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Police Confirm Shooting in Spotsylvania County, Virginia

Aired October 11, 2002 - 10:28   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: A radio station in the area that is very helpful in our coverage on CNN LIVE has been WTOP. We're bringing Mitchell Miller back with us to give us some information.
Mitch, good morning, and what can you tell us about what's taking place along I-95 right now.

MITCHELL MILLER, WTOP RADIO: Just to recap what it appears has happened, is there was a shooting at a gas station in northern Virginia. This is an area called Spotyslvania County. This is roughly 30 to 40 miles south of the nation's capital in the Fredericksburg area. It was at a -- according to state police, we just got off the phone with state police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell, who says it took place at an Exxon gas station around 9:30. It's not clear, as she pointed out, if this is related to the recent sniper attacks.

Immediately after this was reported, our radio station began getting a flurry of phone calls from people driving up the interstate or driving up route one. And as you were just mentioning, this is a very busy corridor right there. So this is quite an extraordinary scene, because you have all that northbound traffic heading up 95, as well as southbound.

According to Lucy Caldwell, with the Virginia State Police, they have been going after several vehicles and actually, she says, trying to make felony stops, her words, "felony stops." She also says that they are stopping -- going after a white van that is believed to be a Chevy Astrovan with ladder racks on it. That vehicle was last seen going up Route 1. It's not clear exactly how it was related, if at all to the shooting, but clearly authorities definitely want to get to the driver of that vehicle. There was apparently another vehicle that they were going after, although it's not clear exactly where that was.

All of this, of course, fast developing right now. But you can only imagine this area, because there are state troopers, all kinds of state police pulling over people, trying to get over to these vehicles that they're going after.

KAGAN: Quick question for you, Mitchell. First of all, you have heard word of a shooting, but have you heard word of any victims?

MILLER: We have not. We are still trying to find out who was actually shot and what the condition of that person is. And right now, state police say they're looking into that, but it's still very unclear at this point. KAGAN: Also, we heard word, from one of our affiliates that this Exxon station is right across the street, or very close to a police barracks.

MILLER: Right. State police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell (ph) says it's basically right there, it is almost across the street, which is pretty amazing. This area -- I actually used to live in that area, and this area of Fredericksburg, there are a lot of exits off the main highway I-95 there, and the Massaponax exit, which is near where this occurred, is a frequent stop-off place for people heading up north and south up the East Coast.

So while it is quite a bit south of Washington, D.C., this is actually an area where a lot of people pull over, get rest, what have you, so it's not, by any means, a very real remote area in some respects.

KAGAN: OK. Mitch, I'm going to ask you to stay with us, as we toss it back to Bill, I just want to point out to our viewers it appears that they are letting traffic start to move there along I-95, and not keep it at a complete stop but you still do see that white van pulled to the side of the road.

Bill, what do you have -- and Mitch, please stay with us.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I just want to confirm what he was telling us. Virginia State Police, Route 1 South right now is apparently part of the investigation right now, a white Astro Chevrolet vehicle or van, with a ladder strapped on top. That is the search right now. The vehicle, anyway, where the focus of the investigation is. In addition to that, Daryn, ATF officials, who had been responding here to the headquarters in Rockville, have dispatched a team down to this Exxon gas station to investigate it firsthand.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Interesting in a way, perhaps, that it is Exxon. As I mentioned, we've had other gas station shootings. Someone points out to me they were at Shell, Mobil, and Sunoco stations, now Exxon. Don't know what it means, but it is sort of an interesting observation.

Somebody who is an expert in sharp-shooting has suggested that a gas station might be a perfect place to set up because you can set your shot, and you have a constant flow of individuals through there, and if the first person doesn't quite settle in the right place, you can just wait a few minutes and someone else will come along, and be in more or less the same location, and you can get one off.

HEMMER: Anyone who fills up their gas tank has to be stationary for a period of time. Whether that's 15 seconds or two minutes, for a period of time, that person will be standing there and delivering their gas.

Take that call, Jeanne, if you want. Go ahead.

MESERVE: Sorry. I have got a lot of calls out. HEMMER: Listen, Daryn, as we look at this, quick location here, upwards of 40 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., Fredericksburg, Virginia, Spotsylvania County.

