They found themselves linked only by fate and the random aim of a sniper's scope.
But now, more and more of the victims of last fall's sniper shootings are coming together -- in a courtroom -- in a suit against the manufacturer and seller of the rifle used in the attacks. The growing list of victims and family members who have signed on to the lawsuit now stands at nine.
"I think we've all been together from the beginning," said Victoria Snider, whose brother, James L. "Sonny" Buchanan, was killed while mowing a lawn in White Flint on Oct. 3. "Some have bonded more than others, but we've all lost extraordinary people in our lives."
Yesterday, in Tacoma, Wash., a state judge agreed to add seven victims and relatives to the original two plaintiffs in the suit against Bushmaster Firearms Inc., the Maine-based manufacturer of the XM-15 rifle used in the attacks, and Bull's Eye Shooter Supply, the Tacoma gun shop where the suspects allegedly got the rifle.
Much has been made of the diversity of the sniper victims: They were black, white, Asian; they were old and young. They had different jobs and came from different places. Since the shootings, there has been little contact among family members, who have chosen to grieve more privately than have the victims of other disasters such as plane crashes and tornadoes. But the lawsuit has given them common ground.
"It's indescribable to explain what we are going through," said Andrea Walekar, daughter of Premkumar A. Walekar, who was shot and killed outside a gas station in Aspen Hill. "This [case] unifies us, because we all have one thing in common. In a way, we have all gone through the same experience, and it has brought us all closer together. With this case, we feel that something should be done."
The lawsuit alleges that, in addition to the suspects, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, "the gross negligence of the gun industry defendants caused the injuries and deaths that resulted from the sniper shootings."
Bushmaster contends that it followed all laws and says that in Washington state, gunmakers cannot be sued over crimes committed with their weapons.
Richard Dyke, chief executive of Bushmaster, said the sniper victims are being used by gun control advocates to advance a political agenda. "The shooter went in and stole the gun," Dyke said. "How does that traverse [back] to the manufacturer?"
The owners of Bull's Eye did not return calls seeking comment. But on the store's Web site last week, a message addressed the shootings: "Our hearts go out to all the victims of violence and their families. The people who perpetrated the terrible crimes last fall in Virginia and Maryland need to be punished and punished severely. . . . But we will not give in to those who wish to attack our constitutional rights and civil liberties."
The seven victims and family members added to the suit join the original plaintiffs, Snider and Denise Johnson, the widow of Conrad Johnson, a Ride On bus driver who was killed in Aspen Hill.
Adding their names as plaintiffs were Ted Franklin of Arlington, whose wife, Linda, an FBI analyst, was shot and killed outside a Home Depot in Fairfax County; Lisa Brown, the mother of 13-year-old Iran Brown, a student wounded at a Bowie middle school; Margaret Walekar, widow of Premkumar Walekar; Carlos Cruz, whose wife, Sara Ramos, was killed sitting on a Silver Spring bench; Nelson Rivera, whose wife, Lori Lewis Rivera, was killed when vacuuming her van at a Kensington gas station; James Ballenger III, whose wife, Hong Im, was killed outside her beauty store in Baton Rouge, La.; and Rupinder "Benny" Oberoi, who was shot in the back while closing up a Silver Spring liquor store.
Ballenger said he is trying to go on with his life and has not had the time or inclination to bond with the other families.
"I don't have anybody's phone number, and nobody has mine," Ballenger said. "All we got is the lawyers together, that's about it."
Snider, though, says even that is important. "Everyone in the group has different feelings," Snider said. "But I think it has raised to the forefront how many people are killed by gun violence."
Oberoi carries the memory of Sept. 14, when he was shot in the back outside the liquor store where he works. He also carries fragments of a .223-caliber bullet inside his body.
"Those I will have forever," he said.
He said he decided to join the lawsuit after he struck up a conversation with an official from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a leading advocate of gun control. "When you get shot, you start thinking about it," he said.
It has been a while since he was shot, and Oberoi, 23, is even able to laugh about it now. When he is closing up at night with his boss, Arnie Zelkovitz, he makes a strange noise in the empty parking lot.
"I make a sound, 'PLAT!' and we both look around -- and laugh," Oberoi said.
Is it strange to joke about being shot?
"He's happy that I'm here, and I'm happy that I'm here," Oberoi said. "It doesn't scare me anymore."