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Authorities Hold Press Briefing on Sniper Investigation

Aired October 23, 2002 - 12:09   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We now see Chief Moose walking to the microphones. We're going to go right to his news conference. He is accompanied by Doug Duncan, the county executive.
CHIEF CHARLES MOOSE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE: The shooting in Montgomery County yesterday on Grand Pre Road and Connecticut Avenue is linked to the other shootings in Montgomery County, Prince George's County, Spotsylvania County, Fairfax County, Prince William County and Hanover County, Virginia.

I'll ask Special Agent Mike Bouchard to talk about the work from the lab.

MIKE BOUCHARD, ATF: Thank you, Chief.

The ballistics evidence, as well as other evidence, has linked this, the 11th shooting together now.

There are a couple of other points I want to raise; perhaps it will alleviate some of the questions later on.

There seems to be a lot of questions about what we're releasing and when. I want to make sure all of you know, we release information when we can and whatever we can. There are a lot of different forces at work on an investigation like this. A lot of it involves timing, so hopefully, when we can make all of these forces come together, we're going to release the information when it's appropriate.

If it's out before we're ready for it to go out, it inhibits our ability to do our job. We need to be focusing our time on doing the job, not putting rumors to rest.

The second thing I guarantee that you're going to get when we're here is you'll get accurate information. We are not here to mislead anyone. What we tell you is accurate.

Third, I want to ensure everyone, we communicate with all of the police chiefs in this area, as well as all of the other ones who have been affected by these shootings, every day. We communicate all of the information that we get. We have their task force members sitting with us. They are aware of all off the information that we're aware of. They may not have the exact wording, but the context of what we have is known to all of them.

So, we're certainly not withholding anything as far as safety. We're all parents, and we're certainly concerned for the safety of our kids, as well as our co-workers, et cetera. The next thing is, we seem to get a lot of questions about what we're doing and why. Everything possible is being done on this case. There are a lot of talented law enforcement people working on this case from a number of agencies. We all have a lot of different expertise, and it's all coming together at once. Some things take longer than others, just like an illness, some things don't respond to treatment right away. Some cases don't respond to our methods right away. We try new things. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer.

We would have liked to have solved this by now, but certainly it's not for the sake that we're trying our best. So, it may take a little longer, but we're certainly confident that we're going to resolve this.

The last is, progress is being made every day. We get one step closer every day. As I have said before, it's one tip away. But all of the leads that come in, we follow those up every day, and we eliminate potential suspects. So, progress is made every day, and it just puts us one step closer.

Thank you.

MOOSE: Thank you, Mike.

And certainly, to follow that up, we continue to aggressively work all of the leads. So, we want to encourage anyone with any information to call the national hotline -- 1-888-324-9800.

And we want to continue to stress that whether you're in Maryland or in Virginia or the District of Columbia that information is taken in at that source and is given out to the investigators.

Chief Charlie Deane of the Prince William County Police Department is doing some work as part of the task force, and he has asked Sergeant Kim Chen (ph) to share some information with you.


During the course of our investigation in Prince William County, we think that there are possibly more witnesses out there, people who might have heard a gunshot and maybe haven't talked to investigators yet, because they think the information they have is not important.

So, we'd like to ask anyone who was in the area of Bolts Ford (ph) Road and 234 in Manassas on Wednesday, October 9, between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m. to call the Prince -- correction -- to call the hotline number.

We also are looking for anyone who might have been driving a white van in the area at that time. We've gotten several reports of a white van being seen in the area. We've checked out a lot of them, but there are still a few that we have not been able to track down. So, if you have any information, please call the hot line, and tell them that you're calling about the Prince William County homicide.

Thank you. MOOSE: In yesterday's situation in Montgomery County, we strongly feel, as does our Chief Deane, that there are witnesses that have not come forward, that we have not talked to. And whereas, this is a delicate matter, we feel like in some ways there may be some people with some type of immigrant status that may be witnesses, and because of failure to communicate, failure to educate, that when we have federal law enforcement officials involved in as investigation, perhaps some of our immigrant community members feel like there would be some problem for them because of their status, or some questions with regards to their status if they come forward.