It was a week ago, a week ago this Friday -- October 4, in fact, a 43-year-old woman, hit in the parking lot of a Michael's craft store, wounded, did survive, listed in stable condition. In fact, I think it was Tuesday this past week when that woman was treated and released and allowed to go home. Shot in the back while loading packages into her car -- Daryn.

KAGAN: One more point about the gas station and kind of being a sitting duck. I was also reading one man talk about how well lit gas stations are for, ironically enough, security purposes for feeling safe, that also helps make you an easy target.

Let's go ahead and bring Mitchell Miller back from WTOP and tell us, Mitchell, anything else you're getting on the opening of these highways or on the investigation?

MILLER: We're still getting information as it comes in, obviously. One of our reporters is just now reporting some movement, I believe, but it is still unclear to me right now exactly how much movement there really is. Certainly, there is obviously a lot of activity, as you're seeing right there.

KAGAN: Bill and Jeanne were pointing out, Mitch, that one thing we're seeing differently with this situation, as we're watching it happen live, but also the one in Manassas, police reacting differently, more quickly and more aggressively than they had earlier in the week. They do not want to miss this opportunity to secure a potential crime scene.

MILLER: Very definitely. I mean, in this case, there was an immediate response. We were already talking to our reporter in Rockville about the response that they were getting there, that they knew something was going on, the fact that the state police got involved so quickly, the fact that there appeared to be state troopers and other state -- or other officials out, actually out on the highway ramps immediately after the shooting is pretty amazing, given how quickly this happened.

I mean, this was only at 9:30, and now we're barely an hour since then. But within minutes, there was a major response by all the local law enforcement authorities in that area, as well as Virginia State Police.

KAGAN: And while we watch these live pictures of I-95, along with you, Mitch, tell me about life right now in the D.C. area. We're upon the weekend, some big events planned. You have high school football, I know there's a huge girls soccer tournament planned for the weekend, or was planned. You also have tourism, and the Redskins football game.

MILLER: Well, it's almost like the traffic that you see slowly crawling now. It's as if we are slowly crawling back to getting to some normalcy, and then something like this happens. Whether or not it's related, who knows. But this weekend was going to be a huge weekend in the area for a lot of families and kids with sporting events going on.

There was a huge soccer tournament that involves a lot of girls soccer teams, that brings tens of thousands of people from all over the country here. That has been canceled. That was scheduled to take place throughout the Washington area. There was another big soccer event involving boys soccer, that was canceled.

And, of course, dozens and dozens of high schools, middle schools, all kinds of schools around the area have canceled all their activities through the weekend. Many kids, this weekend, for example, were going to have homecoming activities.

Well, a lot of those are now canceled or they have been altered. Whether or not the football team will play, or they'll be going inside. So this has really turned everybody's weekend plans upside down, and a lot of people are still trying to, as they get back to normal, trying to tell their kids we need to be careful at the same time. There's just so many changes taking place, but every time people think that something is going to get back to normal, something happens again the very next day.

KAGAN: Interesting. I also understand delivery services, their business is booming because people don't want to go out, like pizza delivery.

MILLER: Exactly. You have got people ordering in, you have got people at gas stations who don't want to get out of their cars, so they get full service. You get people who -- I've talked to, myself, personally, who get a call from their wife and the wife says, What should I do? Should I stop for gas on the way home, or should we wait for later in the week? I mean, these little decisions that you make every day and that you don't really think about, going to the corner supermarket, that type of thing, people are actually stopping and wondering whether or not they should do these type of things.

KAGAN: I see my partner, Bill Hemmer, flagging me down in the monitor there. I think, Bill, you want to get in here?

HEMMER: Yes, sorry, Daryn.

KAGAN: Go ahead.

HEMMER: Just for the sake of our viewers, Mitchell, give us a better idea about the geography that's involved here. Now, the areas we are talking about is southwest of the nation's capital, but do we know this location where cars are being stopped, as opposed to where this Exxon station, where this alleged shooting has taken place? Can we decipher between the two?

