Aired October 8, 2002 - 17:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like this is a war zone that I'm living in, you know. President Bush is talking about fighting Iraq, fighting Iraq when we have a war right here in this own country.
JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Washington's other war on terror, the suburbs of the United States capital are being haunted by a serial killer with a sniper's gun.
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Hello and welcome.
Washington, D.C., is a beautiful city, a place of museums and monuments. Over the years, though, it has also been a relatively dangerous place to live, prone to even more big-city crime than many other United States cities.
A lot of the people who work in Washington, D.C., choose to make their homes elsewhere as a result, in the suburbs of the adjoining states of Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware, in nice neighborhoods.
But now they're terrified. A sniper has been traveling from place to place shooting people, apparently at random. The police have no idea who the killer could be.
On our program today, Washington's serial sniper.
First, though, a look at the hour's headlines.
United States President George W. Bush is seeking a court order to reopen the ports on the West Coast of the United States for an 80-day cooling off period. Last month, the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping companies and terminal operators, locked out more than 10,000 union members, accusing them of engaging in a slowdown.
One major sticking point of the dispute is who will control new jobs evolving out of improved technology. Mr. Bush says the lockout is costing United States economy about $1 billion a day.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: Americans are working hard everyday to bring our economy back from recession. This nation simply cannot afford to have hundreds of billions of dollars a year in potential agricultural and manufacturing trade sitting idle. We can't afford it.
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MANN: Northern Ireland's First Min. David Trimble has given London a week to expel Sinn Fein from the provincial power-sharing government. Otherwise, he's promised to bring down the government by withdrawing his Ulster Unionists Party. The crisis was sparked by allegations of spying by Sinn Fein.
In a meeting Monday with Irish Prime Min. Bertie Ahearn, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams denied Sinn Fein is involved in any intelligence gathering.
Kuwaiti authorities say it was Kuwaiti Nationalists who fired on United States marines in a terrorist attack on an island off Kuwait. The firefight left one United States marine and two armed assailants dead. The incident happened during marine training exercises on Kuwait's Failaka island.
United States officials say the assailants were in a pickup truck when they approached the marines and opened fire. The marines returned fire, killing the assailants.
In a speech Monday, United States President Bush reiterated his belief that the threat from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein grows with time, but he insisted military action is not imminent and he's promising to build an international coalition if Iraq demands -- rather defies demands to disarm.
His remarks came a day before Congress launched debate on a resolution authorizing Mr. Bush to use force against Iraq if necessary.
Iraqis reacted to that speech by showing up at a blood bank where their blood was used to create a banner supporting the government. In an official response, Baghdad ridiculed Mr. Bush by saying he failed again to provide one piece of evidence to back his accusations. They also said that the United States is persecuting Iraq because it backs the Palestinians.
A lot of Washington area children were kept home from school Tuesday. The Starbucks coffee shop chain moved its tables off sidewalks and was serving only people indoors. A local police chief formally requested help from the federal government.
There have been eight unexplained shootings since last week, and people around Washington are scared and mystified. The killings make no sense.
(voice-over): Rush hour Wednesday evening. A single shot is fired through a store window north of Washington. No one is hurt, but the shooting spree has begun.
A short time later, a 55-year-old man is shot and killed in the parking lot of a nearby grocery store. After a tense night, the shooting continues the next morning when a 39-year-old man mowing the lawn at a car dealership is cutdown.
Last than half-an-hour later, a taxicab driver is killed pumping gas at a service station. 30 minutes later, another killing; this time, a 34- year-old woman is shot outside the Silver Spring Post Office. 90 minutes later, another woman is shot and killed as she vacuums her van at a gas station.
Day turns into night, and then a 72-year-old man, standing on the corner in northwest Washington, D.C., is shot and killed once again by a single gunshot.
The sniper has now killed six people in just over 16 hours.
Friday, another victim in a different town with a different result. A woman is shot in the back in Fredericksburg, about 90 kilometers south of Washington. She survives and is the last victim until a 13-year-old boy was shot and critically wounded in front of his school, just a short drive from the Washington area.
The police have had 6,000 phone calls on the case, and more than 1,000 leads that they consider credible. But they do not have a suspect or a motive or a way to explain what's happening.
CNN's Kathleen Koch reports on the latest.
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Critical evidence, a shell casing found in these woods at the site of Monday's sniper shooting at a Maryland middle school.
CHIEF GERALD WILSON, PRINCE GEORGE'S CO. POLICE: It was found over, I would say, 100 feet or yards into the woods, on the same side as Benjamin Tasker. It could have been ejected from the weapon used by the suspect. Could have been.
