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News Conference on Sniper Investigation

Aired October 16, 2002 - 12:11   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan speaking to reporters in Rockville, Maryland -- let's listen in.

DOUG DUNCAN, MONTGOMERY COUNTY EXECUTIVE: I also want to thank Governor Glendening for his suspension of the recreational discharge of firearms. County Executives Curry (ph), Roby (ph) and Owens (ph) and I discussed that. We asked the governor to do that. We want to make sure that all of the law enforcement resources we have are focused on this investigation, and we don't want to have our officers chasing false alarms of shots fired in our counties.

And I want to make a comment on the -- we're getting a lot of questions about the costs of this investigation, the cost of the task force and the economic impact of these shootings. I want to assure the public that every resource available, whether it's local, state or federal, is being brought to bear in this case in an unprecedented display of cooperation. There is nothing that's being held back because of a lack of funding.

On the economic impact, we are all struggling together in these shootings, every one of us -- individuals, families, neighborhoods, groups, businesses. We are all struggling together to get through this. And all segments of the public have helped us in the investigation. All segments of the public working together is what's going to enable us as a community to come out of this.

We've done no analysis of any economic impact from these shootings. We are not going to do any analysis of any economic impact. We are not going to distract from the single focus of the investigation and everyone involved in this, and that focus is to catch whoever's doing this as quickly as we can.

So, now, let me introduce Captain Nancy Demme, who is going to give us an update on the investigation -- Captain.

CAPT. NANCY DEMME, MONTGOMERY CO. POLICE: And just briefly, Special Agent in Charge Bouchard, Special Agent in Charge Ballard (ph) and Chief Moose are at a planning session in terms of strategy response to this situation, and that's why they are not here.

There have been several press releases by the various federal agencies letting you know how many investigators they've allocated to this task force, and we keep getting repeated phone calls, people want to know how many investigators are involved. Please suffice it to say that there are hundreds of investigators involved in this. We're not going to pull them from task to try and take a head count of the number of individuals who are assisting.

The issue regarding a composite has come up repeatedly, and at this point, there is not a composite. Fairfax County Police have worked with their witnesses, and unfortunately, because of darkness and distance and perhaps, you know, excitement and adrenaline at the time, they are unable to come up with a composite. So, there are no composites available of the shooter.

The press has reported that a gun involved is an AK-74. The witness firmly believes that this is the weapon that he saw. Keep in mind that, just like the vehicles, each witness firmly believes what they do see. It's not to discredit the witness in the least. That may be what he thinks he saw, and we have to keep in mind that weapons are interchangeable, as are vehicles. They could pick up another weapon. Please don't narrow your focus to just one weapon.

According to Fairfax, the light-colored van right now, they are not doing a composite on that, because it seems -- the witness seems to think that it's closer to what we already have out in terms of the van. So, there's nothing that they could do that would create another composite.

It is an Astro van with a ladder rack, silver in color, on top, left rear taillight was not functioning at the time.

I also have available -- and we'll be handing it out once we're finished -- several of the media have asked questions about, how do we tell people to be better witnesses? Remember, though, that personal safety comes first. If you hear the sound of a gun shot, we want you to get down or seek cover. Please remember that is paramount, your safety.

Look in the direction of the sound. Make a mental note of the persons or the vehicles in the area.

With regard to people, remember that some facts and characteristics are permanent and some are temporary. For example, people -- temporary characteristics would be clothing, color of clothing, hairstyle, facial hair, beard, mustache, glasses. Permanent would be height, build, complexion.

For vehicles, temporary would be color, tag number, dents, primer, lights that are broken. For vehicles, permanent would be more the make or model of the vehicle.

Some temporary characteristics can be altered more easily than others. Commit what you saw to memory. Have a pen available on your person, and if it's not -- and if paper is not available, write it on your hand. Remain on the scene in a safe place until police arrive. Do not allow other witnesses or the media to contaminate your memory. Do not compare or discuss what you saw with another witness.

But remember, first of all, safety is the most important thing.

All right, we'll entertain just a few questions.

QUESTION: Captain, could you further refine for us -- now that we've had an additional shooting and more information, could you further refine what you would like to see phoned in as far as tips? Give us an idea of what we're looking at?

DEMME: I think we're still looking for people to phone in, the people, potential suspects in their mind, in terms of the ability that we're talking about -- anger, these kinds of weapons missing from work. I think the chief reiterated some of these things. But you're looking for a person who is missing during this timeframe.