MILLER: My understanding is they are not that far away from each other. I would say maybe a few miles, at best. This area is about, as I indicated earlier, about 40 miles south of Washington, D.C., roughly, the general area that we're talking about. There are several exits right one after another there. There's a Massaponax exit, there is another exit for Fredericksburg, which takes people east and west, and Fredericksburg is one of the growing areas outside the Virginia suburbs.

So there is, actually, a fair amount of activity, despite the fact that this is fairly far down south of Washington, D.C.

KAGAN: Mitchell...

HEMMER: I'm sorry...


HEMMER: I'm sorry, Daryn, Jeanne is flagging me down here, she just got off of the phone. What do you have?

MESERVE: Not a huge piece of information, a couple of small ones. One, a white vehicle apparently was seen leaving this location, but as we mentioned before, people know they're on the lookout for a white vehicle. So if they see something white in the vicinity of a shooting, they're apt to let people know about it.

It doesn't necessarily mean that this is in any way connected with what has apparently happened. We remember that in Manassas, we had this report of this white panel van, turned out not to be valid at all. The second thing I'm being told, massive response by the state of Virginia. It just so happens that the State Police Academy was due to graduate a class today, and so the entire senior leadership of the Virginia State Police is in one location, they are huddling now, dealing with this situation.

KAGAN: I was going to have us bring Mitchell back in, and tell us more -- and Jeanne, thank you for that -- but tell us more about this white Astrovan that we were talking about earlier, why the interest?

Mitchell, are you still with us?

MILLER: Yes, I'm with you. I am sorry, I was just conferring with the people in the news room.

KAGAN: That is OK. This is a little fluid here.

MILLER: Yes, it is.

KAGAN: Yes -- first of all, did you get anything new from the people in the news room?

MILLER: What we're learning right now is there is apparently is more information about the victim of the shooting. I don't know if you've had this information...

KAGAN: We don't. Please go ahead with it.

MILLER: The governor of Virginia, Mark Warner, is now confirming that a victim was seriously wounded. It is not clear exactly, again, what the condition of this person is, who this person was, the age, or sex of the person, but there is confirmation from Virginia's governor that someone was seriously injured, and certainly, this is very, very troubling for everybody around here. And it's just amazing what is taking place, going back earlier, talking about the efforts to return to normalcy here in Washington. Many people today had hoped that, you know, the end of the work week would maybe cause us to head into that direction.

So now, clearly, no matter whether or not this is related to the sniper shootings, this is an incredible event that everybody in the state of Virginia, northern Virginia area is taking huge interest in right now.

KAGAN: Like getting socked in the stomach yet again. So this would be the person that would have been wounded at the Exxon station we've been talking?

MILLER: I believe that is my understanding.

KAGAN: Let's backtrack then and for people who are just joining us, start at the beginning, where this Exxon station is, how it's very close to a police barracks and what we know from the governor of Virginia.

MILLER: At this point, what we know is roughly about an hour ago, around 9:30, there was a shooting at a gas station in the Fredericksburg area. This is located south of Washington D.C., about 40 miles. Virginia State Police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell spoke to WTOP and has been speaking to other members of the media, obviously. Immediately after it happened, she confirmed that some shooting had taken place at an Exxon near route one near the Massaponax exit. This is an exit that's near the town of Fredericksburg.

State police, Spotsylvania County Police, Stafford County sheriff's deputies, these are all local law enforcement agencies immediately took off in pursuit of several vehicles northbound on route one, which is a parallel road to I-95, as well as a vehicle apparently northbound on I-95. One of the vehicles they sought was a Chevy Astrovan, a white van, with ladder racks on it. That immediately perked up everybody's interest, because of course, as we've been talking about the sniper shootings, there's been a lot of interest in white vehicles. They took off after that van, and at some point, the traffic along I-95, a very busy part of I-95, was temporarily shut down. They shut down some of the exits, apparently, and went after this vehicle, along with, apparently, another vehicle they were interested in. And several areas in the road were then shut down.

And then the latest information that we're getting is that someone was injured. That information coming from Virginia's governor, as I mentioned, still unclear exactly how that transpired, but that person apparently has been shot.

