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Prince William County Police Hold Press Conference

Aired October 10, 2002 - 09:11   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Down to Woodbridge right now, where authorities are coming out to tell us what they have regarding the Manassas shooting last night, 8:15 local time.

SGT. KIM CHINN, PRINCE WILLIAM CO. POLICE: ... Special agent with the ATF, and we'll provide you a quick update this morning on what's been happening.

The deceased has been identified as Dean Harold Meyers -- M-E-Y- E-R-S. He was a 53 year-old man from Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The only information we have on a possible vehicle was a white mini-van, described as a panel vehicle, meaning it had only front and -- front passenger windows. The rest was solid. We do not know about the back windows.

We still have officers at the scene, searching for evidence, going over it very meticulously.

We have no information from the medical examiners yet. We do not know if this case is related to the cases in Maryland yet. However, we are sharing the 800 hotline number to keep information consistent. And that's about all I have now. If you have any questions, I'll be glad to answer a few of them.

QUESTION: Was any bullets or bullet fragments recovered?

CHINN: I cannot discuss any evidence recovered or any autopsy findings at this point.

QUESTION: What about eyewitness? Were there any eyewitnesses?

CHINN: we do have some witnesses, and one of the bits of information from them was this white van.

QUESTION: You said autopsy findings -- does that mean one is currently under way right now?

CHINN: It will be conducted this morning. I don't know the schedule.

The question was, that we had an incident in Prince William yesterday afternoon where a truck traveling on the 234 bypass had his windows shattered. It doesn't appear to be. We found very little information about that van. There was no projectile that hit it. The windows shattered. It is the opinion of the experts that were out there that it was likely a bird shot, and it was the opening day of hunting season.

QUESTION: Could you just describe a little bit about generally as you can, in other words, it looks like a random shooting? It looks like somebody just came along and shot the guy? Do you have any motives? And what assurances can you give the community?

CHINN: We really have very little information. We got this call yesterday evening, around 8:18, a man shot while filling his car at the Sunoco station on Sudley Road, and that's pretty much all we have right now.

QUESTION: In other words, it appeared to be a spree shooting, or a random shooting, with no motive? And what assurances can you give the community about all of this?

CHINN: We won't know anything about motive until the investigation continues on. The assurances we can give the community is just we are working as hard as we can. We have all kinds of resources at our disposal. We have the ATF, we have the Montgomery County task force, we have the FBI. We have a lot of officers in Prince William on the street, and I'm sure the other jurisdictions have many officers out as well.

QUESTION: Are all of the law enforcement agencies pooling their information together. In other words, are you joining forces now in a stronger effort to join forces?

CHINN: We have been sharing information for some time. But yes, that are here with us working today. They were here last night. They came immediately, and we have been sharing information, yes. Was it a single shot. We will not discuss how many times the victim was shot or where in the body he was shot at this time.

QUESTION: Last night you were saying people in the van, witnesses were saying appeared to be two white men. Is that the case? Is that what witnesses are saying?

CHINN: We don't have suspect just the van. Does that mean they don't exist? Nobody saw the people in the van?

I really don't know. The only confirmation I have, it's a white van.

QUESTION: Which direction was the van going?

CHINN: It went towards 66.

QUESTION: Was there any attempt to shut down I-66 after this shooting last night?

CHINN: I don't know.

QUESTION: Did anybody get license plate numbers or partial license plate numbers? CHINN: No.

QUESTION: Do you have enough information about the van? If you see a van, are you stopping them all that fit that description? Or in general, can you say what you're able to do when you see vans?

CHINN: We will take it on a case-by-case basis. As we get calls, and we are certainly asking people to call in to the hotline or the crime solver's numbers, if they have any information about this van or anything else having to do with the crime, or happen to be in the Manassas area at the time of the shooting and saw anything, whether or not they think it might be important. We need them to call so we can decide.

QUESTION: Sergeant, last night, I think it was described as a Dodge Caravan. Does that still hold?

