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Press Conference on Sniper on Loose in Metro Area

Aired October 8, 2002 - 09:04   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Under heightened security, schools in two different Maryland counties that have been terrorized by a sniper have reopened today. The latest victim, a 13-year-old boy in middle school. He is in critical, but stable condition this morning. He was shot just as he was dropped off at school. There have been eight shootings, six of them fatal, in Washington, Virginia and the Maryland counties of Prince George's and Montgomery.
Jeanne Meserve is following the investigation. She joins us from the Montgomery County Police Department as we await the chief to update us all.

In the meantime, Jeanne, bring us up to date on what we know at this hour, before we so rudely interrupt you to go to the chief?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, just a little bit more than 24 hours after that 13-year-old was shot in Prince George's County, students are back in school in the greater Washington area. In many localities, the students are under lockdown. They are being kept in the schools. There are no outside activities permitted. Here in Montgomery County, student safety patrols were discontinued. Police recruits, fire recruits all helping the children cross streets and get in to school this morning with a very visible police presence.

I just had a brief talk with county executive Doug Duncan. He to told me that teacher attendance is better than normal this morning. There has been no problem with bus driver attendance.

In a few minutes at this briefing, we expect to hear from the superintendent of schools about what the student attendance rate looks like today.

In addition to the heavy protection, the investigation is continuing. According to Chief Charles Moose, his department now has 1,250 credible leads that they are tracking down.

He spoke earlier today about progress in the investigation.


CHIEF CHARLES MOOSE, MONTGOMERY CO. POLICE: I certainly feel positive about the progress, but I understand that it is a complex case, and you know, I don't want to build any false hopes. I don't have a timeline, in terms of, can I tell you what day or what hour it's all going to be over. So I struggle with how I can actually deal with your questions.


MESERVE: Two tip lines are now open to the public, and Chief Moose made a plea this morning to the public to please use them. Although, as I mentioned, they have more than 1,000 tips, although there have been more than 6,000 calls, they still believe there is somebody out there who saw something unusual, who might have noticed somebody keeping an unusual schedule, or perhaps even bragging about having some involvement in these sniper attacks, and he is begging anybody with any information to please call in. They believe that will be the key to cracking this key -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Jeanne, we're going to come back to you shortly after the chief addresses all of you reporters once again, and the rest of us. Thanks so much for that update.

Does this latest shooting give police any new clues about the sniper? Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI profiler with more than 25 years of experience. He joins us from Washington. Welcome back, Clint.

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FMR. FBI PROFILER: Hi, Paula. Good morning.

ZAHN: Good morning.

So the question I have for you is a question I posed to the police chief of Montgomery County about an hour ago, and I told them there were folks in law enforcement who felt that in many ways, as he tried to reassure parents that it was OK for the kids to go back to school on Monday, that he might have, at the same time, challenged the killer.

Now, he denied, obviously, that that was the case, but is that a possibility here?

VAN ZANDT: Well, I think so. Number one, you're right, I mean, in his very best efforts to reassure parents. You know, what we're seeing here, Paula, we're seeing the first example of interactive terrorism in the United States.

We're seeing -- whether this terrorist has a face like Mohammed Atta or Timothy McVeigh, this individual is interacting with us. When we set up and look for him in Montgomery County, he tries to put us off by running down to Fredericksburg and shooting. When we reassure the community we're going to protect our schools, he goes one county east and shoots someone at the school. He was following this in the media, Paula. This is a tremendous high for him. And, as I say, this is interaction that we've never seen at this level before.

ZAHN: So how do the police stay ahead of this? I mean, clearly, Chief Moose doesn't want to make people any more vulnerable than they are. Some would say he's doing the responsible thing, by trying to reassure people it's OK to get back to their routine?

VAN ZANDT: Yes, this is the challenge. You know, chief moose has got a job, Paula, like you've covered so much this last summer, when we've had kidnappings and child murders, when men and women in law enforcement who go about their job quietly now have to stand up and explain to the public what we're doing. At the same time, reassuring the public. All of these challenges are going on.

As you know, Chief Moose yesterday appealed to the attorney general. He asked for additional resources. When I was if the FBI, Paula, we called that a special. When we have a special case that mean there's was no FBI agent, and there was no resource in the entire country that will not be sent, if asked for. So instead of seeing 50 FBI agents, you may see 250 or 500 Secret Service, ATF, marshal service, as well as local officers. This will be a manhunt and an investigation like this area has never seen in history.

ZAHN: I also asked the chief this morning if he would characterize who he thinks this sniper is, and he said he'd leave it up to guys like you to do that. Is this a thrill killer?