KAGAN: As I sit here, I'm poring over maps, and I know Bill and Jeanne are doing the same, on the scene in Montgomery County. For folks not familiar with this area, how close would this shooting -- related or not -- but how close would it be to the one that took place a week ago today in Spotsylvania County, the woman who was shot but survived, near the Michael's craft store?

MILLER: Yes, this is not very far at all. It's within, really, a few miles actually. Spotsylvania County covers this area where the shooting occurred. That would be the closest shooting that would have occurred to what happened today. And then the rest of the shootings are all 40 to 45 miles away.

The earlier shooting that you just mentioned had, up to this point, been the furthest away from all the other shootings, which took place primarily in Montgomery County, Maryland, and there was a cluster of them in an area roughly three miles around, and then there was a shooting on Monday of the 13-year-old boy in Bowie, Maryland, which, incidentally, that is just off of Route 50, and that is also just outside the 495 beltway.

So this is another shooting that has occurred near a relatively busy highway. You have this one, you have the one near Bowie.

KAGAN: Manassas.

MILLER: And the one near Manassas, off of I-66, another busy intersection. Those three have a lot of similarities in that the person that did the firing in the two previous shootings, off those interstates, was able to apparently get away pretty quickly. And as we've been noting, there's very few eyewitnesses. The other shootings in Montgomery County were clustered closer together, and some experts said the person might have to have more of a knowledge of a Montgomery County, given where they occurred.

KAGAN: And we should point out the shooting that took place close to here, that woman survived. The 13-year-old boy in Bowie, Maryland, he survived, and unclear if today's victim, whether it's related, but from the governor of Virginia, we're hearing seriously wounded.

MILLER: That's correct.

KAGAN: Mitchell, stay with us. We're going to bring in Lieutenant John Crawford. Lieutenant, can you tell us which agency you're with?


KAGAN: Can you tell us the latest on what you know?

CRAWFORD: Yes. We had a report of a shooting at an Exxon gas station in Fredericksburg, which is about 30 minutes south of Alexandria. And in this teletype that we received, they put out a general broadcast of a lookout for a white panel van, similar to an Astro, Chevy Astrovan. We immediately deployed officers to all of the routes coming through Alexandria, both on 395 and on our Route 1 corridor as well.

And moments ago, we made a traffic stop of a white panel truck that matched the general description of what was put out in the teletype. And we are waiting for Fairfax County police to assist us on this particular stop right now.

KAGAN: So that stop is still taking place as we're speaking right now?

CRAWFORD: That's correct. We're still out there, we have units out there. Fairfax county is en route to us, and hopefully we'll be able to either make a determination one way or the other here very shortly, whether this individual has anything to do with what just occurred down in Fredericksburg, or we can release this individual and allow that person to go on their way.

KAGAN: Can you give us any information about that individual, the people, the person, the people in the van?

CRAWFORD: I don't. I don't know how many people are in that van. I don't know what they've got. I think our officers are being just very cautious at this time. They're just surrounded the van. They don't want to approach it too quickly. They're waiting for, again, Fairfax County to assist, and then once they do that, I think they'll go ahead and make their extraction out of the vehicle and figure out who's inside, positively identify the individual or individuals, and then make a determination at that point whether or not we've got a good stop or it's just another white van.

KAGAN: Just trying to be careful.

Lieutenant, we're getting word or we heard through WTOP Radio that the governor of Virginia saying somebody has been seriously injured in the shooting this morning at the Exxon station. Do you have any word on the victim, or potential victims?

CRAWFORD: No, we don't. I know the sheriff had come on and gave a brief statement. I know our phones are lighting up pretty regularly in our emergency communications center. So we're getting awfully busy here real quick, and understandably so. You know, I know that everybody's on heightened alert.

Our police officers not only here in Alexandria, Arlington County, Fairfax County, Prince William County, everybody deployed to major routes, almost immediately, looking for this white panel van, as soon as we got word.

So law enforcement down in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania were very good in putting out word right away. This came from the Spotsylvania County Sheriff's Office. It was because of their quick reaction that allowed us to react equally as quick.