There have been about, I think, 12 now shootings at different times. And that person has to be unaccounted for by everyone at that time, assuming they're acting alone, and we do.

QUESTION: Captain, with regard -- we don't have a composite.

DEMME: Right.

QUESTION: Can't make a composite at this stage of the game, talking about memories and ideas being clouded. We've heard about an olive-skinned person, we've heard about a small person, we've heard about two people. What can you say out there with regard to keeping your mind open, or what do you want people to do with that information (UNINTELLIGIBLE) broadcast?

DEMME: Unfortunately, it's sort of like the vehicles and the weapons. At this point, because we don't have a refined description to go by, keep in mind that it could be any description. I know that that's not what the public wants to hear, but it's true. Don't limit the focus down to one person.

When you hear the sound, turn quickly, see what you see and commit it to memory. If it means shut your eyes to commit it, obviously after safety, but remember what you saw and don't let it be contaminated by what you've heard from other people who are also on the scene or the media. Yes?

QUESTION: Tom Ridge has been quoted as saying that terrorism has not been ruled out here. And given the fact that Chief Moose yesterday said that whoever is doing this -- one person, two people -- could be using more than one vehicle. What is the possibility that one vehicle is being used as a decoy or a distraction from who is actually doing the shooting?

DEMME: Well, you're asking me to speculate, and all of those things are possible. I mean, it is possible that we have a contractor who is available to about five or six different vehicles, and maybe that's why there are different vans. That's why I'm trying to tell people not to narrow down the focus of what is -- all of those things are possible. So, keep your mind open.

QUESTION: Has the composite that you put out yesterday produced anything resembling any positive results? DEMME: Unfortunately, I don't know the answer to that question. That would be one of the leads that the investigators are following up.

QUESTION: Is there a witness who saw the Fairfax shooting get a clear look at the...

DEMME: I think I answered that. There are a couple people who saw what they -- believe they saw a man shoot. Now, unfortunately, distance and darkness and perhaps adrenaline have made it -- them unable to give us a clear composite that we can disseminate.


QUESTION: ... dealing with a terrorist?

DEMME: OK, wait one second.

QUESTION: Can you talk about this description that's been publicized of an olive-skinned man, small, can you offer any guidance on that?

DEMME: Unfortunately, no, I think that's the problem is there is so much disparity in their descriptions that there is no one description to put out.

QUESTION: Is there anyone prepared to say that we're dealing with a terrorist here now, do you know?

DEMME: Not at this point, no. I mean, obviously, that is always, as we just discussed just a second ago, always an option. But when we do have an individual who is causing terror in the hearts of the public, but is his motivation political, religious? Does he have a message that he's sending we're not getting yet? We don't know.


DEMME: Not at this point, no we don't.


DEMME: I just said that, yes.



DEMME: OK, one second, one second, go.


DEMME: They have no description of a suspect at this point.

QUESTION: Not even of a Russian profile?

DEMME: I have no idea what Russian profile you're talking about. QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

DEMME: No, we have -- no, I don't.


DEMME: Did you just arrive late, perhaps? Let me give you that one more time then.

Chief Moose, Agent Ballard (ph) and Agent Bouchard are at a Washington area chiefs meeting conducting a strategy response to this issue. Next?

QUESTION: You seem to be more emphatically saying "an individual."

DEMME: Say it louder.

QUESTION: I said, you seem to be more emphatically saying "an individual" rather than -- are you referring to the shooter when you say that, or are you referring to just one person?

DEMME: In the context, when I'm talking about a composite? I'm not sure.

QUESTION: The chief, when he's been out here, has been very -- he seems to be careful to say "killer or killers."

DEMME: OK, well, then in that case, please catch everything that I am saying in that term also. I know I am not narrowing it down. It's probably just the words that I'm using. Instead of just saying "killer or killers," I am just generically saying "killer." Please use it to consider that we are considering both. Yes?

QUESTION: One more attempt on what you have learned. Was this a male? Was he middle-aged, young or old?

DEMME: Well, I think the only thing the common denominator thus far is male.

QUESTION: May I ask a question of Mr. Duncan? Could you give us an update, sir? Obviously, it doesn't take a public official to tell us that people are upset, people are concerned, people want you to catch this guy. But I wonder if you could give us an update on how the mood in your county and what you're hearing from surrounding counties in the district, if it has changed at all over, let's say, since the weekend? One on Friday, a break, then one the day before yesterday. Has there been a change, and if so...

DUNAN: Yes, there has been tremendous concern and anxiety in our community since the first day. And I think the concern, particularly with the shooting of the student, the concern has risen since we haven't made an arrest in this case. So, the concern levels are rising, and the anxiety levels are rising.