VAN ZANDT: Well, this is a thrill killer, Paula, but, you know, don't be mistaken that this individual is not focused. This is -- even though his activities -- you know, even though we think he's a madman. I mean, who would shoot mothers in the back, and who would shoot a child? This individual is a psychopath. He's a stone cold, antisocial personality. He cannot empathize with you or I. He doesn't care about our children. He doesn't care about shooting women, senior citizens. This is someone, Paula, who is following this case, who is interested, but the challenge is we're all following this case right now.

But there's going to be an extra level of interest on this person's part, because he wonders what law enforcement is doing, and he's getting his leads, unfortunately, from following the media.

And the other challenge is, Paula, he's getting his cues. He's making a decision where he's going to go next based upon what we're trying to protect. We can't get ourselves -- this is a terrorist. He's trying to take away our freedom, our comfort in this area, and he will not stop until we hunt him down and bring him before the criminal justice system.

ZAHN: Police now believe the sniper actually had to stand on a knoll above the school yesterday to get off this shot. Is this sniper taking chances he hasn't had to take before?

VAN ZANDT: You know, we're told that -- one press report said the grass was found at the school shooting, a report back where I live on Friday, in Fredericksburg, said they found another brass. That does a couple of things, Paula. Number one, it means he's not being careful about leaving physical evidence. I mean, we've got enough physical evidence, once we find him and the weapon, we will be able to forensically make a case against him.

The issue is, he may not care, Paula. This person may not care if he comes back alive in this. Again, this is a man on a mission. He is becoming more brazen. As he comes more brazen, you're exactly right, he will take risks, and the combination of the public working hand and glove with the authorities will bring this man to custody. What scares me as a parent and as a member of this community, is that he will act again, he won't stop in his own, and until we find him, until the public helps, until law enforcement identifies him, he will be out and about looking for more human targets.

ZAHN: So let me ask you this in the meantime. I know your wife was five minutes away from one of these shootings. Are people wise to go back to their daily lives? I know there's sort of a lockdown in school and kids aren't going to going outside for recess, not having lunch, but school's still in session?

VAN ZANDT: Two issues. Number one, Paula, we can't let terrorists win. I mean, my wife is out there shopping like she does. She's out there meeting with people and doing what she does on a daily basis. You and I have to do that, too. We can't let terrorists win. We have to be cautious. We have to look around and know what's going on.

Since September 11th, we are our brother's keeper. We have responsibilities for those around us. And if this terrorist is able to get us to stop shopping, stop going to the store, doing all of our activities at night, because we think he can't see us at night, then we will have copycats in the future doing these same type of things, because they will understand our Pavlovian response is fear. We can't show fear. We have to show concern. We have to show support for law enforcement, and we need to talking to our kids at this time, Paula.

Our children need to understand what's going on. They see it in the news. They hear it from friends. We have to assure them that their parents, their community is doing everything to protect them, and this person is an anomaly, he doesn't represent society, he's a terrorist, he doesn't like whatever we represent. He has a mission; he has a message, and we'll find that out. This man will probably be in custody very soon. He'll make a mistake. Somebody in the public will see him. But if we don't find him quick, Paula, he'll strike again.

ZAHN: All right, Clint Van Zandt, as always, we appreciate your perspective. We're seeing Chief Moose get ready take to the podium here. He's going to brief us on what the Montgomery County Police Department is doing, along with the help of the feds.

Let's listen.


MOOSE: The school's open. Everyone is in school. We've not had any situation at any school in Montgomery County this morning. There were some reports of shots near the metro overpass. But simply, we've investigated that. It was a backfire from a dump truck. There was also a call on Sunnyview Drive with regards to shots fired, and, again, that was unfounded, but that was thoroughly investigated, a very quick response, whereas there remains clearly anxiety.

I appreciate the people that are calling these sounds in. We do want to investigate. We do want to respond. So we encourage people, again, on shots fired, those kinds of matters, call 911. We are fully staffed. We are willing and ready to respond to those types of calls.

If you have tips, if you have things that you saw that were out of place, things that you feel we should know about with regards to someone's behavior, someone who's not been around, someone that is bragging about some situation that sounds terrible, then we'd want you to call the tip line: 240-777-2600.

Because there's been so much focus and energy on the schools and questions, we have asked another busy person in our county, school superintendent Dr. Jerry Weast to briefly talk with you about code blue, about the leadership demonstrated by his principals, and the tenor of some of our young people as they go about their education -- Doctor Weast.


The first thing I want to say is that our hearts go out to our sister district in Prince George's, and as they deal with the loss, we're keenly aware when losses occur what goes on. Some of our students were directly affected by this particular incident through loss of parents, and we're keenly aware of that.

That being said, this morning, school opened up on time. The attendance seems to be in the normal range. The attendance of our employees has been exemplary. Our bus drivers, all of our support personnel, our teachers have come in.