KAGAN: Lieutenant, we appreciate you talking to us as the traffic stop is taking place. Stay with us. I'm going to bring Bill, I think, he has a question with you. Bill, go ahead.

HEMMER: Daryn, the weather here has been downright awful for two days. It is rain, literally nonstop. The cloud cover today extremely low. Lieutenant, just curious to know, are you able to fly police helicopters in this type of weather?

CRAWFORD: Well, I'll tell you, when they can get up, they will fly. I'm not an aviation expert, but I can say that, in this particular case, if it doesn't endanger the officers who are doing the flying, and the aircraft can actually go airborne, then believe me, they're going to do it.

KAGAN: Lieutenant, if you can't put those helicopters in the air, does that hinder you, and to what degree?

CRAWFORD: Surely, you want the aerial support to assist. Obviously, when you're looking or trying to track a vehicle, a suspect vehicle away from a serious, violent felony, which obviously we have at this particular time, you want to get as much support as you can. You have ground support, and that's helpful, but if you can get aerial support to assist the officers on the ground, it just makes it that much better, that's all.

KAGAN: Lieutenant, let's bring you back to the news you first gave us when you came on the air with us, and you were giving us news that your department received the alert on the white Astrovan and in fact, have pulled over the van. Again, tell us what it is that the information you were given about the van and where that van is currently pulled over.

CRAWFORD: Almost immediately after the shooting occurred, Spotsylvania put out an area-wide teletype to law enforcements agencies in the entire metropolitan area for a general lookout for a white panel van leaving the gas station area, appeared to be heading towards Route 1 in the northbound direction. Just because it's going to northbound Route 1, that doesn't mean that it is going to stay on Route 1.

So what we do is we just deploy officers to major interstates and roadways coming through Alexandria from south to north. I know that we had officers deployed to Route 1 and also to 395. We made a traffic stop on the HOV lanes northbound on 395, just by our King Street exit in Alexandria.

KAGAN: And how far away is that, where that van is currently pulled over with your officers, how far away is that from the latest shooting incident?

CRAWFORD: I think maybe about 30 miles. I think you can make -- from Fredericksburg to Alexandria, if no traffic, and HOV is open and flowing quickly, I think you could probably make it in about 30 minutes.

KAGAN: And if we're getting word that the latest shooting took place around 9:30 a.m. Eastern, what time was this van pulled over?

CRAWFORD: I don't know an exact time, but it's in that range of about 30 minutes or beyond. So all the indicators are is that it's a good stop and, again, in any traffic stop in any serious violent felony, there's a lot of things that you got to check out. You got to check out the vehicle, the occupants and stuff. You have to try to ID the van if you can, find out who is inside the vehicle. This may be nothing.

But, you know, under the circumstances, you can't take any chances. You have to be very cautious, as most law enforcement would do at any time. So until they can clear this van and clear the occupants, we're going to just go about this very, very sensibly from a law enforcement...

KAGAN: Very understandable. Lieutenant Crawford, we thank you so much for your prompt response. We are going to be checking back with you when we know more the nature of the van and how that traffic stop is working out. That's Lieutenant John Crawford from the Alexandria Police Department.

And once again, we are getting word that there has been another shooting incident. It is way too early to know if this is related to the other sniper incidents, but just to recap, as we are about to bring in our Michael Okwu -- but to recap, we're getting word that around 9:30 a.m. Eastern in Fredericksburg, Virginia, there was another shooting incident, this one at an Exxon gas station. The governor of Virginia, Mark Warren (ph), saying at least one person was seriously wounded in that shooting.

Once again, it took place at an Exxon gas station, and I understand our Michael Okwu is either at that gas station or very close -- Michael, what do you have?

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, hello to you. I am actually right at the gas station, I am just outside the perimeter that has been roped up -- roped off by local police officers here, as well as by the FBI. There are at least 30 or so law enforcement vehicles surrounding this area.

We understand -- we can see from where we are that a small group of FBI agents is surrounding the vehicle which is parked just next to a gas tank, where we believe this shooting occurred. It is very difficult, from where we are standing, you can imagine it's not an area we have much mobility in, but it's very difficult from where we are standing to actually get a very clear look at the vehicle we believe this victim might have been sitting in or at least pumping gas into.

