Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced this morning that the murder of MCSO Deputy William Coleman was committed by the same man who murdered a New Hampshire couple near Sedona last week.
The sheriff says the same weapon -- an AR-15 assault rifle firing "military-grade, green-tip" ammunition -- was used in each of the murders.
"We believed from the outset, these killings were somehow likely connected," Arpaio says.
What prompted the suspect, 30-year-old Drew Ryan Maras -- who was killed in a shootout with Arpaio's deputies -- to randomly kill the couple near Sedona remains unclear.
"If you look at his Facebook, he has somewhat of a strange philosophy," Arpaio explains.
Maras is a conspiracy theorist with a bizarre obsession with UFOs and the apocalypse -- which, if you believe the Mayan calender, is scheduled to happen this year.
As we reported yesterday, Maras wrote a book titled Open Your Eyes: To 2012 and Beyond about the predicted "end of days." He also apparently thinks NASA has a secret base on the dark side of the moon.
In 2010, Maras, a former marine, said the following during an interview with an Internet radio program:
"There is a very good reason why UFO and UFO activity has spiked in recent years. It's because Mother Earth herself is in trouble. She is about to have a temper tantrum. Something has stirred the hive and that something is the once-every-25,800-year great galactic alignment set to commence on December 21, 2012, otherwise known as the end of time as we know it."
Arpaio says he's spoken with Maras' father, who lives in Illinois and hasn't spoken with his son in "quite a while." According to Arpaio, Maras' father apologized to the sheriff for the loss of Coleman. He also explained that his son had been using his van to drive across the country for the past 18 months.
Arpaio says the goal now is to try and figure out where Maras has been and try to determine whether he's responsible for any other similar murders.
Deputy Coleman, 50, was fatally shot when he and other deputies responded to a burglary call at a medical center in Anthem about 4 a.m. Sunday
When Coleman and the other deputies approached a van in the parking lot, Maras was seen sleeping in the vehicle with his dog (authorities suspect Maras has been living in the van). When Coleman tapped on the window, Maras woke up, opened the van's sliding door, and started shooting at deputies, killing Coleman, a 20-year veteran with the MCSO and father of four children.
During the shootout, Maras managed to fire 29 rounds before he was fatally wounded by one of the 41 rounds fired by the deputies.
The kicker: Arpaio says detectives don't suspect Maras had anything to do with the burglary of the medical facility -- he was just parked in the wrong parking lot at the wrong time.
The couple from New Hampshire, James Johnson and Carol Raynsford, were found shot to death in their car as it was parked in a remote section of Arizona State Route 89-A.
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Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher, who also was at this morning's press conference, says it appears Maras picked the couple at random -- he approached their vehicle and just started shooting.
It's unclear where Maras got the weapon used in the shootings -- whether it was related to "Fast and Furious," the Department of Justice's botched gun-trafficking sting, was even brought up. Arpaio, however, says there's nothing at this point to link the gun to the bungled sting.
We also asked a sheriff's spokesman if detectives have looked into whether the gun is the same AR-15 stolen out of the car of an off-duty Tempe police officer last week. He says it's been discussed, but there's nothing at this point to suggest it's the same gun.
Funeral services for Deputy Coleman will be held on Friday at 10 a.m. at the North Phoenix Baptist Church. A public visitation also will be held at the church Thursday from 6-8 p.m.