We're naturally concerned about the mental health, as well as the physical safety. Consequently, we have been distributing, by the Internet, and in hard copy and in multiple languages, as soon as we can get them translated, to our parents, to our teachers, to our school employees, age-appropriate suggestions of how to deal with the mental health issues. Tips to parents on how to talk to their students, and to enter into conversations to deal with this, to deal with this tragedy and tips to our elementary teachers, our middle school teachers and our high school teachers about how to appropriately address.

We're also very concerned about the welfare and the stress on our staff. And we have worked with our employee assistants, and our principals last evening to take a look at what might be the telltale warning signs of stress and some tips on how to deal with that when you see employees that are in stress, because we expect them to remain as calm and as focused as we possibly can in this very trying time.

I'm very pleased with the level of cooperation we've gotten from Doug Duncan and our county. This morning, we had 80 of those police recruits, which you saw on TV, looking for evidence yesterday, out at crossing guards situations, helping our children get safely into school. I think the number of walkers to school was down today. A lot of kids traveled to school with their parents. And we're appreciative of that, Appreciative that the parents come out helping us man the situation outside.

Again, the attendance at the high schools, which are in session right now, is pretty good. Our middle schools and elementary schools are coming into session right now.

MOOSE: I will take any questions. Our next briefing is scheduled for 12:00 noon.

QUESTION: Could you tell us, in terms of the public being nervous, and I know the discipline you have about not discussing where this investigation is at this point, but can you tell the public, is progress being made? Can you tell them enough to keep them calm at this point, that things are moving forward?

MOOSE: Ma'am, I would like to think that I've got the words to keep people calm, but I'm not sure that I do. I certainly am not going to talk about the investigation and somehow think that that's going to keep people calm. It is just still inappropriate to talk about the investigation.

I was very hopeful that before you folks got set up that we would have someone in custody. So I've never been able to actually know when we're going to bring this to closure. So I can't really say that that somehow is where you're going to find your calm. I think we need to focus and dig more deeply with our faith, with our friends, with our hopes of the future, that maybe we find calm there.

And then the reality is that anxiety is not all bad. I was anxious before I got married. I was anxious before I graduated from high school. There's good anxiety.

I wouldn't say that this is good anxiety, but at the same hand, it does alert one's senses. It does remind us of the things that we find special in life. So I'm not just going say that I need to find words so that people no longer have any anxiety whatsoever.

And we are realistic. We know that there is fear. Yesterday when I was trying to make my comments to my police officers, I've asked them to stand on corners. I've asked them to go places and unduly expose themselves. Yes, we raise our hand and say that we are going to rush toward bullets and rush towards harm, but this certainly has upped the fear for police officers.

So I don't know that I have those words. We are moving forward. We are working very, very hard. The various leadership pieces of our federal agencies, they're all here ,they're all checking in, they're all sending their people out to do various things that we need to further enhance the investigation, they're all declining any opportunity to speak to the media; they want to work.

I've got senior special agents in charge that are in this building doing work, trying to bring this investigation to closure. There is no ego. There is nobody bringing any "I'm special." everybody's working hard. That's all I can say to people is that, please believe me that all law enforcement personnel are doing due diligence on this task.

But your desire to somehow say, give me a time clock, we just don't have that capacity. QUESTION: Can you clarify? You just said we were hopeful that before you'd set up, we'd have someone in custody. Are you talking theoretically? Or did you have a specific suspect that you were zeroing in on there? And can you tell us more about that situation?

MOOSE: Ma'am, there was -- the first shooting that evening, the Wednesday evening, I'm hopeful when they called and told me there was a shooting that we would find someone. OK, so...

QUESTION: You're not saying you were hopeful this morning to have someone custody?

MOOSE: No, ma'am. I'm just telling her that when she says, are we getting close, our investigators always live for getting close. They always live for the arrest. So it's not just sometime in the future, but that's a constant state of mind, that they come to work with the idea that their job is to close the case. So I don't mean to confuse anyone.

QUESTION: When you say that attendance is within the normal range, would you quantify that? Is that the lower end of the normal range?

WEAST: Yes, it's definitely at the lower end of the normal range. In certain areas of the county where the incidents have been more targeted, we're running about 85-90 percent attendance, where we usually run as 95 percent, 92 percent, something like that. And countywide, it's running about right on target right now.

QUESTION: Doctor Weast, did you say what you are advising your teachers and principals as to how to deal with kids and what to tell them about this?

WEAST: First of all, we're trying to do it in an age-appropriate manner, and we're trying to work in conjunction with our parents. That's why we're putting our ideas up on the Web site, so we can all be in this together.

Little students, the younger the age, the more difficult it is for them to understand these types of issues. And so what we're trying to do is to deal with it in a way that is positive, and helps keep them focused not only on their teaching and learning, but how to deal with it at home.