So, we hope that is not the case, but if that is the case, we want to stress that that is not our interest in this matter. We will work with them. We need to hear from them. And please understand that that is not the interest of the task force, it's not the interest of the Montgomery County Police Department, and we really need to hear from them, as we continue to put this puzzle together.

So, if that is the case, then I hope they hear this message, and we will continue as a country, I guess, to address that, and hope all people will feel that they can work with law enforcement.

Our next briefing will be at noon tomorrow, and we'll, at this point, take questions.

QUESTION: Chief, can you comment on reports about the sniper having called the FBI five times or more, not getting through and being frustrated and calling them incompetent? Is there any sense that things have been straightened out, if they need to be?

MOOSE: Ma'am, I think the question was, could I comment on whether or not there is information that someone has called us and not gotten through or not communicated. And, ma'am, whereas I don't know where all of that is coming from, then certainly any call to the tip lines is held in the strictest confidentiality. We need people to continue to call us. It would be something that we wouldn't talk about. And again, to verify or not verify anything with regards to that question wouldn't be appropriate. It may hinder our investigation.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) workers who are witnesses, are you saying that they'll be immune from deportation? Or how exactly would you like to couch that, so they would come forward?

MOOSE: Well, I'd just like to couch that anyone that may have immigrant status, that we would want them to understand that we want to talk to them, we want to ask questions about what they saw or heard in the area of this shooting. That will be the focus of our questions. And certainly, please understand, sir, that Montgomery County police officers do not have any authority or authorization to enforce immigration laws, and we want to talk to them about this crime.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on hand at the tip line to handle calls from Spanish-speaking residents (ph)? MOOSE: Sir, not only to handle Spanish, but any number of different languages, and that certainly has been from the very start. We appreciate -- and the question was, do we have people that can handle different languages on the tip line? Yes, we do.

QUESTION: Are you looking, Chief, for the possibility of calling out the National Guard to help you enforce safety? The possibility of calling out the National Guard to help enforce, help you with your job and make people feel safer?

MOOSE: Well, sir, I can only surmise that that question comes from perhaps some responses from our Governor Glendening. And I wasn't in any of those meetings. I don't know exactly what he said, and I think that those should be referred back to him.

QUESTION: Chief, in the past when we asked you about the notes and whether you might release them, to let people see what the handwriting of the writer looks like, you said that that's something that you had weighed but decided ultimately not to do. I wonder if since you've now released a portion of the text yesterday, whether you can release that portion. Or if you've thought about releasing that portion since it's now been publicly disclosed, so that people might see the writing, and perhaps someone would call in with a clue.

MOOSE: With regards to the question of, are we going to release something so that people can see handwriting, and then make some kind of determination, certainly that has been a question that has been part of our deliberations. And again, the best people that we have are working on this matter. We've not done that. It doesn't say that we won't do that, but we're not doing that at this time.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chief, do you have a problem? Because you're telling illegal immigrants now, it's not our business to deal with your immigration status. But in Richmond this week, two men who were picked up in connection with this case were turned over to the INS. Have you got a bit of a problem here communicating with this community and convincing them that what you're saying today is going to be honored, because of past actions in this case?

MOOSE: Well, personally, I think that this is no new issue. We've always felt that members of immigrant communities throughout this nation have various thoughts and concepts about their willingness to cooperate with law enforcement. This is not the first time I've ever given this kind of message to ask immigrants to come forth, to trust us, to work with us, to recognize that maybe the way we do law enforcement is different than the way they do it in the country they may have been living in to prior to living here.

And certainly, if someone finds themselves in a situation as a direct result of activity connected to this case, then that does make the job more difficult. But again, we would encourage them to understand the issue of the greater good, the magnitude, the importance of this. And then certainly, we will continue to work that issue as local law enforcement agency.

