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Press Conference on Maryland Shooting Spree

Aired October 4, 2002 - 09:52   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We have to go back to Rockville Maryland, where authorities are talking about the weapons they think might have been used in the brazen killing of five people there.
Let's listen.


JOSEPH WILL, FBI: ... lay everything out, and wanted to educate you a bit as to why we are letting you know this. Again, since it's an ongoing investigation, we will not be able to discuss any of the particulars. This is more of an educational situation to make you aware of where we're at, and again so Montgomery County may receive information that might help them further the investigation at this time.

Thank you.

Do you have any questions at this point?

QUESTION: Can you pick up one of them and talk a little bit about it?

WILL: OK. Essentially, it's at a 22 caliber projectile. We have four various rounds up here. They're varying degrees of the same thing. Just to give you more information, the projectiles are pretty much similar, as far as size. The difference being the cartridge casing, the brass casing itself, and the amount ammunition or powder that is loaded into the cartridge casing. The difference being that will determine the velocity at what the projectile will travel depending on the type of firearm it comes out of and thing of that nature. OK.

Again, this particular firearm is a Colt AR-15. It the is a semiautomatic rifle. This is a model that people in the United States, if they are not prohibited and the firearm was manufactured prior to a certain date, can legally possess, so just the mere possession of this firearm is not a violation, should not be considered a violation, and as Chief Moose indicated, they're just trying to develop further information, if you have seen anybody who may have weapons similar to this, that have been suspicious in their activity, that you call Chief Moose in his department on the hot line so that the leads can be followed up.

QUESTION: Are any of these weapons illegal to have?

WILL: Again, based on the circumstances, if they possess it prior to a certain date, if they're not a prohibited individual, they could be purchased legally, that's correct.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense how far away the shots were fired from?

WILL: Because it's an ongoing investigation, that's something that we're not at liberty to discuss.

QUESTION: Have you recovered any of the bullets or fragments?

WILL: Again, since it's an ongoing investigation, we don't want to jeopardize that at this point.

QUESTION: What would be the range those guns could fire from?

WILL: Based on the in fact it's a rifle, you will have more accuracy than a handgun. Depending on the person's ability, as far as shooting is concerned, you could shoot from several, 150 yards, 200 yards depending, is reasonable.

QUESTION: As someone who has been trained to use a firearm, can you talk about the skill level that's involved and the marksmanship that's involved in being able to do what this person did, which was hit their targets successfully every single time?

WILL: Again, not getting into the particulars with this investigation, just talking in general terms about the firearm. Someone who is very proficient the can be accurate. People who shoot a lot, people who have trained previously to shoot these types of weapons at long range would have the capabilities, depending on the circumstances, of being able to shoot at a target and hitting that target successfully with one shot.

QUESTION: Is there anything illegal about the possession?

WILL: Actually, as far as the weapons were concerned, can you see that this is actually just a old-fashioned rifle. This particular weapon could be used for target shooting, possibly hunting, and it would not be considered the same as you would the other assault weapons, per se, based on the fact or the way it's designed. This is a regular bolt-action rifle, that's correct.

QUESTION: Once you've completed your ballistics test, will you be able to say with certainty what type of weapons specifically was used? Will you know which make was used?

WILL: In general terms, specifically speaking, when you get a projectile or portions that are recovered, our forensics experts in the area firearms are able to examine that, and based on the condition, and based on some of the other variables, they can, in most cases determine which particular type of firearm it was fired from.

As far as when a person goes to acquire a long gun such as this, they have to fill out the required paperwork at a gun dealer. At that point, they will check, based on the information provided, as to what -- if the person would be prohibited or not. QUESTION: Are your counterparts at the Washington field office investigating a fatal shooting which occurred in the 7700 block of Georgia Avenue last night, last evening?

WILL: I have to check, I feel confidence that they are. I have not in spoken to anyone in that division at this time.

At this point, I can't discuss anything about the investigation. Again, ATF's role is to assist the Montgomery County Police Department. Our role is to assist them from a forensic standpoint and provide investigators to assist with any investigative effort that need to continue.