CHINN: The witness describes the van as looking like a Dodge Caravan, yes.

QUESTION: The witness just saw a van if the area or actually saw the van leaving the specific gas station?

CHINN: The van was seen leaving the immediate area at the time.

QUESTION: Any other vehicles seen leaving the immediate area?

CHINN: Nothing that I know of at this moment.

QUESTION: Was it leaving at a high rate of speed. And why did this person notice it?

CHINN: They just saw it leaving the scene and noticed it, so they reported it to us.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea why this man was in the Manassas last night?

CHINN: No, that's part of the ongoing investigation.

QUESTION: Investigators have been out there 12 hours. Any idea how much longer they will be out this morning? The area will be closed in the immediate area?

CHINN: 234 has been open since 5:00 a.m. We probably have a few more hours of work to do at the scene.

QUESTION: When do you think you might know if the shooting is linked to the others?

CHINN: I don't know when we might know. But when we do, we'll let you know.

QUESTION: I wonder if Mr. Scott would like to say something. Anything you can say in general about the investigation, just in general? Any assurances? HAROLD SCOTT, ATF SPECIAL AGENT: just that we're working very hard with the authorities down here. The Montgomery County task force is here, as was stated earlier. The best of the best resources are available on this investigation. We're working very hard with Prince William County, Virginia state police, Manassas City. The investigators are out there doing a very thorough job, being very meticulous.

We've agreed to take any evidence, when it's found, if any evidence is found, to our lab, just for the purposes of consistency, to determine if this incident last night is linked to the cases in Montgomery County and D. C.

I cannot comment on any evidence that's been found to this point.

QUESTION: Agent Scott, would that require finding a bullet to make that link?

SCOTT: It would require finding any evidence whatsoever that may be related it this incident last night.

QUESTION: What are you looking for, in general, again?

SCOTT: Any evidence that would give us some indication of exactly what transpired out there last night, the order of events.

QUESTION: More specifics?

SCOTT: No, ma'am. Any evidence that would help solve this investigation.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what part of the task force came down here? Does manpower -- how much fractured it is?

SCOTT: It does nothing.

And that's a very good question.

What happens is, obviously they're broken up into shifts. One thing I wanted to let you guys know, and assure the community, again, is that you've had the best of the best resources. We've had agents and officers from that Montgomery County task force literally forced to go home and get some rest by their supervisors. They're so determined to solve this case, that they volunteered, they've worked double shifts, they've done whatever has been asked of them, and it's really no turning them back. They're very determined to solve this case.

QUESTION: Do you have a larger police presence out today, as opposed to before this murder, because of what happened?

CHINN: We have a lot of officers out working this case, detectives. We have our search and rescue team out doing some of the evidence searching. We have had an increased presence on the streets actually for the last several days.

No, I can not.

QUESTION: I'm -- I want to -- I thought last night that there was -- that it was announced there were two men seen in this van. Is that not true?

CHINN: I cannot confirm that as reliable, solid information. I only want to share with you what we feel is the best information we have.

QUESTION: So it wouldn't be right for us to say someone was seen running toward the van?

CHINN: No, it would not be right.

It's a minivan, but instead of windows being around the back side and sides of the van behind the driver's compartment, it's solid. So it's all white, except for windows in the front. We don't know about the back doors, whether there are windows or not.

QUESTION: Is it something that would be used for commercial use?

CHINN: It could be, sure.

QUESTION: Where was the van seen leaving, from across the street, one of the other store parking lots? Where?

CHINN: Just near the area is the only information I have right now.

QUESTION: Agent Scott, obviously you have very trained investigators on the scene, but is it fair to say with each shooting you learn more, and the process becomes more easy in terms of maybe you know what to look for differently? Or with each shooting, is it fair to say that you're learning more in terms of how to look at the scene?

SCOTT: It's fair to say that they're investigating every possible piece of physical evidence that they can, and they're recovering it and processing it and analyzing it, sharing the information with all of the police agents, all of the federal agencies involved in the case.

