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Search Continues for Bus Gunman

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By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Montgomery County detectives continued yesterday to probe how a seemingly innocuous exchange Saturday night between two groups aboard a county transit bus in Silver Spring ended in gunfire that killed a 14-year-old freshman honor student and wounded two of his friends.

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"It was not an inflammatory exchange," said Lucille Baur, a police spokeswoman. She declined to be more specific about what was said.

The surviving victims, 14 and 15, are expected to recover, she said.

Police were still trying to identify the gunman yesterday. About two dozen passengers were on the bus when the shooting occurred, officials said.

The driver activated a silent alarm, which turned on a covert microphone on the bus and alerted the bus communications center of possible trouble. The communications center alerted police, said Esther Bowring, a county spokeswoman.

Bowring said managers of the county's Ride On bus system plan to examine options for making the transit system safer. She declined to describe any possibilities under consideration.

The incident was not captured on camera. Although nearly 60 percent of the buses in the Ride On fleet are equipped with cameras, the bus in Saturday's incident had none, Bowring said. Most of the buses that have cameras have three.

Installing cameras in the remaining buses would have cost more than $1 million, and the county decided not to do so, Bowring said. The county is replacing older buses with new ones that have cameras, and all but 50 of the county's buses are expected to have cameras in about a year.

A group of 10 to 12 friends boarded the bus Saturday in downtown Silver Spring, Baur said. Four or five other people then boarded at different locations, police said. The larger group's first words to the other group were "innocent," Baur said.

At a stop near Piney Branch Road and Arliss Street, the smaller group got off the bus, Baur said. As it did, one member of the group turned and fired several shots, striking the three teenagers on the bus.

Tai Lam, a student at Montgomery Blair High School, was killed. Friends of Tai said they doubted he would have deliberately escalated a confrontation with strangers. "He was just a really sweet guy," said Julia Aikman, a friend and classmate.

Witnesses said the shooter appeared to be older than the victims, according to police. He is described as a Hispanic man in his early 20s, 5-foot-4 to 5-foot-7, with no facial hair and wearing a black hooded jacket and blue jeans. Police said the man also has a tattoo with lettering on the side of his neck.

Police asked that anyone with information call homicide detectives at 240-773-5070.

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