a nearby window, that "this man has already killed somebody, and he's threatening to kill himself or a police officer."

The man, who was carrying a firearm, did not take hostages or threaten anyone on the bus, police said. His name was not released.

Charmaine Padgett, a passenger, said the man "ran out from the bushes, jumped on the bus and didn't have any money to pay." Padgett said the man had blood on his socks and shorts, which were ripped. Padgett didn't see a gun but said the man kept a hat on his lap and seemed nervous as he sat down at the front of the bus, which continued on its route.

Padgett got off at the next stop and watched as police officers pulled the bus over. That began a standoff that lasted four hours, snarling traffic during the evening rush as Route 1 was closed near the Mount Vernon Plaza shopping center. Students in nearby schools and patrons in adjacent businesses were kept inside as a precaution.

The sequence of events began with reported gunshots at 2:42 p.m., followed by the discovery of the woman's body in Huntley Meadows Park, a short distance west of Route 1 in the Hybla Valley area. The woman was found on Cedar Trail and had suffered "upper body trauma," Officer Bud Walker said.

County school officials said that at the request of police, students at six elementary and middle schools near the site of the incident were kept after classes ended. Students were allowed to leave only if their parents came to pick them up.

"It was for their protection; we didn't want them wandering into a troubled area," said Tim Parker, assistant director of transportation. At 7 p.m., police allowed the schools to begin busing home those students who had not been picked up by their parents. By then, children remained at four of the schools, Whitman and Sandburg middle and Hybla Valley and Groveton elementary.

Not long after the woman's body was found, someone else reported a suspicious person leaving the park and getting on a bus, police said. The man with the bloody clothes had hopped onto a Fairfax Connector bus that wound up heading south on Route 1, where police spotted it and quickly swooped in near Fordson Road and Mount Vernon Plaza shopping center.

Padgett, a medical assistant on her way home, said the man began speaking to the passengers, but she got off at the next stop. She said she watched the bus pull away and saw police cars quickly pull in behind it.

Brenda Palmquist was parking her car at the shopping center when police made her go into the center's Blockbuster Video store and told her to stay there. She said the bus driver came into the store and related what had happened.

The driver told Palmquist that police signaled for him to pull over soon after the man "with blood all over him" got on the bus. The driver complied, and passengers began running out the back door of the bus, Palmquist said the driver told her. Police told the passengers to run away. The bus driver also fled.

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