CNN BREAKING NEWS
Witness Describes Sniper Arrest
Aired October 21, 2002 - 12:51 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Ed Lavandera is standing by there. And Ed, I want you to bring our viewers who may just be tuning in, up to date on what exactly we know, what we don't know. The big questions that, of course, have to be answered at that news conference at the top of the hour.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, the biggest question of all is whether or not the people who have been arrested here, one at this Exxon gas station, and another person arrested in the area, we're told -- not particularly at this location, is whether or not they're, in fact, have any kind of connection to the sniper shootings and the reaction here has been swift, and that goes along with what authorities here have been saying for the last couple of weeks, that anytime, they get information that is sniper-related, they're going to treat it, as if it were related and then backtrack from there, if they need to. But that's exactly what we're seeing here today.
Basically, a lot of the information we've gotten so far is anecdotal stuff that witnesses here who are just working around this area by this Exxon station, saw this morning, there were several witnesses describing a heavy police presence, starting at around 8:30 Eastern Time, as teams of officers started moving in around the area.
One person we talked to worked at the car dealership just next door to this Exxon station. and he described how the authorities started moving, inching closer and closer to the Exxon station and then, at one point, just rushing up to the grassy hill here, just here, and just where this yellow and white canopy is that I see behind me, across the street. That's where the white Plymouth Voyager minivan was parked next to a telephone -- a public telephone, and that is where one person was pulled out of the passenger side of that car, put on the ground and arrested.
And what we've seen here take place throughout the rest of the day is investigators looking over those pay phones, on the ground, looking for clues, evidence and that sort of thing. So they continue to work that scene. They're also working -- seen just across the street at another gas station, where they've been searching cars and trash cans next to the gas pumps. But of course, the one point of interest is just what that person looked like. But one person who saw the whole thing take place describe what they saw.
DON NEILSON, WITNESS: It all happened very quickly. They approached the vehicle from the right rear. And at the first attempt to open the door, I don't know if it was a wet handle, because it was raining at that time, not just damp, it was raining. The officers hand slipped off the handle. Whether it was wet or locked, I don't know, but on the second attempt, the door opened, the sliding door. That officer reached in the van and quickly had a slightly built man in dark clothes on the pavement.
LAVANDERA: Can you tell us what he looked like, as far as race or ethnicity or was it too quick?
NEILSON: I've repeated that this before, he was not white, he was not black, but his skin was dark, black hair and dark clothes. No white clothing at all.
LAVANDERA: Did he appear to be -- he didn't appearing to be armed?
LAVANDERA: Did he appear to be surprised or kind of frightened at what was going on?
NEILSON: Well, it happened so quick. If you can imagine, reaching inside of a van and grabbing something very quickly. And it happened -- by the time that door opened, it couldn't have been two seconds, by the time the guy was on the ground.
LAVANDERA: Well, that's very consistent with what we've heard from several witnesses here throughout the course of the morning, just people are very impressed about how quickly and swift this whole procedure moved and moved into this area at this Exxon gas station -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Ed Lavandera, stand by. We're going to be coming back to you, of course, as we all await the news conference at the top of the hour. Hopefully, we'll get some new information.
In the meantime, I want to bring in Howard Kurtz. He's the media critic for "The Washington Post." He's also the host of CNN's own "RELIABLE SOURCES," which is seen, of course, Saturday nights.
Howie, when you take a look at how we're doing, those of us in the news media trying to cover an important breaking story like this, what is your overall assessment?
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": It's a frustrating process for journalists, and I think people are seeing that, Wolf, played out on the screen. I mean, this morning, for example, you have a dramatic scene of two arrests. But for the last three or so hours, reporters have very little information about what kind of arrests these were, who's in custody.
And I think, in the old days, you know, you'd wait until 6:30 at night, or you'd pick up the newspaper the next morning and you get at least part of the story. Right now people are watching us, trying to pry information out of police officials who, through this -- out this probe, have not been terribly generous with putting out information .
BLITZER: And we're looking at live pictures, Howie, of where the new conference in Richmond will occur. And as we await that news conference for some official word on what precisely did unfold on the streets of Richmond earlier today, let me read to you an e-mail that we received a question from Nick in Vancouver who wants to know this: "Do you guys really think you are doing responsible reporting on the sniper? Do you really think you are doing a service to the public? I don't."
And I get a lot of those e-mails, as I'm sure you have, as well. Howie, what are we supposed to do, if not cover an incredibly important story like this, almost as thoroughly and as responsibly as we can?
KURTZ: Well, two issues, Wolf. One is that there's been so much coverage, particularly on the 24-hour cable networks, that not only has it overshadowed anything else that is going on but, you know, we have these four or five days when there's no shooting and there's not a lot of hard news. The media tend to fill that air time with speculation.
I don't have too much problem with the reporting of this story. Unfortunately, there's been maximum interest and minimum facts available. But there's been a lot of experts, paraded before the cameras, who have said that the sniper must be young, middle aged, has a family, doesn't have a family, works on weekends, doesn't work on weekends. A lot of this, they have no way of knowing it, they have no way of knowing if there's any kind of terrorist link.
And I think that people are reacting both to the volume of the coverage and to the speculation, which they know -- as we know, we don't know, at this point, who this sniper is. We hope to learn more soon.
BLITZER: And maybe we'll learn in the next few minutes. We'll learn something. We're going to stand by for this news conference at the top of the hour.
Howard Kurtz from of "The Washington Post" and CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," thanks for joining us.
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