Alexandria. Va., Police say the forensics on bullets used in the murder of a beloved music teacher are similar to those used in two other high-profile unsolved murders.
On Feb. 6, a gunman knocked on Ruthanne Lodato's door in the 2400 block of Ridge Road Drive just after 11:30 a.m. and opened fire. Lodato, 59, and her mother's caregiver were shot.
Lodato did not survive; the other woman was shot in the arm and hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
Since then, Lodato's case has drawn many to compare it to the deaths of Nancy Dunning, a then-sheriff's wife found shot to death 10 years ago, and Ron Kirby, a well-known transportation planner was shot to death in November.
All were daytime shootings, without forced entry, at the victims' homes.
Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook said Thursday that the bullets used in all three cases have the "same general rifling class and characteristics."
Cook said the gun used in all three cases was a small-caliber weapon, but it's impossible to tell whether they all came from the same gun.
During Thursday's news conference, police announced that all three cases will now be investigated as a "series."
"We will stay on these cases," Cook said. "We have never given up."
Cook said no common motive has been established. He added the public should not assume the killer or killers live in Alexandria, because there's no evidence to indicate that.
Cook urged residents to remain vigilant and to not open their doors to strangers.
Anyone with information in any of the cases is asked to call police.
"Our plea today is not just for the Lodato case," Cook said. "Please keep your information coming in."
The Search for a Killer
Detectives and officers returned to Lodato's neighborhood in the days following her death to pass out fliers featuring a sketch of the suspect. He was described as an older, balding man with gray hair and a beard. Police say he was wearing tan outerwear at the time of the shooting, possibly a jacket or a work coat.
A former FBI criminal profiler told News4 it's highly likely the possible killer has changed his appearance, and possibly ditched his weapon.
The FBI also joined the investigation to help the Alexandria Police Department "vet each and every tip."
Police even brought in 80 cadets from the academy to increase their manpower as they conducted a grid search of the area around the crime scene.
Two men have also reported being stopped because of their physical similarities to the composite sketch.
One man was pulled out of a D.C. theater after a few people in the audience at the National Academy of Sciences told security he looked like the suspect in the police sketch. But after speaking with the man, authorities determined that he was not connected to the case.
In a similar incident, a man told News4 he was questioned at the Rosslyn Metro station by police for an hour because of his resemblance to the suspect in the Lodato case.
"My hair's too long, my beard's too long," Dale Monk said. "Metro Police came down with their guns pulled, telling me to come with them for no reason whatsoever, put handcuffs on me and forced me up the escalator... and held me there for an hour."
Mourning a Beloved Music Teacher
Lodato's death sent shock waves and sadness through the typically quiet and crime-free area.
Lodato taught at Music Together Alexandria for 20 years and was the center's director, according to a bio on the Music Together Alexandria website.She also played the organ at a Del Ray-area church.
Flowers and children's piano books were left in front of her home as a tribute to the woman who shared her love of music with thousands.
"She was a lovely person," Amanda Altree said. "It's really a loss. My children took music classes from her when they were small and [she] pulled this community together."
Neighbor Eileen Grant added, "She was just a really nice, sweet woman, just nice. It's just so sad."
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Other residents quickly added security features to their doors.
R.C. Huffman with Executive Lock and Key said, "People are afraid to open their doors."