One second please. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I couldn't hear over there. There was a shooting last night in D.C. just over the line, on Georgia Avenue, at Calmia (ph) Road, about 9:15, a 72-year-old D.C. male was shot and killed while standing on the corner. Any connection there?

WILL: At this point, I can't comment on that. We will follow up, as the police department as well, and all the agencies.

I would also like to recognize that besides ATF, from the firearms standpoint, the Maryland State Police have been assisting in this investigation, as well as detectives from Montgomery County. But that's something that still has to be followed up on at this point, sir.

QUESTION: Chief, do you know about that shooting in D.C. last night, 9:15, right over the line on Georgia Avenue at Calmia (ph) Road, a 72-year-old male who was standing on a street corner was shot.

Any connection?

CHIEF CHARLES MOOSE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE: Well, certainly, we are very much aware of that. We are working very closely with MPD, and at this point, we are not in position to provide any further information. We have the press release that MPD just recently issued. We realize is was faxed to many of your home stations. We have copies to provide to you, and we're working very closely with MPD, and if there's any development there, we'll provide that, but we want to provide a copy of that press release, and let you know that we were all over it with him last night. We had investigators down there. We continue to be in constant contact with them presently, and we're looking at that very closely.

QUESTION: Has your department made any recommendations for restaurant tours or other business operators in the area about outdoor seating in the last 36 hours?

MOOSE: No, sir, we have not. And certainly, as we work on motive, we don't have one. Again, we're very leery of putting just rampant fear out in the community. If we don't any intelligence to guide our pronouncement, then we're not going to make pronouncements.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that four of the five victims were shot in the head?

MOOSE: At this point, again, we're waiting on forensics. We're waiting on stuff from the medical examiner. So we're not talking about any of those.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the lethality of a 223 round?

WILL: The 223 round, the three other rounds that are similar here, travel at a high rate of velocity. To put it in perspective, an analogy that we used earlier was, if you think of it as the boat, how fast the boat travels, the bigger the wake. That's what this would do. You can see it, it's a relatively small projectile that travels at a high rate of speed.

QUESTION: How fast?

WILL: It would be safe to say, on the average, as far as the velocity, about 3,000 feet per second. Approximately 3,000 feet per second.

QUESTION: So in the class of rounds, how does it rank in terms of its lethality. It is one of the most lethal bullets you can use, or?

WILL: Well, these are the types of rounds you'll find the military using. It's a small round. In most instances, it's something like this. It usually goes in small, and the devastation they're designed to do could be significant.

QUESTION: Can it be bought at any gun store?

WILL: This ammunition can be bought locally, yes.

QUESTION: How far do these guns fire from? .

QUESTION: I'd simply from Chief Moose an update on where you are on this now and what progress, if any, you can report.

MOOSE: Again, at this point, we're trying to give some room to our investigators, a lot of leads to follow up, a lot of information still coming in, some of the science stuff coming in. Certainly we're looking forward to any work from the medical examiner, so we just want the investigators to do their job at this point. We don't really have any development to report.

But everyone is working very diligently and, again, reaching out to all the resources in metropolitan area.

QUESTION: What's the farthest any of these weapons can fire from?

WILL: It could be accurate, speaking to the firearms examiners, it could be accurate up to about 600 meters. Again, probably, you're going to have better success if a weapon has a scope, but not to say that people who don't use a scope, just the sights on a particular firearm, couldn't be just as accurate, depending on their degree of expertise.

QUESTION: Did you complete your ballistics testing?

WILL: Well, again, it's an ongoing investigation. As things progress and as information becomes available, we will provide whatever assistance we can to Montgomery County and ballistics. Since it's ongoing, I really can't comment on any of the issues.

QUESTION: What does it take to analyze bullets and determine what type of weapon they came from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It all depends on the shape the evidence is in and...

WILL: OK, basically, what Tim Curtis, one of our experts is saying, depending on the shape -- the condition of the evidence at the time it is recovered may delay how long it takes for that evidence to be processed and analyzed.