But first and foremost, my plea is that anyone that's got any information in this case, please come forward. We have the tip line. We've committed to keeping the matters confidential. We have a reward fund. We've never said that the reward fund is only for American citizens. The reward is for anyone that will help us make an arrest and get an indictment on the people or the persons -- the person or the people doing this crime.

MESERVE: If I could follow up just for a minute. Then, can you address at all the implications of those arrests in Richmond for your message today?

MOOSE: I didn't hear the follow up, I'm sorry.

MESERVE: Could you address at all the implications that those arrests in Richmond and the handing over to INS have on your message today?

MOOSE: I really can't address Richmond. I'm just saying that at the shooting in Montgomery County yesterday, we feel that there might have been some people that did not come forth. If they do have immigration status, then we want to, again, hear from them. If they're just -- don't have any immigration issues, don't have any issues, if they're just people that didn't come forward, the plea is still out there. We need to talk to you, if you were in the area of this crime.

QUESTION: Chief, people are hanging on every word, and when you, an authority, say today that every day we're one step closer, we're making progress, is it merely as a public morale boost, or is there something, without getting into specifics, that gives you a reason of an investigative nature to make that statement?

GARY BALD, FBI: I don't think it's appropriate to get into detail on the progress of the investigation. I will assure you and the public that there is progress being made, and we wouldn't make that representation for reasons other than it is, in fact, true.


MOOSE: OK, excuse me, sir.

QUESTION: Two questions. No. 1, we continue to guess complaints of people trying to call the tip line and receiving busy signals. That's one. No. 2, are you comfortable with the training that's been given to the people that are taking those calls (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

MOOSE: We're very comfortable with their training, yes.

BALD: The tip line is staffed by, in addition to FBI employees, a variety of representatives from other law enforcement agencies. As is the case in any major investigation, you have peaks and valleys in the number of calls that come in. It's not unexpected that from time to time the number of calls coming in will overtax the system. At this point, we feel very comfortable with the amount of coverage that we currently have, and we feel that the information we're receiving from the public is being very helpful in our investigation.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) acting in the best knowledge (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BALD: Yes, sir, I am.

QUESTION: Is your sudden emphasis on the immigrant community of having them come forward indicative in any way about their thoughts about who this suspect might be or what part of the community they might be from?

MOOSE: With regards to, does the question about people at yesterday's shooting that may have immigrant status have something to do with a possible suspect? That is not the case, sir. We've simply heard from members of the staff that through people that they work with have indicated that there may be some people in the immigrant community that didn't come forth. And they suggested that we make a plea and do that, so that, just in case, we've covered that basis.

We don't know for sure, but members of the staff have indicated that, again, some of the communities that they work with are concerned that this may be the case.

QUESTION: Chief Moose, some of the time from that podium when you've spoken to the sniper, you've spoken somewhat apologetically. Each and every time, you've spoken courteously, even respectfully to the sniper. Why?

MOOSE: Well, sir, you know, my parents, they prefer it if I'm a gentleman at all times. And so hopefully, I've been courteous and respectful to you, and no one's asked why. It just seems to be the right thing to do.

QUESTION: But the sniper's a killer, Chief.

MOOSE: Well, sir, you know, I've answered your question.

QUESTION: Chief, there's clearly some communication going back and forth between the people or person involved in the crime and law enforcement officers, some of which is telephonic. And I'm wondering if there has developed a situation where the people who have been in contact with law enforcement are asking to specifically talk to yourself? Without getting into details, can you say whether you, yourself, have had conversations with the people you're communicating with involved in this crime?

MOOSE: Well, sir, it's quite an involved question, but it does put me in a position that I struggle with, because it really is going to be an answer that is inappropriate for me to talk about -- that question to talk about the investigation. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Chief, yesterday you hesitated to release the details of the note about the threat to children. Have you reevaluated a policy about releasing information and a possible threat that might affect some part of the community?

