Tapes of phone calls reporting the four Oct. 3 sniper shootings in Montgomery County were released yesterday, dramatically revealing the emotional strain, urgency and confusion that prevailed among witnesses as the attacks unfolded.
In reporting what turned out to be the shooting of James L. "Sonny" Buchanan, 39, who was mowing a lawn at an auto dealership, the caller indicated to the Montgomery 911 operator that he believed he had seen an accident, asserting that "this guy's lawnmower did something."
Unaware that Buchanan's wound was inflicted by gunfire in a 7:41 a.m. attack on Rockville Pike, the caller told 911 that the lawnmower "chopped him up. He's bleeding real bad."
As the single-shot attacks continued that morning, the witnesses' calls appeared to reflect a similar concern for the victims, as well as an inability to recognize just what was happening.
The tapes, released by Montgomery County's fire and rescue service, were aired at 10 p.m. by WTTG-TV (Channel 5).
Two suspects have been arrested in connection with the shootings. They have been linked to about 20 attacks, in this area and in the South and West. The four fatal shootings in Montgomery on Oct. 3 followed a similar killing there the night before.
During the call reporting the second Oct. 3 shooting, a 911 operator can be heard responding to a caller's highly emotional state with the words: "Listen to me. What is wrong?"
The response: "A man has been killed in front of me!"
The distraught caller was describing the death of Premkumar A. Walekar, 54, who was shot at 8:12 a.m. while pumping gasoline at the Mobil station at Aspen Hill Road and Connecticut Avenue in Aspen Hill.
Still later that morning, a caller reported the shooting of Sarah Ramos, 34, who was fatally wounded while sitting on a bench in a shopping area near Leisure World on International Drive in Silver Spring.
The tapes reveal that the caller, who sounded relatively calm, reported -- erroneously, as it turned out -- that Ramos's wound was self-inflicted.
"I need an ambulance, and the police," the caller said. "A girl just shot herself."
The next shooting that day was that of Lori Lewis Rivera, 25, who was hit while vacuuming a minivan at the Shell gas station at Knowles and Connecticut avenues in Kensington. The time was two minutes before 10 a.m.
The caller sounded agitated.
"She's lying next to the vacuum," the 911 operator was told. "She's unconscious and blood is coming out of her nose and mouth."
No names were immediately available for the callers or for the emergency operators who took the calls. It was not immediately known what prompted the release of the tapes yesterday.