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Kansas City Residents Stay Vigilant While Highway Shootings Stoke Fears

Image:Kansas City police and agents from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms with canines investigated a shooting along southbound Interstate 435 in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas City police and agents from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms with canines investigated a shooting along southbound Interstate 435 in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Police have connected 12 shootings targeting vehicles on Kansas City-area roads and highways since early March. Jill Toyoshiba / AP

Each time Missouri native Maureen Jungden drives onto the cluster of south Kansas City highways known as Grandview Triangle, she keeps her eyes open and says a prayer.

The string of at least a dozen linked shootings in the area since March 8 “makes me worried — as everybody is,” Jungden told NBC News on Thursday.

“I was on [the highway] again last evening, and I noticed there were police stationed every so often,” she said. “I very much appreciated their presence.”

While fears of another reported highway shooting Wednesday turned out to be not a shooting at all, residents say the unknown of another attack has left them on edge until the possible serial shooter or shooters are caught.

Three people have been struck by bullets — one in the arm and two in the legs — while riding in their respective cars, although none of their injuries were life-threatening, police said.

There hasn’t been a connected shooting since April 6. Police said Wednesday that nabbing the roadway renegade remains a “high priority.”

Residents remain vigilant, but because the highways are such a lifeline for getting around, not everyone’s willing to forsake their regular routine.

“There’s always that worry, but we’re just going on about things,” said Sandy Theiss, who owns the Rose Lane Florist, not far from Grandview Triangle.

As of noon Wednesday, a crime tips hotline received 114 calls about the case, which state and federal law enforcement agencies are helping with. The reward for the suspect’s capture is up to $10,000.

Police, however, haven’t said what evidence they might have linking the 12 shootings. They also aren’t giving details about the suspected shooter or the vehicle in order to prevent spreading misinformation.

Most of the victims’ vehicles were hit on their doors, specifically the passenger side, The Kansas City Star reported. The victims also vary in gender, age and vehicle type, the newspaper said.

That apparent randomness is echoed in the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, when 10 people were killed amid 27 shootings that crippled the Washington, D.C., area for one month.

But with no fatalities in the Kansas City shootings, it’s possible the shooter, who is most likely male, isn’t looking specifically for the thrill of the kill, said Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former FBI agent and senior profiler.

“He’s probably thinking, ‘Wow, I’m a powerful guy. I’m basically holding Kansas City on edge,’” O’Toole said.

The shooter likely could have killed by now if he wanted to, and the type of gun he’s using would be a clue into whether he intends to do a lot of damage, O’Toole added.

There’s always that worry, but we’re just going on about things.

Experts say the gun being used probably isn’t an AR-15, according to NBC affiliate KSHB in Kansas City. The bullet holes in the vehicles appear larger, and could be from a low velocity pistol, such as a 9 mm handgun.

One of the victims told police the shooter was wearing a ski mask, hoodie and glasses at the time.

The cases appear to have occurred in portions of the highway where there’s an exit ramp or split, police say, allowing for the shooter to peel off in an opposite direction.

O’Toole said the “thrill and excitement” of the act are only part of the motive.

“When you look at the typical motivation, there’s never one singular reason,” she said. “The people he shoots happen to be victims of opportunity.”

As police vow to find him, he may be biding his time quietly for now, but could certainly resurface again, authorities said.

“These shootings seem a little more impulsive to me,” O’Toole said. “This is a guy that wants to be out there. He wants to feel better about his life.”