DETROIT (AP) - Tony Leno was taking a smoking break outside the Toledo, Ohio,church where he works when a tall, muscular white man pulled overin his Chevy Blazer, got out and asked him for directions.
As the 59-year-old custodian turned to point the way, thestranger -- apparently without word or warning -- stabbed him twicein the abdomen, got back into his vehicle and drove off into thenight.
Authorities say they're not certain, but they strongly suspectthe assailant is a serial killer who has attacked 20 men inMichigan, Ohio and Virginia since May, killing five and woundingothers, including Leno, who remains hospitalized in criticalcondition.
The first 16 attacks happened in and around the working-classcity of Flint. The city is predominantly black, and even though allbut two of the Michigan victims were black men, detectives therehave been hesitant to say the attacks were motivated by racialhatred. Survivors said their assailant said little during theattacks -- and nothing about race.
But authorities in Leesburg, Va., a predominantly white citywhere three of the most recent attacks occurred, believe the threevictims there were chosen because they are black.
"I believe his motivation is pure hatred," Leesburg Police ChiefJoseph Price said at a Tuesday news conference in which he releaseda short video clip of the vehicle the suspect drove after attackinga 19-year-old man with a hammer. He said police also have footageof that attack but won't be releasing it.
Federal and state law enforcement agencies trying to track downthe killer have been reluctant to disclose details of what they'vefound out, and they haven't released most of the names of thosetargeted.
State Police First Lt. Patrick McGreevy, who heads the Michigantask force investigating the attacks, declined to say much aboutthe case on Tuesday but said investigators are poring over stateprison records and past cases that are similar in nature.
"A nationwide intelligence broadcast has gone out, and we'remonitoring any incoming information from any state," McGreevy said."We don't know what is in his head. What we do know is there hasbeen a string of very, very violent and deadly attacks in GeneseeCounty, and attacks in Leesburg that are similar."
N. G. Berrill, the executive director of the New York Center forNeuropsychology & Forensic Behavior Science, who has studiedserial killer behavior but who is not involved in the current case,said authorities are working against the clock to try to preventfurther attacks because the suspect is unlikely to stop on hisown.
"It's a run rabbit run phenomena," said Berrill, who comparedthe current case to the spate of knife attacks to the Beltwaysniper case in which 10 people were shot to death in a three-weekperiod in the Washington, D.C. area.
"They are not intending on receding into the darkness," Berrilltold The Associated Press on Tuesday. "They are on a spree and theyare going to continue until somebody stops them. Because he is onthis spree and going to a couple of different states, I don't knowif they can predict where he is going next."
Michigan authorities said they didn't realize they were dealingwith serial killer until Aug. 4, more than two months after thefirst suspected attack on May 24 in Flint. Since then, the attackin Ohio and the three in Virginia have been linked to theassailant.
The brazen nature and the frequency of the attacks -- theassailant has struck an average of about once every four days sincethe first stabbing -- has terrified some of those in cities he'salready targeted. Officials have said there was about a month gapbetween the first two attacks.
Ira Lewis, a 77-year-old black General Motors retiree fromFlint, said he's taking no chances and will drive where he needs togo.
"People are being more vigilant and looking out," Lewis said."If he's going to catch me, he is going to have to catch me in mycar."
Survivors tales have been similar: a white man who asked fordirections or help with a broken-down vehicle suddenly pulled aknife, stabbed them then drove off.
Investigators have believe the suspect is a young, muscularwhite man, who drives a green Chevy Blazer, and they've compiled acomposite sketch of his face.
"People are on edge. This is a very violent, dangerous person,"McGreevy said.
Police initially said the victims all were older black males whoappeared frail or small in body size.
Now, police report that the youngest Michigan victim was 17. Theoldest was 60. They ranged in size from 5-foot-4 inches and 120pounds to 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. Two of the 16 men attacked inMichigan were white.
"You can't ignore the possibility that this is stimulated bysome type of racial; if not hatred, then preoccupation orobsession," Berrill said. "There's always some kind of a laststraw, a final indignation, pure unadulterated racism.
"Maybe he sees something in the news that pisses him off with ablack politician or a black criminal, or an African American atwork that gives the individual permission to begin the crimespree."
case is unique because the victims primarily are black men-- not women and children, who are generally more vulnerable -- andmurder does not appear to be motivation, Berrill said.
"When you think of men as victims of serial killers it's usuallya gay population," Berrill said.
"Usually with serial killers, there is a prominent sexualdimension to the killings. That doesn't seem to be obvious here,"he said.
The assailant also left witnesses.
"It wasn't benevolence. I don't think he was sloppy," Berrillsaid. "To be seen and identified strikes me as a little strange.Why isn't he sure they're dead? Why does he leave them alive?That's the part that baffling. Killing may not be the goal. Killingmay just be the unfortunate outcome."
Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat in Leesburg, Va., andJohn Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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