QUESTION: Has the rain this morning in any way made anything more difficult in looking for evidence at the scene or anything like that?

CHINN: No, not really.

QUESTION: How many officers do you have with ATF, and how many people are at the scene there right now?

CHINN: We really don't have a good count. They've kind of come and go, so I really can't tell you. Quite a few.

QUESTION: Do you know how many agents you have?

SCOTT: I really couldn't put a firm number on that count, but a lot, a lot.

QUESTION: Agent Scott, will some of your people be staying down here now, some of the task force people staying in this area, or will everybody go back up to Montgomery?

SCOTT: No, we're going to continue to work this case, and going to have agents, going to have officers, going to many different people from that task force down here, assisting Prince William County, assisting Virginia State Police in Manassas City with this investigation.

LUCY CALDWELL, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE, VIRGINIA STATE POLICE: The state police is in an assistance mode on the case, since William County police is the primary agency at this point. As far as the question about I-66, yes, we did shut all the ramps immediately. Prince William police dud contact state police immediately, because of the relative closeness to Interstate 66, and we began stopping white vans the second that was put out.

QUESTION: Lucy, are you staffed up? Do you have extra patrols out? Are you doing anything differently because of this sniper shooting?

CALDWELL: At this point, the shooting happened here in Manassas, Prince William County area, and certainly, we're going to have all state police resources devoted to this case. Anything Prince William County police needs, we're there, we have our command post on the scene, along with the ATF, the FBI, and Prince William County Police command posts. So we're all working together very closely, and if it is determined that this case is related to the others, then certainly, we'll all be there working together from minute one.

QUESTION: How are your officers being prepared or told to approach any vehicle that they stop?

CALDWELL: Certainly it's a very, very dangerous situation, but our troopers are trained, as are all the local police agents, in approaching and making felony stops.

CALDWELL: Generally, we don't recommend that they stop them alone. We like backups. So county police, Fairfax County, Prince William County, Alexandria City, Arlington are all working very closely in backing up our troopers on the interstates.

QUESTION: Are they stopping all white panel vans?

CALDWELL: Obviously, you can't stop every single white panel van. But any van that you have a suspicion of or there's something unusual, as Sergeant Chinn said, this van is somewhat unusual because it has the panels. Not every van you see out there has those. So certainly, if you see anything suspicious, call Prince William County crime solvers or the tip lines, and state police is doing all we can to work with the primary agency.

QUESTION: Suspicious, like what? CALDWELL: I can't say. It would have to -- you can't exactly address that. It has to be up to the driver and up to the person traveling with the driver. You can't exactly say what one person feels is suspicious and another may not.

QUESTION: Virginia State Police were the first to put out that lookout for the two white males. Are you still standing by the report that you got from witnesses? Where did that come from?

CALDWELL: Again, that was a report initially given to state police and to Prince William County Police. And upon further investigation, if that initial information isn't found to be a hundred percent, we're not going to go with it. And certainly Prince William is the lead agency, and we're working with them, and if they indicate through their investigation they feel that two white males are not a hundred percent factual, then we'll back off from that as well.

Could you identify your last name.

CALDWELL: Caldwell -- Lucy Caldwell -- C-A-L-D-W-E-L-L. Virginia state police, public information office.

CHINN: Thank you very much. The next briefing will be at 1:00. We're going to try to have it across the street in the Furlazo (ph) building. They have a large auditorium there.

HEMMER: Bottom line: They do not know whether or not the shooting last night in Manassas, Virginia is related to this serial -- this string of shootings that we have witnessed for the past eight days. The deceased is Dean Harold Meyers. He is 53 years old, filling his gas tank last night, 8:15 Eastern Time, at a local Sunoco station in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Right now, on the lookout for a white minivan described with front passenger windows, but apparently the panels on both sides of this van, and possibly in the back as well, had no windows on board that van. Where it went, we don't know. In route to a local highway, but after that, witnesses have no indication as to where it was headed.


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