QUESTION: There has been a rash of gun robberies in Prince George's County. Do know if a high-power weapon was stolen from Prince George's County, and could it be linked to that?

WILL: Because of the investigations that are going on and some of those are still pending, we're not going to discuss any of those issues at this time as well.

MOOSE: At this point, I want to thank you. Agent Riehl (ph) will be available. The weapons will be available. At this point, again, we will provide any information that comes in, any hot updates, but short of that, we will do the next briefing at noon, two hours from now, at noon.

Thank you.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, we will be there at noon for that briefing from Chief Moose there of the Montgomery County Police Department.

Hello. Leon Harris and Fredricka Whitfield here checking in from the CNN Center in Atlanta. We bid good morning from the folks from "American Morning" who led you into this press conference.

And what we heard this morning is we did hear from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms officials as well as the Montgomery police, who are looking into this bizarre case of these five murders that were committed yesterday about this time we were covering it yesterday in Montgomery County.

Now, we're getting information about the weapon that they believed was used in this case, a weapon that fired a .223 round, and it could have been either of those three models that we saw, those rifles that we saw, Remington models or perhaps an M-16 automatic rifle.

We were going to wait until later in the show, but let's go right now and bring in Cliff Van Zandt. He is standing by in Washington. Cliff is a frequent guest here on our network. Cliff has served as a chief hostage negotiator for the FBI, and now is a security consultant. Cliff is an expert on matters like this -- Cliff, good morning, glad to have you with us back here today.


HARRIS: Let me ask you -- what are your thoughts when you see these rifles laid out there? What does that tell you about who may involved here?

VAN ZANDT: Well, there are two thoughts. It is the caliber, the type of rifle, and it is also, one of your colleagues in the media asked a question, was four of the five victims killed with a head shot? That is the first I have heard this suggestion of that.

If, in fact, that would be true -- that starts -- a profile is a kind of an evolving thing. It is nothing static, it grows based upon the information.

If we have somebody making five head shots with a weapon like that, that starts to suggest someone who is very familiar and very good with a weapon. In essence, a hunter by and large is going to be shooting -- like if you're shooting for a dear, you want put a round through its shoulder, or something.

A head shot -- that is more somebody who reads "Soldier of Fortune," who has got a military background, law enforcement, so you know, that's going to be critical to the profilers to understand where each victim was shot.

HARRIS: Yes, and particularly, when we also consider how far away the shooter may have been from the victim, I have been hearing estimates of maybe up to 150 yards away as well.

VAN ZANDT: Yes, I have heard that same thing. That's one and a half football fields. That is a long shot for anyone, no matter how proficient with weapons you are. If you're a hunter, you may be used to knocking down a deer that far away, maybe in the military.

This crime, initially, it has this youthful enthusiasm -- slash -- stupidity that seems related to it.

We look at a chaos theory. There's always -- there is always some form, shape to chaos. There's something in there within the choice of these victims that when we eventually find these shooters, they are going to be able to help us understand.

When you look at the shooting area, Leon, when you look at the north, south, east, west, you draw a line both ways, and you say, OK, here is the epicenter of the crime.

Were I working this case, I'd say the killer lives, works, has a relative, has some reason to be in that area. We know a shooting took place Wednesday night. We had a 12-hour hiatus, and then he or they were right back at it again Thursday morning. So, something draws them to that area.

HARRIS: All right, Cliff, so what does that time frame tell you? We saw the same thing yesterday, we were thinking the same thing when you saw all of those dots on the map happening in a very small circle. But the time frame, we're talking here about a 17-hour window.

VAN ZANDT: Yes. This to me, Leon, is not someone who is angry, who goes out and commits an act, they dissipate the anger, and then it's over with.

This is someone -- they either stayed up all night drinking, or eating, or doing something, or they slept. It's like you punch out on a clock, and then you punch back in the next day as a spree killer, and you go back at it again. That suggests to me, Leon, someone who enjoys this, who is doing it whether they're leveling the playing field with society, or whether they are just -- if there is two or more, giving each other a high-five when they do something like this.

