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Will Beltway Sniper Be Caught?

Aired October 20, 2002 - 10:19   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: More now on our continuing coverage of the sniper on the loose. We are still awaiting a press conference out of Virginia to give us some detail as to whether there is any connection between a shooting that took place last night in Hanover County, just about 15 miles north of Richmond, about 90 miles south of the Washington, D.C. area. And when that happens, we will, of course, be taking that live.
For now, though, we're going to join our CNN security analyst, Kelly McCann. He is in Washington to talk a little bit more about what we do know about the similarities or dissimilarities so far. What are the similarities that you see? Even though this is some 90 miles outside of the other string of shootings, what similarities do you see in this case? And we don't know officially yet whether this shooting last night is linked to the other string of shootings. But what similarities do you see, if any?

KELLY McCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there's a couple, Fredricka. On is, of course, there's very much a similarity between the relationship of the shooter to this victim. It wasn't as if that particular person could have been time and place predictable to stop there, get gas, maybe get something to eat. Maybe not. So maybe he didn't know that he was going to stop there until he saw it. So I think that everyone's kind of discounted that idea.

Secondly, it is a stand-off shooter. In other words, it wasn't a walk-up robbery or anything like that. And there seems to be no competing motive with that theory. It wasn't a robbery, it wasn't a road rage incident. There was no fist fight or anything like that. So that would all lead people to kind of go to the assumption that this is another one of the sniper's attacks.

WHITFIELD: This still speaks to the randomness. This 37-year- old man was with his wife in the parking lot of a Ponderosa, leaving the restaurant, heading to their car. And then he was struck in the abdominal area.

Right now he is still at the hospital and maybe undergoing another round of surgery. He's in critical condition. That's the status that we know of him so far.

That this shooting would take place far outside the perimeter of the other string of shootings certainly raises some suspicion as to whether they are, indeed, linked. But already this multi- jurisdictional task force is in that vicinity, trying to make the link. What is it about this shooting -- you know, there are so many shootings, you know, in this kind of a span of miles. What is it about this one that would make those authorities respond and perhaps look for any potential links?

McCANN: Well, of course I think everybody's going to err on the side of safety. And, in fact, the counties have been working together as long as four or five days ago to post up vehicles on on-ramps and access ramps through Route 95, that corridor.

The best theory, I guess you'd say is Casey, our CNN's criminologist, when she said that, in fact, he's probably been monitoring the media and the police efforts, et cetera, and tried to move outside an intensified police area, not knowing that it extend all the way down to Richmond already.

And she said therein lies a kind of pattern. So I've got to go with her. She is qualified to say those kind of things and to evaluate, you know, the performance of that.

But if you look at the tree line issue. I mean, that's an interesting issue. People have thought, well, you know, he fired very close. You know 100 feet or 30 yards, if he was using the train appropriately. If he is a self-schooled kind of shootist, he was undoubtedly away from that tree line. And we really don't know the ranges. The only thing that, ballistically, we know, is that he did hit low. As he hit low at the Michael's in Fredericksburg and as he hit low at the school, which would mean that he doesn't, in fact, understand or didn't choose to hold differently on his target, because of the trajectory of the round.

So that would indicate that those ranges were closer than the previous 100 meters and 150 meters.

WHITFIELD: And you mentioned the tree line, this potential barrier or a place in which to present some sort of camouflage. Very similar, if we can draw some comparisons to the Tasker Middle School out of Prince George's County, where it turned out that there was some physical evidence that they found in the woods across the street from the school.

McCANN: Well, here at the bureau, we pulled down an overhead image, and when we looked at it, although it is not an insignificant difference, that wooded area from the back of the parking lot to the next roadway, you can move laterally. And remember, when an event like this takes place, it's human nature to focus inward, not outward.

So in fact, could he have used that tree line, then, to mask his movement laterally to where a car was pre-staged and move out that way? Absolutely. We simply don't know enough. And most of this that's going on, of course, is just educated guess and opinion.


McCANN: But I think CNN has done a great job sticking on the point and the fact. And to the best of our ability, we'll stay there. WHITFIELD: Ballistics seems to be the only way into which definitively tried to tie some of these cases. Obviously, the investigators are there, looking for any kind of casings, any sort of physical evidence that may show commonalities between this shooting and the others.

Without that, and without witnesses, do you find that that is what makes this kind of investigation so particularly difficult?

McCANN: Absolutely. Physical evidence has no opinion or attitude. In other words, people can be subject to all manner of influence. Physical evidence has no opinion one way or another. It just is. Now an interesting point that Eric brought out in one of the previous hours. And I agree with him. I discussed this with some friends of mine.

