July 6, 2009 — -- A man who was shot and killed early today while allegedly attempting to burglarize a home in North Carolina is the serial killing suspect wanted in a string of five murders just 30 miles away in South Carolina, police said.
The suspect, identified as Patrick Tracy Burris, 41, was wanted for parole violations, police said at a news conference in Gastonia, N.C., this evening.
The weapon he used in the North Carolina burglary matched the weapon used in the South Carolina shooting, Gaffney County Sheriff Bill Blanton said.
Investigators do not yet have a motive for the killings.
Burris has numerous convictions for armed robbery, weapons possession, forgery and possessing stolen goods, and North Carolina prison records show he served more than seven years for felony breaking and entering and larceny.
"Look at this," South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division Chief Reggie Lloyd said at the news conference, waiving a stapled copy of Burris' criminal record. "This is like 25 pages. At some point the criminal justice system is going to need to explain why this suspect was out on the street."
South Carolina agents had traveled to Gastonia after a man suspected of trying to burglarize a home was shot to death by police around 3 a.m. today.
One link to the slayings last week near Gaffney was the vehicle the serial killer was thought to be driving, a light colored early 1990s model Ford Explorer that was found at the scene in Gastonia.
The man who would later be identified as Patrick Burris first gave a fake name to officers. Then he pulled a gun on them when they tried to arrest him on a warrant from Lincoln County, N.C., authorities told The Associated Press. The suspect was then killed by police.
The serial killings have terrorized people in South Carolina since they first began June 27.
Two witnesses who spoke to the alleged South Carolina serial killer moments before some of the murders called the man an "average person" and "polite," Blanton told "Good Morning America" earlier today.
Police had been circulating a sketch of the man based on those of other eyewitness descriptions but have not named any suspects in the "spree killings" of five people since June 27 in Gaffney, S.C. "Physical evidence" links all three scenes, Blanton said.
In addition to the two witnesses who spoke to the alleged killer, Blanton said several others saw him but did not talk to him prior to two of the slayings. The suspect waited until the witnesses left the area before committing the murders.
In response to the killings, many residents of the town of about 13,000 people have armed themselves and ammunition was reportedly flying off the shelves.
"We've got guns pretty much everywhere," jewelry store owner Robert Irvin said. "I've got a gun in the truck and I'm carrying a gun right now. ... I'm going to be ready."
Still, Blanton encouraged residents to be cautious, carry cell phones and "use good common sense."
"The fact is, he is just a cold-blooded murderer and has ruined the lives of these three families and has kind of tore our community up, but the folks here are dealing with it," Blanton said. "Some are fearful, sure. They have the right to be concerned ... [but] we're not going to let this man put us in a bottle, in a prison and dictate our lives on what he does next."
A local newspaper headline screamed "TERRORIZED!" summing up the town's level of worry. This small South Carolina town is living in fear after five people were murdered in five days.
The murders began June 27, when 63-year-old peach farmer Kline Cash was shot in his home on the outskirts of town. Then, on Wednesday, 50-year-old Gena Linder Parker and her elderly mother, Hazel Linder, 83, were found bound and shot in a home a few miles away.
On Thursday, a 48-year-old businessman was in his home improvement store with his daughter when they were both shot. Stephen Tyler died at the scene, and his daughter, Abby, 15, died in the hospital Saturday.
For those old enough to remember, these events are stirring up painful memories. In the 1960s, the so-called "Gaffney Strangler" murdered four girls before he was apprehended. Leroy Martin was sent to prison for life; he was killed in prison in 1972.