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Moose Holds Press Conference

Aired October 10, 2002 - 07:30   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We go straight to Montgomery County, where the police chief will address us all. Let's listen in on the latest in the investigation.

Certainly overnight the most pressing situation is in Prince William County, with Chief Charlie Dean. As that situation was starting to unfold, we did send members of this team to his location, have been on site all night working with him, working with his people. I think many people certainly have conjectured and surmised that a lot of this crime scene looks like the other crime scenes we've been dealing with.

I want to stress that from a police standpoint, at this point we do not have hard evidence to say that the situation is linked or not linked. We will continue to address that. We will continue to work this case. At the time that we are willing to say that it is linked or not linked, we will certainly come forth with that information.

I would ask you to please give us time to continue to do the investigation, to gather the hard evidence. As your policy agency, we're not really comfortable speculating. It doesn't make sense to do that. We want to know for sure.

But I would also ask you to rest assured that we are deeply involved. We are on the ground and there are members from this team doing that and certainly Chief Dean appreciates that, understands what we're doing. I talked to him yesterday afternoon prior to any of this coming to his jurisdiction, so he is aware of what we are facing. And, again, when we know for sure that it is linked or not linked, we will share that information.

If it is linked, I have no doubt that Prince William County police and Chief Dean will become part of the greater team investigating this matter. If it is not linked, I also want you to rest assured that Chief Dean and his staff are very professional and they will handle the homicide as a jurisdiction.

So it is too early in this matter to make a definitive case one way or another, but work is being done and we are deeply involved in that matter.

Late yesterday afternoon we had a number of questions about the gentleman shooting in his home, in a home in Kensington. That situation resulted in that gentleman being entered into some mental health support. So he is in custody, but in custody in a mental health facility to get the help that he needs to carry on with his life.

Certainly I talked about a number of weapons that were in that house. Those weapons have been seized. They will be looked at, but we have no information to release about those weapons.

We now have one consolidate tip line with regards to this situation in the Washington metropolitan area and that does, indeed, include northern Virginia. And that tip line is answered by law enforcement personnel. And that number is 1-888-324-9800. 1-888-324- 9800.

Whereas we realize there has been comments and concerns about lines, this is the consolidated tip line. So anyone that wants to talk to law enforcement about this situation, please call the consolidated tip line, 1-888-324-9800.

At this point we'll take questions.

QUESTION: Can you tell us if any ballistic evidence has been recovered from the shooting in Manassas, and if so, what it is?

MOOSE: I cannot talk about any evidence that has been recovered. I was trying to say that we are working that case as I speak. We have no further information to report until that work is completed.

QUESTION: What about the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) task force right away?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What made you send the task force right away?

MOOSE: As with the case yesterday in Clinton where they were searching the woods, as in this shooting, as in the shooting in Kensington, we're at such a point at this time, the anxiety of, and fear, we have almost been put in a position any type of shooting of any magnitude that we can't immediately dismiss as domestic or backfire from a vehicle, we are responding, portions of the task force. As they get more information we are also prepared to send additional resources of the task force.

Certainly last night's situation in Prince William County, I think the first people on the scene were fairly comfortable saying that additional portions of the task force should be dispatched. We agreed with that. So that's kind of the state that we're in, trying to make those resources available. And, again, you do it incrementally, but we're in such a state of anxiety in the Washington metropolitan area that we're doing everything in our power to make portions of the team available on most shootings, and certainly something of the nature in Prince William County. It was pretty clear early on.

QUESTION: Chief, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) questions. First of all, you don't want to say on what basis you were to make this determination as to whether there's a link or not a link. But do you have any sense of the time frame you think that that will come? This morning, this afternoon? I'm wondering what is your sense of that?

MOOSE: The sense of time frame when we will be able to give a definitive comment to link or not link, as in the other cases, we will ask the investigators to work with a sense of urgency, but we want to make sure that they don't rush because this is so critical that missing evidence or making a mistake, the chances are increased if we put a lot of pressure on them and tell them that there is a time frame.

We need to know, in my mind, as soon as possible, but we want them to also take their time. And let's also remember that now we have the new factor of the weather conditions. So it makes it rougher on people. So I don't know and I'm not going to give a time frame, just to tell you that we will continue to operate with a sense of urgency.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) white Dodge (UNINTELLIGIBLE), is that the most specific report that you've had to date on what this vehicle may look like? And how much credibility do you put in that report? I mean there's been reports of white trucks and that sort of thing.

MOOSE: The white Dodge Caravan that's been reported by the Prince William County Police is very credible. It is a vehicle put out by the police department. We have not changed anything in this country. When a police department puts out a lookout on a vehicle, it has credibility until law enforcement agencies get enough information to make it non-credible.