KOCH: The number of investigators involved in the manhunt, now 195 after Montgomery County Police got the go-ahead for federal help in catching the serial killer.
Authorities are comparing the details of the eight shootings with crimes in databases across the country, looking for similarities.
MICHAEL BOUCHARD, ATF: We've asked all police departments to enter projectiles and cartridge casings from shootings, into that system. And there are about 230-plus systems throughout the United States. We've entered the information from this case into this system to query if there are any other similar type projectiles or cartridge casings in that system nationwide.
KOCH: Maryland's governor challenged the killer to surrender.
PARRIS GLENDENING, MARYLAND GOVERNOR: We're talking about a person here who basically is a coward. This is not an individual who is out there doing something strong or manly or anything of this type. This is a person who is shooting elderly men, shooting women, and now shooting little children.
KOCH: But how will such words impact the killer? Profilers say the shooter is watching.
Credible leads now number 1,250. The reward for information leading to the killer's capture, $237,000. School attendance was down at both Montgomery and Prince George's County as schools were locked down for a fourth day.
MANN: Kathleen Koch, reporting.
As famous as Washington, D.C., is, the suburbs, where the killer struck, are on the front page for the first time. They're not usually places that generate much news. They are certainly not places that see this kind of killing.
Michael Okwu reports on that.
MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This sort of thing doesn't happen here, but then this sort of thing rarely happens anywhere.
Bowie, Maryland, population 50,000, the fourth largest and fastest growing city in the state. Quiet, relatively crime free, say residents, and now the target of a sniper.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like this is a war zone that I'm living in, you know. President Bush is talking about fighting Iraqi, going and fighting Iraq, and we have war right here in his own country that he needs to deal with.
OKWU: It's a town where some people know of war, just not in their backyards.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have a lot of retirees. You have military, active and retired. You have a lot of officers, secret service.
OKWU: Bowie Town Center, usually humming by noon, was a ghost town. Residents express their shock in equal parts anger, disbelief, and fear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to go out and catch the guy myself, you know I mean. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When a young person gets shot, I think it's a little bit more disheartening because everybody feels so very vulnerable when the youngest in your community does get targeted.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a little scary. But, you know, I feel like I need to get on -- you know, carry on with everything.
OKWU (on camera): Many residents here in Bowie said they would carry on life as normal, and yet others did just the opposite. In spite of the school board's determination to keep school open, many parents rushed here as news helicopters hovered overhead, and took their children home.
(voice-over): Jemmel Newman said she would keep her 11-year-old son, Marquis (ph), out of Benjamin Tasker Middle School Tuesday. She struggles to find a way to make sense of this to him.
JEMMEL NEWMAN, MOTHER: The only thing I can really just tell him is to just stay calm. Watch your surroundings, you know, because you don't know who's doing this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be anybody. It could be my neighbor who's shooting them. I don't know.
OKWU: Bowie is located in the heart of Prince George's County. The county is know for being the wealthiest predominantly African-American county in the country, though that's not what it's know for today.
Michael Okwu, CNN, Bowie, Maryland.
MANN: We'll take a break. Later in the program, we'll talk about the killer, but when we come back, we'll look at the gun.
Stay with us.
MANN: Police say the weapon used in the shootings was likely an assault rifle or a hunting rifle, accurate up to 650 meters. The bullet was a kind of large caliber high-intensity ammunition designed to kill people or animals by fragmenting destructively on impact.
It would seem that the killer is acting coldly, calmly and with some skill; and, as well, with a very powerful weapon. No one knows who the killer is.
CNN's David Mattingly has a look at his or her gun.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Colt AR15 semiautomatic assault rifle, built for power and accuracy, once made for the military, now of interest to police and gun collectors. And a traditional bolt-action high-powered rifle, when accuracy counts, the favorite of hundreds of military snipers.
Now, one of these rifles a possible weapon-of-choice for a gunman killing at random.
JOSEPH BIEHL, ATF AGENT: If you've seen anybody who may have weapons similar to this, that have been suspicious in their activity, that you call Chief Moose and his department on the hot line.
MATTINGLY: Maryland investigators narrowed their search to these weapons by starting with the killer's bullets; two 23-caliber rounds in combination with either of the two rifles can produce pinpoint accuracy from hundreds of yards away and fragment into pieces on impact.
BIEHL: Something like this usually goes in small and the devastation that it's designed to do could be significant.
MATTINGLY: Though outlawed in 1994, AR15's manufactured before the ban are still sold legally. In some states, the $1,800 rifle can be bought, and after electronic background checks, on the street in a matter of minutes.
