For the past month, someone in this Northern California town has been shooting a gun at cars and buildings.
No one knows who might be doing it or why, or whether or when the person will strike again. It is one big, unsettling mystery.
Since mid-December, the shooter has fired at six buildings and nine cars. In three cases motorists were driving as a bullet shattered a window or windshield or pierced the driver's side door too close for comfort.
"It leaves me on edge," said Hazel Provost, who moved to Valley Springs from crime-prone Stockton, 30 miles away, 12 years ago. "I'm not going out after 4:30 in the evening any more."
The Calaveras County Sheriff's Office has little to go on — one witness's glimpse of a late model, light-colored sedan with square head lights. For now, all that is certain in this country town 60 miles from Sacramento is uncertainty.
Most of the shootings have taken place before dawn or after dusk. No one has been hurt, but no one is sure that no one will. The sheriff's office has not released the names of those who've been targeted
"Of course we're worried," said Kathleen D'Angelo, who moved to Valley Springs six years ago from Milpitas, near San Jose. "You watch everything."
Valley Springs, part of a large, unincorporated section of western Calaveras County (population 2,500) in the Sierra foothills, is known for a golf course, a reservoir and more than its share of big-city refugees. People use guns for hunting, scaring coyotes, target practice. Not on each other.
"We don't typically have Joe Q. Citizen be the victim of a crime," said Sgt. Dave Seawell of the sheriff's department. "It's usually bad guy on bad guy."
Not that Valley Springs is Mayberry. It has its share of crime. In December alone, a 25-year-old man was arrested for allegedly making and setting off pipe bombs, and nine middle school students, ages 12 to 14, were busted for possessing, and in six cases, intent to sell, prescription drugs on campus.
Drugs, gangs, burglaries are all common on the police log, Seawell said.
Nick Baptista, editor of the Valley Spring News, a twice-weekly newspaper, said that most people believe the shootings have something to do with gang activity. Second, down on the list, is that it's a young person, though the two theories are not mutually exclusive.
"My first thought was that someone got a gun for Christmas," said Patricia Sowards, who has lived in Valley Springs for over 20 years.
Six motorists fired on
Most of the shootings have taken place during the last two weeks of December. The worst was Dec. 22, when six motorists were fired at either just before dawn or after dusk. The most recent shootings confirmed as part of the spree happened Jan. 9 in a neighborhood with closely spaced homes. There have been other scattered reports of shootings, but authorities have found no bullets in those cases.
The gun is a small-caliber weapon, though authorities will not say what caliber or give any other details on the weapon.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspect and the FBI is assisting the investigation as well.
Jack Duffett, 20, who grew up in Valley Springs, said that young people get bored in the town and find themselves eager to leave, or make their own fun. "I think it's someone who is bored," he said, "Or trying to make themselves look like a gangster. Nothing like this has ever happened, but I just know it's a kid."