In terms of comparing is this the most descriptive vehicle that we've had, again, that's word smith. That's some kind of, I don't know why that even matters. They put out a white Dodge Caravan as a lookout and police officers are trying to address that lookout.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you have about 8,000 tips at last count and a couple hundred officers. That's a difficult, not a difficult math equation, but it's difficult to see how you can possibly address those. Can you describe the process a little bit about when a call comes in what happens, who gets it and how do they decide which tips get followed?

MOOSE: We continue to use the FBI rapid start process to log and distribute tips. We have staff, supervisors, supervisory agents that review that information, distribute the tips. We have a process. I don't know that I want to spend a lot of detail telling you how that works. But it is being done. There is a process. I think people are starting to conjecture that we have too many tips and so therefore that's bad, too. And I guess it's just a matter of everyone has an opinion about everything and I've come to the conclusion that we're going to disagree on a number of different matters.

If the tone of the question is now we don't want people to call us because you can't possibly follow up all of those tips, I would ask us to please not send that message. We feel like we are working the tips. We want them to continue to come in. We have talked about the fact that we continue to prioritize things. This is all situational. This is very fluid. Obviously we are used to making adjustments as we do investigations. We will continue to do that.

But we are people. It will not be perfect. Everyone involved will not be ecstatic about what tip they were given. They will not be ecstatic about how it was given to them or how quickly they were told to turn it around. But the case is moving forward. We're making the systems that we have work and each and every hour we are improving and expanding our systems.

Whereas that in itself is a mission, in some ways it's a mission I wish we wouldn't have never had to do. But if we are delayed further in bringing this case to closure, then certainly the bureaucratic buildup of the team will get better every hour. And that certainly is not anything new to this work group. It is not unlike any other buildup of law enforcement assets. Early on we were not as organized as we are today and by three o'clock today we will be more organized than we are now. I think that is the reality that we all understand and we're comfortable with.

But we do want people to call. We still need information. Clearly, the crime scene potentially now has expanded. We don't know but we also know that there might have been people in the area of the shooting in Prince William County. We want them to call the tip line, the new tip line, the 1-888-324-9800, as they hear about this this morning if they were in an area of this situation last night, and, again, didn't realize it was a crime scene. We want to talk to them. We want to have investigators talk to them. We will address that in terms of priorities. We will share all of this information with people on the ground in Prince William County. It is an evolutionary process.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reports of a witness who saw someone leave the wooded area with a black duffel bag. Can you comment on that?

MOOSE: I have no comment on anything that we got from a witness with regards to the shooting in Prince George's County.


MOOSE: I have no comment on anything about witnesses or that part of the investigation.

QUESTION: Are you comfortable that the Kensington man was not involved in these other shootings?

MOOSE: I didn't hear the question.

QUESTION: Are you comfortable that the Kensington man was not involved in these other shootings that you're investigating?

MOOSE: I am comfortable that the Kensington man was not involved in the shooting in Prince William County last night.

QUESTION: Chief, yesterday morning at this time you scolded all of us about the tarot card and you challenged the public to weigh in. I'm curious to hear what sort of public reaction you've gotten to both your comments and to the reports about the tarot card and the appropriateness of those. MOOSE: There were a number of messages yesterday from the public, from the media. I've come to the conclusion that the real message that I heard was that people in Montgomery County want everyone that has anything to do with this case -- whether they're police, federal agencies, community members, media -- the real message I heard is that they really want us all to work together. And if we're spending energy fighting, then they're feeling like we're not focused on keeping them safe.

So I hope that we all process yesterday's activity. My law enforcement experience tells me that our job will be extremely hard if we have to publicly share all evidence in this case. My state's attorney, the U.S. attorney for the State of Maryland, tell me that your case would be very difficult if we have to share all evidence with the public.

I think I've known that. Many of you in the media know that. We will struggle throughout this investigation to look for the balance. The ebb and flow will continue. But, again, the message I heard from people in Montgomery County is they don't want me or anybody in this police department spending energy fighting amongst ourselves. They want our energy devoted to solving this case.

So that's the message I took to bear. I woke up feeling that they were right and that's where we're headed. So we've got our work cut out for us.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or talk among you all about the Redskins game and 80,000 people in one place, woods surrounding FedEx Field, on Sunday?

MOOSE: In terms of crowds, I personally haven't had any meetings about the Redskins game. I think I will have to admit that we've been more local in our thought and we were actually processing some local soccer matches for kids on Saturday.

We will continue to process further out into the weekend. So I don't have an answer for that at this time. We have tended to focus three hours, eight hours and 12 hours. Our energy certainly the start of school today, having public safety officials in place at our various schools, that has been our focus, to get through getting the kids to school.