(on camera): How close do you have to be to have some sort of reliable shot?
JIM BARNES, GEORGIA GUN SHOP MANAGER: Well, in competition camp here, they go out 500 or 600 yards with this one.
MATTINGLY: 500 or 600 yard? What about a novice, someone who has minimal training?
BARNES: Oh, probably 200 to 300 yards.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Proficiency can be easy to come by. After only one practice session, this AR-15 owner has almost found his target.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody could do this.
MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's not something pleasant to talk about, but it sounds as if the person who is involved, the person or persons involved, in these shootings, knows what he or she is doing, and probably has had some kind of marksmanship training.
MATTINGLY: Training that could suggest a background in hunting, law enforcement, or military. But so far, no conclusions, and no indications of whether the weapon was purchased legally or illegally. Only the painfully obvious, that this killer has the patience and cruelty to seek out random, innocent targets, and find them with deadly accuracy.
David Mattingly, CNN.
MANN: Joining us now to talk more about the weapon and the hands holding it is an authority on snipers. Roy Chandler is a former United States army sniper who once operated a school to teach the craft. He's co- author, along with his brother, of "Death From Afar."
Thanks so much for being with us.
Let me ask you what you make of what's going on in Washington. Is it a sniper at work? That's what people are saying.
ROY CHANDLER, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Could be. It's certainly sniper technique. Whether this man is highly trained, I doubt, and my brother, my partner in our work, suspects the same thing.
These shots are rather ordinary. Any hunter, any want-to-be, at 100 yards, should put the more-or-less in one hole with a scoped AR-15. We do not need to be talking about a militarily or law enforcement trained man here.
MANN: Even using just a single round?
CHANDLER: A single round, yes. One shot, one kill is the whole theory. And if you are properly zeroed, your first round should go exactly where you put it.
MANN: How many people do you think in the United States know how to use a firearm this way?
CHANDLER: Millions. I think that any hunter would be capable of this. I don't find this shooting dramatic in any way.
People come to our school -- we teach both law enforcement and military sniping, and people come to our schools who can hit virtually nothing, and in 10 or 15 minutes, our instructors have them putting them dead center, and we can do that time after time.
MANN: How many people could get the weapon to do this kind of thing? If there could be millions of people who know how, millions could get the guns?
CHANDLER: Any legal person in the United States.
In the United States, we are allowed to have weapons. They sell AR- 15's and similar weaponry in almost every gun shop in the country.
Now, an AR-15 is not an assault rifle, and they shouldn't be called an assault rifle. They're a civilian weapon, made for civilian shooting. The action operates semiautomatic. You pull the trigger, you get one shot. It's just the shape of the gun that makes it look mean and dangerous, and people get excited over the idea of it.
MANN: It's also the round that's mean and dangerous, the idea that these are exploding rounds that are going to fragment on impact and rip flesh. Is that a popular kind of ammunition to use in this country?
CHANDLER: Well, that's a very dramatic description, but no round that I've ever seen were made to explode.
In hunting or man-killing, you do not want exploding rounds. You want rounds that expand and make a larger wound.
A pointed bullet, let's say it's a full-jacketed military bullet, tends to tumble after impact. If the round is a little bit unstabilized, not enough spin, the round will certainly tumble. That makes a vicious wound. But this business of fragmenting, that's just a bad bullet.
MANN: Let me ask you your opinion. On a day like today, after a week like they've had in Washington, the conversation we're having is going to make people around the world wonder why there should be millions of people walking around in this country with the skills, with the legal ability, and with the kind of ammunition necessary to commit these kinds of terrible crimes. Does it make you feel bad that you teach people not how to do this, specifically, but how to do something like it?
CHANDLER: Just the opposite. We feel, in the United States, and certainly amongst the kind of people I mix with, which are National Rifle Association members, hunters, people that just enjoy weaponry in general, you learn how to handle the gun; you learn about safety; you are an honorable person, or you don't go into our schools.
We believe an American has the right to defense, and to defend yourself you need more than an air gun. And in the United States, under our constitution, we've got that right until we misuse it. If you misuse it, you get nailed to the wall, we hope.
MANN: One last question: what do you think the chances are that you trained the person or one of your videos or one of your books.
MANN: . helped the person learn how to do what they're doing in Washington now?
CHANDLER: We would say zero. The books, of course you don't know who reads them, but our books, if you get around to them, are not instructors manuals on the position (AUDIO GAP) or that kind of thing.
These are about field-craft, accurate shooting, true, but they're not -- they're not just the manual of how to do it.