MOOSE: This is a -- as has been said before, this is a very fluid case. There are a lot of people involved, a lot of authorities. You know, we think we did the best that we could do with that situation, but we're trying to be very thoughtful about everything that we do here. And there will be people that will judge it as good, and there will be people that will judge it as OK, and somebody will say, it was done very poorly. All I can say is that, myself, Special Agent Bouchard, Special Agent Bald and all of the law enforcement people that we're talking to and working with -- the elected officials, County Executive Duncan, school superintendents -- we're all trying the very best that we can.

And we wish we could be absolutely perfect, and I think Agent Bouchard said it clearly, we wish we could close this matter for everyone involved. But we're doing the best we can.

QUESTION: Has the sniper put constraints on what you can release? Has he told you not to release certain things?

QUESTION: This has been asked and answered, but I was wondering if either you or your federal colleagues can help clarify this. It was widely reported that after the arrests in Virginia, before those men were cleared, they were turned over to immigration authorities, and their status is being handled by them.

Can anybody make that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that anybody in the immigration community was thinking of coming forward in this case (UNINTELLIGIBLE) come forward with information, whether it's of value or not, that their immigration status, particularly if it's illegal, will not become a factor in their dealings with your department, or particularly the federal government that has that jurisdiction? Can somebody say they're safe coming forward, no matter what their status is?

MOOSE: Sir, while I appreciate that question, certainly I have no authority to give anybody carte blanche with regards to immigration status, criminal status or anything else. I can just tell you that we will continue to reach out, we will continue to work with people, we will continue to ask them to do the right thing. And we hope that somehow in their heart that they do the right thing, and we will put our energy to help them. But nobody gets a guarantee on anything. Life doesn't work that way.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) one of those memos. Is that something that the police department or the task force is dealing with? And are you planning to pay it? Is it true, is it not true that there was a request for a $10 million ransom?

MOOSE: Well, ma'am, you know, your question and all of the speculation, I don't think that you've heard anyone on thee task force say anything about any communication, except what I read the other day. So, I find it very inappropriate to even proceed down this line.

QUESTION: ... some members are overreacting to the real threat of the sniper? If you're more likely to be hit by lightning then the sniper, do you think some people in this community are overreacting?

MOOSE: Well, sir, I -- again, it is not my nature to speculate. But I think that county executive Duncan has spent a lot of time out in the community, as I've tried to focus on the investigation. Maybe he would like to comment on your question.

DOUG DUNCAN, MONT. CO. EXEC.: People are making individual decision based on what they feel is best for themselves and their family. We have encouraged them to do that since the beginning. But we are seeing a real determination, resolve and even strength from the member of the community.

Today, I was at the Ride On bus depot where Mr. Johnson worked out of, talking to his co-workers there. They said, we're not co- workers, we're family. We had people show up today -- it was their day off. They showed up to offer to help, to drive buses, to do what's needed to be done. So there's a real strength and determination from the public, and different communities are adjusting to what's happening based on the best decisions they can make. So, we're getting through this together. People are reaching out to others, particularly to their faith. We had a prayer service last night with clergy leaders from around the region that I think was a big benefit to the entire community.

So we're going to continue to do that and continue to get through this together.

QUESTION: Duncan, what kind of plans are you making for November, for the elections? Mr. Duncan, what kind of plans are you making for November -- for the election? What kind of cautions...

DUNCAN: I intend to vote that day...

QUESTION: Some people were talking about...

DUNCAN: Vote for myself even actually, so...

QUESTION: I hope you win.

DUNCAN: Thank you.

QUESTION: What kind of plans are you making?

DUNCAN: We are in discussion. The governor of Maryland and county executive Curry and I had a conference call last night talking about schools, talking about Election Day, and the governor has a working group that he's put together to address those issues, to look at safety and security. I mean, our hope and our prayer is that we catch whoever's doing this today if not today, tomorrow, if not tomorrow, the next day. So we're hopeful that we will have an arrest before Election Day comes.

But the governor is putting some options together, that he's going to get back to me. So I'll leave that to the governor, because he's looking at it from a bigger picture.

QUESTION: Has he discussed the National Guard?

DUNCAN: He has. He was on WTOP Radio today, saying that that's an option that they're looking at. It's a consideration. He's not made a decision on that. And he said he will get back to Mr. Curry and myself by the end of the this week.