Today certainly it makes one week, the last Thursday when the bulk of the shootings all occurred. So whereas I want to be forward thinking, I want to be worldly, we also tend to think can we make it through the start of school, through the rush hour?

So I appreciate the question. As we've processed that, we will hopefully have a better answer. But at this point I don't have anything with regards to the football game.

QUESTION: Chief, it is raining today.

ZAHN: For those of you who are just joining us, I wanted to quickly bring you up to date on what Chief Moose of the Montgomery County Police Department has told us this morning, that there are about 100 law enforcement officers on the scene in Manassas, Virginia, where a man was shot last night and killed as he was filling up the gas tank of his car.

And while Chief Moose says on the surface it appears to be, or fits some sort of pattern of previous shootings, a lone victim at a gas station, that they simply don't know yet whether there is linkage between this killing and the eight other shootings in the sniper spree.

We don't know yet where the victim was hit. We don't know how many times he was hit. And as that investigation goes on, the police chief made it very clear that the level of anxiety and fear continues to rise in the community.

Bill Hemmer is standing by.

Bill, we spent a fair amount of time yesterday talking about the police chief lashing out at the media. And he was just asked a question about what kind of reaction he had gotten from the public. And he said that it has been made clear to him that the public wants not only police, law enforcement and the media and community leaders to work together, but they don't want to feel that their safety is compromised by all this infighting.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, infighting.

ZAHN: So he seemed to indicate that he had moved on.

HEMMER: Yes, apparently late yesterday afternoon, Paula, we heard the words on our program yesterday morning when he came out, quite aggressively, against a number of reporters working throughout the area. But the afternoon, he had softened his tone a little bit and you heard him say he went to bed last night, woke up and he said, you know what? I think they're right, it is critical right now to make sure they stay cohesive on this investigation.

As it stands right now, Paula, no connection made with Manassas on day eight now, six dead, two wounded. Still awaiting word on what happened last night at that gas station. It might be important to remember the chief saying there is no hard evidence right now to link the shooting last night. It doesn't mean that won't change.

On Monday when that 13-year-old boy was shot outside the school about eight o'clock in the morning, it was several hours later when the bullet was retrieved out of his body at a hospital down in Washington, D.C., that they were able to conduct the ballistics testing that they felt was necessary to make that link.

Let's shift our focus to the people here right now in Montgomery County. Mary Witteried is a psychotherapist. She works at the local crisis center, just about five minutes from our location right here in Rockville.

And she is our guest right now.

I'd like to talk a little more about the pulse of the community.

Good morning to you.


HEMMER: What are you hearing in terms of questions when people come to you, call your crisis center or stop in? What do they want to know?

WITTERIED: Typically what they want to know is what they can do to feel safer. There's a lot of anxiety. They're obviously in fear and what they want to know is how can they protect their children, how can they protect themselves and how can they go about their daily lives without this affecting them to the degree where they can't function?

HEMMER: And you tell them what, then, Mary?

WITTERIED: What we usually tell people is that, of course, you want to take every precaution with your children. You certainly don't want to be walking around in the evening or afternoon outside if you can help it. If you need to run errands, to run them as quickly as possible, put off the ones you can put off. Also, send your children to school. Getting to and from the school, like from the car to the school, might seem very dangerous. There are protections out there and once they're in the school, they're definitely safe.

HEMMER: Now, you know what? A couple of things that remind -- we were driving around here last night throughout the area. We went by three of the locations where people have been shot and killed over the past week. Very busy streets. Very busy intersections. That was one thing I noticed. The other thing is that it does not appear to me that people have stopped living their lives. They're out running errands. They go to the mall. They go to work. The streets are crowded. Do you feel the same thing?

WITTERIED: What I'm seeing, like you, in the community is that people are not staying home in droves. I mean there is a lot of traffic out there. There's a lot of people out doing what they normally would do. What we're hearing on the phone is that people just want ways to be able to manage their fears and their anxieties in this situation so that they can go about their daily lives.

HEMMER: Managing fear, very good point.

Mary Witteried, thanks.

Good luck to you, OK?

WITTERIED: You're welcome.

HEMMER: A local crisis center here in Montgomery County.

We heard the police chief, Paula, a short time ago say, and quoting now, "We've got our work cut out for us." And, indeed, they do. He also cautioned people that they are only human beings, that they are not perfect. But, indeed, they will endeavor at this point to make sure they can cross every T and dot every I that is possible. And as an effort to do that, 888-324-9800 now is the recommended phone number to call to make sure things get consolidated toward one funneling system for all the evidence and tips that's coming in right now -- Paula, more in a moment back here in Rockville.

ZAHN: Bill, I also wanted to quickly mention that I guess the reward is now up to over $300,000. So we want the community to be aware of that.

Thanks, Bill. See you in a little bit.


ZAHN: Stay dry.


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