As far as the people we train, for one thing, we're very careful. Most of them are law enforcement, or soldiers, sailors or a lot of marines, and we're careful who gets in there. And if people show up that we have some doubts about, we ask them to leave.
But anything is possible, and people lose their minds, lose their good sense, become hugely impassioned. We don't think any of our people will ever be numbered among them.
MANN: On that note, Roy "Rocky" Chandler, United States Army, retired, thanks so much for talking to us.
CHANDLER: You're welcome.
MANN: We take a break. When we come back, a conversation about how to find a killer who leaves so few clues.
Stay with us.
MANN: Prem Kumar Walekar was laid to rest Sunday. He was buried in a traditional Indian funeral. Walekar was the sniper's third victim. He was the taxi driver shot as he filled up at a gas station. There will be more funerals as the search for the Washington sniper goes on.
Police in the Washington area don't have much to go on. They are frustrated, angry and almost quite literally clueless.
A short time ago, we caught up with Jack Levin, a professor of sociology and criminology and the director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University in Boston.
He says this case is as unusual as it is difficult to solve.
JACK LEVIN, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: Most serial killers use their hands. They strangle, they mutilate, they dismember. They're up close and personal with their victims.
In this case, we're looking at a serial killer who kills his victims from a distance with a firearm. That's almost unheard of.
On the other hand, there are massacres of people who take a semiautomatic and they go into a shopping mall and open fire. And they typically don't kill strangers. They typically kill family members or maybe people at work. And they're usually psychotic if they kill at random, confused, and they may think that they're preventing earthquakes, or they hear voices in an empty room.
These killers in the D.C. area are hardly psychotic. They are skillful killers. If there is more than one, then they are a team of friends who are having a good time at our expense. They're playing God.
In addition, they're playing a cat-and-mouse game with the police, and they're trying desperately to feel important by making the headlines, by making the 11:00 news, and by terrifying the community.
MANN: On the basis of the little that is known about these murders, can you guess on who might be behind them? Would it be a man? Would it be a woman? Would it be a Caucasian? Would it be an ethnic minority? What would you guess?
LEVIN: Just based on statistics, this assailant is probably a white middle-aged male who has recently suffered some kind of catastrophic loss, the loss of a job, a financial disaster, a nasty separation or divorce, maybe even a terminal illness, and he's seeking revenge.
He wants to get even, not with a particular person, like his spouse, not with a category of people, but with all of humanity. And in the process, he's having fun. He gets high on killing. It makes him feel like God. It makes him feel in charge. He is a big shot.
MANN: Is he going to be hard to catch?
LEVIN: You know, I am very concerned that we may not apprehend this killer for some time, certainly not before he strikes again.
You know, there's just so little evidence. There's no DNA. There's no fiber. There's no hair. There's hardly anything to tie him to the crime scene, except the bullets, and the chances are he doesn't have a criminal record or a psychiatric history. We may not catch him for some time to come.
MANN: One of your books is called "Mass Murder: America's Growing Menace." This is a very bizarre and at least to my mind nearly unprecedented case. Are we going to be seeing more like this?
LEVIN: I am concerned about the copy cat affect of this crime. It has gotten a lot of publicity, as it should. This is a very newsworthy story and the press has not only a right but a responsibility to inform the public so that we can take precautions.
At the same time, the attention inspires people in other states, in California, Texas, Florida, who would like to get a little attention, who feel bullied, who feel like outsiders, and they would want to feel important too. We've given them an idea and I wouldn't be surprised, sadly enough, if we don't see more of these in the future.
MANN: Can you make any sense of the physical proximity of the killings and of the fact that they seem to happen fairly predictably in rush hour? Does that tell you anything?
LEVIN: There's a very good chance that the perpetrator lives close by, not within a few miles, perhaps, but within a few dozen miles. He wouldn't kill in his own neighborhood, because the crimes could be linked to him, but he has to be familiar with the territory.
He knows the business areas in that area of Maryland, and only once in a while he ventures outside. He goes to Virginia or to D.C. because he wants to throw the police off, and he's done a good job at that.
But I think we can pretty much assume that the killer lives in that area, and he has chosen that location because he knows it so well.
MANN: Do the police typically have good luck catching people like this?
LEVIN: You know, most mass killers who go into a shopping mall with an AK-47 are no challenge to law enforcement. They commit suicide. They're killed by a police sharp-shooter. They're not much of a problem.
But serial killers can get away with murder for long periods of time. They are the cream of the crop when it comes to killing, and they may stay on the loose for weeks, months, years, even decades.
MANN: Jack Levin of Northeastern University, thank you so much for talking with us.
LEVIN: Thank you.
MANN: That's INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann.
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