QUESTION: ... members of your community right now who may be afraid to come forward because of their status?

DUNCAN: This is not a new situation. Clearly, this case is new, certainly for us, or I think anywhere in the country. But we have a very heavy immigrant population here in Montgomery County. We're a wonderful community to live in. People want to come here, because of the jobs that are available, because the schools that are available. We deal with this on a daily basis, through our schools, through our health services, through our police and fire.

So that in terms of local services we're providing, we don't ask for immigration status. We provide the service. If someone needs our help from the police or fire, we respond. Kids need to be educated, we educate them. And the message we have every day of the year is the same message here, you can work with the Montgomery County police, talk to us, help us in this investigation, and we're not going to ask about immigration status.

QUESTION: Sergeant, if I may ask you a question about something you said earlier today, you said you're not withholding anything with regard to safety, everything possible you're releasing to the authorities, other authorities, the public.

Let me ask you this question, I don't know -- I know you don't want to get into the details of the communications with the sniper, the killer, or killers. But if there were periods where there were a heightened window of vulnerability, for example if there were a deadline the killer had set and you knew that deadline had passed, and, thus, something might be happening, if there was a more vulnerable window there, would you alert the public to that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is, if we were aware of an area of time line or vulnerability period, would we notify the public? We would certainly notify all the public officials who had a need to know and could pass that on. We certainly don't want to create any panic. We work with all the police chiefs and elected officials on a regular basis. So that would be our points of contact for that information.

QUESTION: Let me follow up on that. Again, hypothetically, a deadline passes, the task force is -- has some trepidation, knows that this is a particularly vulnerable moment, or particularly vulnerable period, don't you owe it to the public to say it, even though the sniper's out there, even though we know that there's a threat that's ongoing, this might be a particularly dangerous time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me make this clear, we think long and hard about every decision we make and everything we say here. We struggle with everything we say and when we release and what we release it and how we say it. So we certainly have to treat every situation on a case by case basis. If there's specific information on a given day and we think that's the best thing to do. We certainly consult with each other, we talk with all the areas that are involved, and then we make a decision as far as what the right thing to do is.

QUESTION: You said you don't want to panic the public. Do you trust the public?

DUNCAN: Certainly. We rely on the public for this -- we rely on them 100 percent.

QUESTION: Is there some way of knowing that a caller comes in, that it is the person you want to contact? Do they have some kind of code phrase they pass along to you so there is no confusion that it's a legitimate call?

MOOSE: Sir, before I answer that question, let me follow up agent Bouchard's question that maybe we just haven't been clear enough. We've not answered a lot of questions and we continue to talk about the investigation, not compromising the investigation. This investigation, as all criminal investigations, are very important to us, and all people in our profession. But let me be real clear, that public safety comes before any investigation.

So if you have some concern that we are doing something to jeopardize your safety in order to enhance our investigation, then I want to put those thoughts to rest, that at the foundation of our process, and it is a very emotional process, thoughtful process, but at the bottom line, the three of us, it is always public safety's first and the investigation is second. That has always been the case and that will be the case.

And, sir, with regards to your question, in terms of our communication, that's an area that we are holding very close to our hearts at this point, very close to our chest. And so we won't be talking about any of that in terms of the process or anything and how that works. That just wouldn't help the situation.

QUESTION: ... some of the schools that the "children are not safe at anytime, anywhere" had not been released before it was, before the start of school on Monday?

MOOSE: Ma'am, as we've tried to say, that the person or the people doing this have shown the willingness or ability to kill people of any age, any gender, any race, any day, any time, anywhere. So somehow to think that what we read is a more specific threat than the awareness that they've shown the ability and willingness to shoot any person anytime, anywhere, any age, any race, any gender. We think that this public safety wise people have known that, and they've known that for a number of days.

Ma'am, I cannot respond to anger because I've not felt that anger from anyone. And so I feel like that would be inappropriate. This is very emotional, and people will interpret it different ways, and I've known that and recognized that. But at the same hand, we've processed it from a public safety standpoint, and public safety is the number one priority and the investigation comes after that.