These -- this is a man or these are people who enjoy what they're doing. This is kind of emotional heroin for them. They enjoy it, and what scares me most, Leon, is that they could be back. They came back after 12 hours, they could come back after 24.

HARRIS: Do you believe there will be more than one shooter in this case? We have been hearing reports that there may be two people in the van. Do you think it is two people doing the shooting?

VAN ZANDT: I think you have probably got one shooter. I think you have got a driver, the wheel man, they are driving around, looking for random targets of opportunity. They stop, they stabilize this truck as the shooting platform. The shooter leans out the window, takes this tremendously long and tremendously accurate shot, and then they move on again.

Now, the only other theory the police have to look at, I know Chief Moose is doing it, is every so often, you'll get a killer, they will go out and they think, if I just kill one person, I will be the obvious suspect, so if I kill two or three others, it will look like random murder, and therefore I won't become a suspect. Does that happen often? No, but is it something the profilers and the police have to look into the backgrounds of the victim and be able to eliminate the idea? Yes, it is.

HARRIS: Do you think this is someone who has got some broader message they are trying to communicate, or is this someone who is just out joy riding on drugs or something, or do you think we may never find out? And do you think they will strike again?

VAN ZANDT: Good questions. Number one, I don't think this is al Qaeda with a scoped rifle driving around. You know, again, we're seeing different races, different creeds, different sexes being knocked down, so it's not someone who is trying to -- from one side or the other of some type of issue deliver that type of message.

I mean, they have terrorized our community, we'll give them credit for that. Do I think they'll strike again? There's no reason for them not to, and Leon, we don't even know 100 percent that this white box truck is actually the vehicle. I mean, it was seen, allegedly, driving away at a high rate of speed, but number one, we are not sure. I mean, at least in the media, no one has said we have seen the smoking gun hanging out the window of the truck.

And number two, you and I, if we did something like that, we would go park the truck in a garage, we would get another vehicle, and we would either leave the area, we would hunker down and watch what is going on TV, or we would give it time to cool down, and we would be out, about, and at it again. And that's why you see law enforcement, that thin blue line, again, trying to protect all of us. They have really got their hands full.

HARRIS: Now, you live in Washington, correct?

VAN ZANDT: Yes -- just south of it.

HARRIS: Are you very familiar with that area?

VAN ZANDT: No, I'm not. Just familiar enough to know, I mean, there's a lot of side streets and everything that runs off the main north/south access.

HARRIS: Well, the reason I ask you that is because I am also being informed by people who have lived there who have been close to that area before and they tell me that this is an area that a lot of retired military and retired CIA people go to when they actually leave the service, that they live in this area. A lot of the folks that live there are former service people, and you mentioned moments ago that you think this is someone who either lives in this area, or has a connection to the area. What do you think of that?

VAN ZANDT: I really do. You know, if in fact we have got head shots, that starts to take me from what I originally thought, more of a youthful 18-23 type of shooter. If it turns out these are four out of five accurate head shots, that starts to take me back into looking at somebody in the military again. So, you may be right. This is like that individual last year who was putting pipe bombs across the United States.

HARRIS: The happy face -- yes, the happy face bomber.

VAN ZANDT: Yes, he wanted to do a happy face. Now, I am a profiler, but I got to tell you, I didn't think he was trying to put a happy face on this country, OK?

HARRIS: Well, see, that is why I was wondering if there is a wider message than maybe -- we may be watching, and may be communicated here.

VAN ZANDT: Yes, and the message, obviously, is fear, but this is what -- we have to step back. We have to say, if this is random, if this is chaos, there is order here, at least in the shooter's mind. He knows what he is doing. He knows why he is doing it. He knows what he's trying to say, and we have just got -- we have got to get some translators to figure out what they're telling us. HARRIS: Well, we appreciate you giving it a shot this morning, and apologies for calling you Cliff at the beginning of this, I know who you are. Clint Van Zandt, appreciate the expertise as always. Take care. Talk with you later on.


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