When a sniper (search) preyed on the Washington, D.C., suburbs last year, Jeanie Patton feared she could be next, though she lived hundreds of miles away.

"She said, 'Mom, I'm almost afraid to go out. Something like that could happen here in West Virginia,'" her mother, Joyce Patton, recalled.

Jeanie Patton, 31, was shot in the head Thursday while pumping gasoline at a Speedway (search) convenience store about five miles from her home.

Less than two hours later, 26-year-old Okey Meadows Jr. was shot in the neck at a Go-Mart. And four days earlier, Gary Carrier Jr., 34, was shot in the head while using a pay phone outside another Go-Mart in Charleston.

Authorities have expressed concern that the shootings resembled last year's sniper shootings, which panicked the Washington area in October.

Police have confirmed that the three Charleston-area shootings could be the work of a single sniper. All three killings were after dark.

Police have acknowledged that the bullets in all three attacks were fired from the same caliber and class of weapon, all from more than 30 yards away. They have not linked the three to the same weapon.

The three victims lived about 10 miles apart, but apparently did not know each other.

Meadows, the divorced father of a 3-year-old, was getting ready for a college admissions test so he could take classes at West Virginia State College.

"He was trying to show his son that he could do anything if he put his mind to it," said Robert Williams, a friend.

Meadows, who lived in Campbells Creek, could bench 225 pounds and sometimes would hold his mother above his head after hugging and kissing her hello.

"He'd say that was how he showed her he loved her," said his aunt, Donna Tinsley.

Carrier also was a divorced father. He left behind three sons and one daughter, ages 10 to 25.

Carrier, a mechanic who lived in South Charleston, was a NASCAR (search) fan and owned a selection of Dale Earnhardt T-shirts. He was a jokester, whose friends would hang out at Charleston Tire, where he worked until recently.

"One morning I came in here, they had sat my desk up on four-inch rims and dropped my chair down to the floor," said Lisa Bishop, the garage's secretary. "We never had a bad day when he was around."

Carrier's brother, Greg, said he could not come up with a motive in the death.

"No matter how much I think about it, it just doesn't make sense," he said. "I know the police are trying hard, but so far no one can figure it out."

Patton, who lived in Campbells Creek, was a substitute cook and custodian for Kanawha County schools.

"Jeanie never hurt a person in her life," Joyce Patton said.

Patton's 14-year-old son was struggling with the news of his mother's death, said her father, Larry Patton.

"He took it pretty hard," Larry Patton said. "But the hardest part is still to come."