The military round that is used for the service rifle has been now over-stabilized, and they were not getting good results on impact over in Afghanistan and as far back as Somalia. Which would lead us to believe that the round is probably a soft-nosed hunting bullet that fragments more easily on impact.

So without being able to take those fragments and then have the ATF go through microscopic surveys and try to match up lands and grooves and then hopefully find a casing where you can look at the actual tooling marks that result on the case, it just isn't a complete picture.

So we will need physical evidence.

WHITFIELD: All right. Kelly McCann. Thank you very much. Appreciate your insight.

McCANN: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: And of course, we're going to continue to watch this story as we still await that press conference scheduled in the Virginia area to update us on whether there is, indeed, a connection. No definitive connections have been made between the shooting last night and the other string of shootings, the 11 in the D.C. area. We're going to take a short break right now, and we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Police say every bullet or casing recovered so far from the 11 confirmed sniper shootings in the D.C. area have been the same caliber, .223. And joining us now to explain how investigators are evaluating ballistics, CNN firearms analyst, retired Army Sergeant Major Eric Haney. Good to see you, Eric.


WHITFIELD: All right. So it's very important in this to try to remove the bullet from this latest victim, isn't it, in order to try to make the tie? Because right now he's still going another series of surgeries, this 37-year-old man shot last night in Virginia. HANEY: Right. That's what I understand, if they've left the bullet in, whatever fragments are inside right in there for the time being. Because you know, to retrieve them induces more trauma on the victim.

WHITFIELD: What happens in the case of being unable to retrieve that bullet, because sometimes they do elect, sometimes they elect to leave the bullet in there.

Is the shell casing, locating the shell casing, going to be enough to be a fingerprint, so to speak?

HANEY: Yes, it will, because they have the one shell casing from the school shooting. So that's the one. Now they have a match for that. And should they find the shell casing at this site, they can match it up, or they can exclude this one as being from the same rifle.

WHITFIELD: At the same time, if it turns out that it is, also, a .223 casing and that's all they're able to retrieve from the site, given that that is still a very common weaponry, coming from a very common rifle, is that still enough in which to say this sort of a coincidence is more than a coincidence? It is definitely linked to the other shootings?

HANEY: Yes, there is. There are distinctive marks made on it by each type of rifle, and each individual rifle. They're not as conclusive, 100 percent so, as the marks of the rifling from the barrel, but you know, in the minds of the forensic people and the police, they'll have enough information to link it or to say no.

WHITFIELD: What likely is taking place at that crime scene right now, as they continue to look for more physical evidence, since they can't rely on the fact of being able to extract the bullet from the latest victim?

HANEY: They're working it and combing it with that literal fine- toothed comb. As we understand, they have all the police cadets out, the interns, just shoulder to shoulder down and going through the grass. They will expand out, as we've had daylight in the last several hours, and just work that whole area meticulously.

WHITFIELD: Yes. This is a high profile investigation. Is the technology or the technique in which to locate such physical evidence, whether it be ballistic or otherwise, likely to be very different, or a little bit more, you know, more high technology, more sophisticated, than your average crime scene?

HANEY: Well, I'll tell you this. We are enamored with our gizmos and gadgets in our country, and that's just sort of American. Now, old-fashioned work is what's going to do this. Just doing the right things that we know work time after time after time, not getting too caught up in our little Star Wars kinds of things.

WHITFIELD: The way in which the shooting had been conducted, or at least the end result that we're aware of, is it your view that this just might be the work of a pair or an individual, given that there are variations of the target of the victims?

HANEY: The only variation has been that a child was targeted at one time. The victims themselves are random. Here's what's not random about it: they're very meticulously, and it is apparent, making reconnaissance and selecting the sites from which they shoot. And that's more important to them than anything else, the site that's within their capabilities of shooting, which aren't all that great, but has enough distance away from the target area so that they're not immediately caught in the scan of anyone who happens to be in the area. And it gives them an easy way to get away, and every case that I've looked at when I've visited sites up there, they were able to pull out of the area immediately on a smaller feeder road and get out of sight of the shooting site itself before they hit the first stop light.

WHITFIELD: And if this, indeed, is connected to the other 11 shootings, what you're saying would apply in this case, given that this location is right off of Route 1, right off 95.

HANEY: Well, it is. A number of these have the same sort of look to them, in that it's one major intersection away from an interstate. Now personally, I don't believe that they're jumping onto the major roads or the interstate. Police have been very good about locking those down. I think part of their meticulous planning is where are the routes that will get us out of here that we think the police probably won't be able to lock down too rapidly.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sgt. Major Eric Haney, thanks very much. Appreciate it. Good to see you.


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