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I-270 Shooting Effects Reverberate

Only about half the tables in China City's quiet dining room were occupied at lunchtime. Manager Jeffrey Zhu blames his restaurant's proximity to the area where someone has fired shots that hit at least 11 vehicles and a school.

"It's not as busy as it should be," Zhu said Wednesday. "Usually at lunch, it's packed. We were busier before the shootings."

Since authorities began connecting the shootings, there has been one more reported on the same short stretch of freeway south of Columbus, police told The Columbus Dispatch for its Thursday editions. A woman reported Tuesday that a bullet hit her car on Sunday, six days after a passenger in another car was killed.

"It appeared to be a bullet strike, but the bullet did not penetrate," homicide detective Wayne Goss said. The information was given to the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, which is leading the investigation.

Other establishments along Interstate 270 south of the city have reported declines in business similar to Zhu's comments since police started investigating the shootings.

"Business is so-so," said Juan Rios, one of several waiters seated idly by the bar during lunchtime at Los Camperos Mexican restaurant.

"I asked a lot of customers. They usually drive this way, but not anymore," Zhu said.

Four of the shootings — three at vehicles and one at the school — have been linked to the same gun, Franklin County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Steve Martin said. Although ballistics tests could not link the rest of the shootings, all since May, investigators believe they all are connected.

At Hamilton Central Elementary School, where a bullet pierced a front window last month, police and sheriff's deputies kept a watchful eye over students arriving and leaving Wednesday.

Seventy of the school's 468 kindergarten through third-grade students were absent, almost double the normal rate of about 40, according to Hamilton Local School District officials.

Teachers were given maps so they could avoid the nearby freeway. Students had recess inside, and nervous parents held their children's hands while walking them to class.

"We didn't put her on the bus because we felt it was too big of a target for whoever is doing this," said Michelle Maupin, who changed her routine to drop her 7-year-old daughter off at school.

"Until they catch him, there's no way they're getting on the bus," said Maupin, who also has two children attending the middle school down the road.

Authorities have received more than 750 tips, but haven't speculated on who the shooter might be or the type of weapon used.

Martin said that a Columbus-area profiler for the FBI has been working with the investigating task force since the fatal shooting. Authorities have been talking with investigators from other serial shootings, including the sniper shootings in the Washington, D.C., area.

Police and sheriff's deputies investigated a report Wednesday of a gunshot fired in the woods behind an apartment complex along the interstate and took a man into custody.

Investigators said they believed the incident wasn't connected to the 12 shootings, and it was not immediately clear whether the man was charged.

Yvonne Marcello, 47, said she is almost paralyzed with fear when she thinks about the latest shootings coupled with the crime in her neighborhood.

"I don't go out very often. I shouldn't feel so scared, but I do," she said.

According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, an average of 77,060 vehicles a day travel the southern stretch of I-270 at U.S. 23, the area where several of the shootings have occurred.

Cars zipped in and out of a gas station at the intersection Wednesday. The manager said customers were talking about the shootings, but he hadn't noticed any difference in business.

Customer Cheryl Rodgers said she hasn't ventured near the interstate since she heard about the shootings.

"Today I got gas, but otherwise I wouldn't come this far," she said.

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