Tomorrow, we're out of school. And it was a normal day that we were going to be out anyway. So we are going to try to even work more diligently with parents about how to deal with this on the day off. And we've got some lessons, tips, ideas, conversations. We have 150 psychologists. We're working with the county. We've got about 400 counselors. We're working with them.

So it's a very concerted effort to deal with specific incidents. There are some that will need a little bit more attention, and there are others that we can handle just in general.

But we do stand ready, and we have published numbers so parents can call us, if they see some issues with regard to their child, and we've also advised principals to take a look at their staff members and see what issues they might have.

MOOSE: In terms of where we're looking, the information that is available, one of the tremendous things that we've been able to gain from our federal partners, the ATF and the FBI, are certainly national, international organizations.

So when we talk about databases, when we talk about looking at the big picture, when we talk about looking at historical context, one of the real assets that those organizations bring to us is that kind of information, that big picture look. So please rest assured that all of that and continues to be available to us, our investigators, and very clearly it is the way that those organizations traditionally look at crime. So all of that is available to us, has been available, and we will continue to work this investigation from a big picture concept.

There was a question here, sir.

QUESTION: Sorry. This may be a question no one can answer at this point, but considering how the sniper is operating from a distance, what advice would you really give to parents or anyone else who was outside walking around on what to look for, how to avoid becoming a target?

MOOSE: Well, ma'am, the question about how to avoid becoming a target is very complex. We don't know that we have that answer, but, again, we are asking people to look for things that may be out of place, people that may be spending long periods of time sitting in a vehicle, where normally they don't sit in a vehicle, and very clearly, again, people driving erratically, people speeding away from the scene. As we said earlier, there are a lot of drivers in the Washington metropolitan area, there may be a lot of drivers that drive erratically, but we would like people to pay extra special attention to that, make a note of the vehicle; but again, we're just saying, be observant, you know, make note of your surroundings. It is very difficult.

QUESTION: Are you prepared to confirm a connection between the September 14th shooting at the silver -- at the -- another location in Maryland?

MOOSE: I didn't hear the question, sir.

QUESTION: Are you prepared to confirm earlier shooting on September 14th in another part of Maryland as being related to this?

MOOSE: Sir, I'll probably have to talk to you after this. I really don't know where you're going with the question and what it is.

QUESTION: Can talk a little bit about the white van, or delivery truck? Apparently there were some reports -- or witness who saw it leaving the scene yesterday? Is that right?

MOOSE: We remain interested in the white box truck, and so we still want people to call us about that. We still have our police officers trying to locate the white box truck that we think is the one that we're looking for.

QUESTION: The white truck that they saw yesterday at the school?

MOOSE: As has been my practice, I really am not going to talk about anything pertinent to actual investigative details. I think we are interested in a white box truck, as we have been and the description remains the same.

QUESTION: Can you confirm if the bullet casing was found, the shell, in the schoolyard yesterday? And what was the outcome of the search last night? Did you confiscate any weapons? Do you think you can elaborate on that?

MOOSE: I really will not be talking about any of the investigative details of the case, and then certainly more specifically, when you start to talk about the Prince George's County case, I know that Chief Wilson has been very accessible. His people are part of our bigger work group on this matter. But it is not in our interests to talk about any of the specifics, and certainly I don't know any of the specifics about any search warrant issues, and we will -- I will not be talking about any of that.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the reward and the chances that it will increase greatly over the $160,000 it currently is?

WEAST: The reward started out with $50,000 from Montgomery County. We added $10,000 from the Victims' Rights Foundation, and announced we that we were looking. The public was calling in saying, ho you can we help here? What can we do? We advised them to do things with their children, do things with their neighbors, but also, if they want to make a contribution to the reward fund, they can do that. We've set that up as well. So the public can contribute to that. And then, Governor Glendenning announced last night that he's adding, the state of Maryland is adding $100,000 to the reward. It's now up to $160,000 for information that we receive that leads to the arrest and indictment of the person or persons responsible for these vicious crimes.

And we are getting checks in. So when we have more information on what it's grown to now. We're getting a lot of calls, a lot of pledges in. When we get some checks in, we'll update that as well. But the fund is growing.

ZAHN: For those of you just joining us, Montgomery officials are bringing us up to date on the investigation into the sniper spree that ended up in the deaths of six people and the serious wounding of two others.

Acknowledging the clear anxiety of their community, but also encouraging residents to keep on calling into 911 anything unusual. The police chief explaining this morning they've gotten some 1,250 credible leads, explaining the kids in classrooms are being exported by -- under heavy guard. Attendance in Montgomery County Schools is being described at the lower end of the normal range. The attendance of employees exemplary. The chief acknowledging that some progress has been made, but not able to point to any evidence that suggests they have a suspect in mind at this hour.

So as soon was have more information available on any new leads in the investigation, we'll bring it to you live.


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