We do see, in addition to, again, something like 20 to 25 vehicles driven by the police -- local police and by the FBI, a very large truck, sort of a minivan, the sort of minivan that is outfitted with very large tires. It is unclear whether or not that is a vehicle that the agents are looking at, or whether that happened to be one of several vehicles that happened to be at this gas station when the incident occurred. Walking by me right now is a host of some four to five ATF agents.

So clearly, this is -- this is an area where there are various federal agencies as well as the local and state, county officials investigating a scene.

It's something of a surreal situation, Daryn, because what you have here, along Route 1 here in -- near Fredericksburg, specifically in Massaponax, Virginia, is a long line of cars that has been basically roped off, stopped, and are just sitting here patiently in the rain as far as the eye can see. In fact, on the way to this particular Exxon station on I-95 South, we could see a long line of cars that had been stopped in traffic for at least several miles.

And more specifically and importantly, along the way you could see that at least in two instances, we saw police vehicles stop white vans, specifically white -- what you've been hearing over the course of the past week, these white box-like vans and one, specifically, with a ladder on the top of it.

Again, unclear at this point whether or not those vehicles had anything to do with these shootings, but again, this area, Daryn, is very similar to some of the other areas in which the sniper has been involved.

It is a major, major thoroughfare where he or she or whoever it is behind this might have very easy access to targets, and might also have very easy access, certainly, within the last couple days, to escape routes.

So that's what we're seeing at this point, Daryn.

KAGAN: Yes, and I don't know if you're able to listen to our coverage as you were getting in place there, Michael, but we did talk to Lieutenant John Crawford of the Alexandria Police Department right before we went to you, and he did confirm that they, right now, have a white Chevy Astrovan pulled over to the side, waiting to get word on whether to release that or take it to the next step.

I want to ask you another question, getting word right from the governor office, Virginia governor's office, Mark Warren (ph) saying that indeed, at this Exxon station where you are, somebody was seriously wounded. Do you see any sign of that, any ambulances on the scene?

OKWU: Great question, Daryn. It's something we were looking for. Absolutely no emergency medical services personnel as far as we can see here. The only personnel that we can tell that is here are, again, law enforcement officials, FBI agents, local Spotsylvania County agents, as well as ATF and Virginia State Police. Absolutely no ambulances of any kind at this point.

KAGAN: And we don't have a picture yet up from where you are in -- at that gas station in Fredericksburg, but what we are looking at, what our viewers are looking at with us right now, Michael, a live picture of I-95 where they had stopped one of those vans before. I would imagine, though, the scene where you are looks very much like what we saw at Manassas just a couple days ago with this huge influx of officers, and as you were describing, different agencies, far more than you would see at a regular shooting, because police are being very diligent and very assertive in responding to any report of any kind of shooting to secure a very large crime scene.

OKWU: That's exactly right. I would even venture to say that what I'm seeing here seems to be a little larger than what we saw in Manassas a few days ago. They have surrounded this entire area. I would say it's probably about an area of about some five to six square acres, completely surrounded by police vehicles.

They've made something of a wall really, around this area, and then within that perimeter, there is another wall of actual individuals, law enforcement personnel that I was telling you about, area, and beyond all of this, again, is sort of miles and miles of cars just stuck and waiting here in the rain.

KAGAN: I'm actually, Michael, getting some information given to me that might answer one of your questions. Police now telling us that one person has been already transported to the hospital by ambulance. So that would explain why you don't see the ambulance there. Perhaps -- it sounds like that victim taken away before you arrived on the scene. You stay with us.

I want to go ahead and -- since we're getting close to the top of the hour, and I'm sure we are going to have some new viewers joining us, as well as the ones who are staying with us, go back to what we know about what has taken place this morning, and that is another shooting, yet to be determined whether or not it is related to the earlier sniper shootings. However, looking very suspicious. Knowing that at 9:30 a.m. this morning, Eastern time, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a shooting at an Exxon gas station very close to a police barracks, taking place at this Exxon station and at least one person seriously wounded as we get word that that person has been transported to the hospital.


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