But also, I think what we're starting to see, and what we've seen for the last several days, is the resolve, the determination, the strength of this community, of this region, is rising as well. People are going to work, they are sending their children to school, they are shopping, they are doing as much of their normal routine as possible. They have changed their behavior in some ways, but other ways, they're keeping it as normal as they can.

So, it's this strength, and they're reaching out. What I have seen in the last few days is people are reaching out to their friends, to their family, to their faith, to whatever they need to draw strength from. And we're starting to see this community, and we've been seeing this community reach out in ways to rely on each other, to bring people together, to make us stronger, and we are seeing that.

And while there's tremendous concern here, while there's tremendous anxiety, there's also tremendous strength that is coming through, and it's the strength of the American people.

BLITZER: The Montgomery County executive, Doug Duncan, speaking to reporters, expressing optimism that the people of his county, nearly a million residents of Montgomery County, are getting together, are showing the kind of courage and determination to withstand these kinds of pressures in the aftermath of this shooting spree that has affected some five million people in the Greater Washington area.

We heard the Montgomery County Police official, Captain Nancy Demme, say that they're not releasing any composite sketches today of any suspects, even though there is some eyewitness accounts of some descriptions of an individual or individuals who were seen at the last shooting Monday night outside a Home Depot in Fairfax County, Virginia, in northern Virginia, not very far away from the District of Columbia.

I want to bring in Bill Daly. He's a former FBI forensic analyst, to get some assessment of what's going on here.

Bill, you heard Captain Demme say -- perhaps inadvertently, she later corrected herself -- that we're working on the assumption that someone is acting alone, as "we do," she said. I don't know if you were paying attention to that.


BLITZER: That seemed to suggest a lone sniper, a lone gunman. Do you think she was speaking out of class, if you will?

DALY: No, I think later on, she corrected her statement. I certainly picked up on that. It was something I noted, and I thought that was perhaps revealing. But I think her later -- not retraction, but clarification that when they speak of that, they're speaking kind of more in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of sense that it could be, you know, one or someone else or a couple people working together.

I don't think they have conclusively ruled one in or ruled out. I think given some of the circumstances that we've seen over the past few incidents, including the last one the other night. BLITZER: It would seem, though -- correct me if I'm wrong -- at least some of the eyewitness accounts, the number of vehicles that have been described, different kind of vehicles, the number of shootings themselves, it might be more than one person. That's very possible, isn't it?

DALY: Well, certainly that thought has moved along from the beginning. When I first heard these -- going just with statistics, you know, it usually is a lone individual working in these types of incidents, in some of these serial-type killings. There's only a small percentage, perhaps around 20, that involve more than one person.

But as you see these incidents revealing themselves is that there is some suggestion -- and I only say some suggestion -- that perhaps somebody is assisting in doing some, you know, counter-surveillance or helping him get in position, so that they don't get into a direct conflict with police or individuals.

We heard in this press conference that, you know, the fact that no one was able to get a real good look, even though this individual was only a number of yards away in this case from the victim, is that people were still not able to get a good look.

So, I don't know whether this is positioning by just the sniper, you know, himself, or whether there is some cooperation here in helping somebody get that person in position.

BLITZER: Earlier today, the Homeland Security director, Tom Ridge, said terrorism could not be ruled out as a possibility. Was he just being overly cautious, or do you really think that that is possible that what we're seeing over these past two weeks in Washington could be some part of some sort of broader terrorist plot?

DALY: Well, you know, I think that if we saw a larger plot unfolding, or, again, some suggestion in what our investigators are seeing, we would have seen more of a federal control over this incident. We would have seen the FBI or the Joint Terrorism Task Force taking the lead on this investigation.

It still is being considered a capital investigation, a state investigation into murder. And therefore, the law enforcement agencies are assisting the local authorities.

It still doesn't hold out, Wolf, that we don't have somebody who, at the end of the day, could claim that they are supporting some cause in some sympathetic way or similar to what we saw in the past few weeks where we had, you know, some people out in Oregon who were self- proclaimed terrorists and then went knocking on the door of Afghanistan for participation.

In this case, we may have somebody who claims this, but I don't think there's anything now that suggests we're talking about a larger plot unfolding or something that, you know, is more deeply rooted in an international terrorist group.

BLITZER: Bill Dale, a former FBI forensic investigator, stand by. Thanks for your analysis.

DALY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be coming back to you, of course, periodically as well.


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