VALLEY SPRINGS — 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 anymore."
The Calaveras County Sheriff's Department has little to go on: One witness's glimpse of a late-model, light-colored sedan with square headlights.
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 Department 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. "You watch everything."
Valley Springs, population 2,500, is part of a large, unincorporated section of western Calaveras County in the Sierra foothills. It's known for a golf course, a reservoir and more than its share of big-city refugees. People use guns for hunting, scaring coyotes and target practice, not on each other.
"We don't typically have Joe Q. Citizen be the victim of a crime," said sheriff's Sgt. Dave Seawell. "It's usually bad guy on bad guy."
Not that Valley Springs is Mayberry. It has its share of crime, including that which might be considered out of the ordinary.
In December, 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 and burglaries are common on the police log, Seawell said.
Nick Baptista, editor of the Valley Springs News, a twice-weekly newspaper, said 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 more than 20 years.
Most of the shootings took place in the last two weeks of December. The worst took place 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 shots come from a small-caliber weapon, but authorities will not say what caliber or release other details about the weapon.