DUNCAN: I'm sorry, I want to follow up on one thing. This information was shared with the appropriate authorities since the minute they got it. There was a meeting in my office with the top elected leadership in the whole Washington region where we discussed this. The consensus was to keep kids in schools. The feeling was, children and everyone in this community has been under threat since the shooting started. and particularly since the shooting of the student ad Bowie.

So, the information was shared with the appropriate authorities. We came to a consensus about how to approach it. And, again, public safety comes first. They're not holding anything back, they're sharing information with the elected leadership, with the police chiefs, and then the information's getting around to those who need to be involved in making decisions.

QUESTION: ... that one of the cases you're going out and looking at, sir, remains unsolved, remains open, killed in Aspen Hill, November 2001?

MOOSE: Sir, again, you know, we're looking at a lot of different things. And it's inappropriate to talk about any of the details of that investigation.

QUESTION: Do you think it's the wise thing to do at this point? Should the public be encouraged at this development, that communication is now going on, law enforcement (INAUDIBLE), communication is now going on?

MOOSE: The question, really, kind of says that, because we are doing different things, should the public be encouraged?

QUESTION: Because you have a dialogue going with the sniper, should people be encouraged this is now taking it to a new step and perhaps...

MOOSE: It's inappropriate for me to answer your question. Thank you.

QUESTION: Chief, can we ask -- perhaps agent Bald might want to address this. The federal government, in term of terrorism, has issued warnings, alert, statuses. So why not perhaps -- or not, follow that by saying we're going to alert the public when we feel there's a special level of alert. If the federal government does it on that level, why not here?

GARY BALD, FBI: The public has been alerted through its public officials. And I think that if you will hear what I'm saying, this is the not the proper format or proper forum. I understand your question. We are following through with answering those issues, but not from this position at the podium.

QUESTION: We're bombarded every day by the profilers on the media. How confident are you -- I know you can't go into details -- but about the type of profile you have for the age, background, perhaps the professional background, of the person you're looking for? And how much do the recent telephonic and written communications help you sharpen that profile? Have they been substantially helpful in terms of you sharpening that profile?

MOOSE: Sir, it's a very thoughtful question, put together extremely well. But I think we've come to the conclusion that we are kind of deteriorated into a lot of speculation, very pointed questions, instead of standing here, saying that it would be inappropriate to answer. We're going to have the next briefing at noon tomorrow. And If there's any developments, then we will certainly bring that forth, but we just feel that the forum at this point is -- we're in an area that is just not proper to carry on any further.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. Duncan, if I could -- people are staying home, and we've heard anecdotal stuff about the economic impact. Have you quantified it?

DUNCAN: We're not doing any economic analysis. We do that once we make an arrest.

BLITZER: And so Chief Moose ends another 35-minute news conference with the reporters here in Rockville, Maryland, accompanied by the FBI and the ATF, as well as the county executive, Doug Duncan, the Montgomery County executive. The initial headline, of course, Chief Moose confirming our worst fears, of course, that the shooting yesterday in Silver Spring, Maryland, the killing of Conrad Johnson, a 35-year-old bus driver, here in Montgomery County, is in fact, linked to the other shootings that have plagued this Washington area. Going all the way south almost to Richmond, Virginia, now, for three weeks.

We are now in the fourth week of this killing spree. The police chief also making a plea to any immigrants who may have been witnesses to the latest shooting in Silver Spring to come forward, stressing that their immigrant status whether it's legal or illegal, would not necessarily be a factor, although refusing to utter a complete, 100 percent guarantee that any information provided would not necessarily hurt their immigrant status.

Both the police chief, as well as Mike Bouchard, the ATF agent in charge of this investigation, insisting that progress is being made. Mike Bouchard saying it's coming together, progress being made every day. Gary Bald, the FBI agent in charge, saying, I can assure you, progress is being made, we wouldn't make this statement if that were not true.


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