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Interview with Danny Coulson

Aired October 11, 2002 - 13:17   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Just moments ago we heard from a witness that saw that shooting, heard the shots at that Exxon.

QUESTION: What did you hear?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a single shot.

QUESTION: Was it really loud?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was loud enough that you knew it was a shot. To me, I felt like I knew it was a shot. You know, one guy said he thought it was a backfire, and we looked across the street and there was -- the reason we noticed the van is because of everybody saying, hey, there's a white Chevy van, and we looked across the street and pulling out, making a left right here, going south on Route 1 was a white Chevy Astrovan.

QUESTION: Did it have ladders on top of it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It had something on top of it, like a metal brake, but I don't think it was a ladder.

QUESTION: How would you describe the van?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a plain white cargo work van.

QUESTION: Did you see anyone inside who was driving?


QUESTION: Heading...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not sure the shot came from the van. So like I said, I just associated it because, you know, you heard a shot, all of the stuff was going on and...

QUESTION: You didn't see any lettering?


QUESTION: No ladder on top? Just a standard white van?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No ladder. Right, it look like it had a metal break or something on top of it, but...

QUESTION: What's a metal brake?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A metal brake is something they use to (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and they have, like, metal breaks that have, like,two hangers on the side. Two handles sticking up in the air.

QUESTION: Where did you see it pulling out from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was right here, and it was at that stop light, pulling out, going left. It was on that street.

QUESTION: Towards the highway?


QUESTION: Is that where the highway entrance is closer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I-95, see right here. See that stop light here, in the right-hand lane, you can get there, and go north 95.

QUESTION: Did it seem like it was going fast?


QUESTION: And you hear the shot. How much time passed between the shot and seeing the van exit the station?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the van wasn't -- we didn't see the van exit the station. The van was sitting right at the stop light.

QUESTION: Heading this way?


QUESTION: So as if it had just come out of the station?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, or just come off of that road or whatever.

QUESTION: And it was heading to turn towards 95?


QUESTION: So it as on the side of the stop light by the station?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, over there, there's three lanes there. Actually there's four.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Michael Okwu is near the scene of the shooting near Fredericksburg, Virginia, as we just listened to the witness there that heard the shooting. Michael, is there any way that you can tell us or kind of give us a perspective about what this man at the Mobil station was talking about, where was he in comparison to where this shooting was? MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Mobil station, in comparison to the Exxon station where the shooting was, is just across the street and sort of at a diagonal. So I would say that that person must have been about 50 yards or so from the Exxon station, which is a very large space.

So this person might have gotten a very good look into that area. Certainly was in a position to hear what was going on in that area, and you heard the policeman here telling us at the briefing that he was not the only one who heard something, that clearly there was a state police officer who happened to be making a traffic stop in the area who heard a single shot.

Now, what is interesting about that is authorities here obviously do not want to talk too many details about this particular case, said they did not want to talk about how many shots were fired, but clearly saying at this press conference that this county police officer heard a shot, was speaking in terms of singular. Now, that's obviously very important because, from what we know in terms of the MO and the pattern of this particular sniper, he has been using one single shot to cause damage to his victims.

Not clear, of course, whether or not this sniper -- this is connected to the sniper, but again, the MO certainly appears to be the same.

Now, during that press conference, Kyra, you might have heard, he referred to the fact that the interstate was blocked off, confirming the fact that this victim is a black man, and that the victim is now dead, and also confirmed the fact that there was a pursuit after the shooting, that in fact they were looking for a white van. It was described, and in fact that there was some eyewitnesses there who they have questioned.

Again, they are being very tight lipped about what these people actually saw, and they are being very tight lipped about the evidence, the physical evidence they actually took from the scene, but confirming that there was, in fact, physical evidence and that evidence is now in the hands of the ATF.

They are going at this point door to door to hotels and questioning people. We know that we have actually seen some dogs going from scene to scene, not just to hotels, but to other businesses in the area, along the street, stopping by, even taking a look at some of the vehicles that have been parked along these streets, presumably vehicles that belong to the media. So they are being very thorough.

PHILLIPS: Michael, I am sorry, I was getting some information in my ear there. I wanted to ask you a question before we go to a quick break.

With regard to the checkpoints, how -- well, actually, let me ask you about the community first. Are schools in a lockdown situation, and businesses also? We know throughout the area, as these have been happening, businesses have shut down, outdoor seating, schools have been in lockdown situations. What is it like for this community? OKWU: We understand that some of the schools are in lockdown and this has certainly been the case in a lot of counties beyond this one, where they are not allowing any of the students to go outside.

And in fact, in various counties across this state and in Maryland, some outdoor activities throughout the course of the weekend, including sporting events, have been completely shut down.

Kyra, as you can imagine, this is an extraordinary chapter in local history here. People are very nervous, and specifically nervous about doing the mundane things, particularly going and getting gas. What happened today is certainly not going to help that.

When you see people here pumping gas, oftentimes they are crouching to be as inconspicuous as possible. So, if this person's desire is to instill fear and terror in the minds of people in this area, this person is actually being fairly successful -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Michael Okwu, thank you. We'll continue to check in with you in the next couple of hours.

Well, we want to talk now to a veteran law official. Danny Coulson served 31 years with the FBI and is a former director of the bureau's anti-terrorism task force.

He joins us live from Dallas -- hi, Danny.


PHILLIPS: Well, this shooter definitely has selected his kill zone, hasn't he?

COULSON: Yes, he definitely has.

PHILLIPS: Let's talk about how he has done that.

COULSON: Well, it's much like a bank robber would case a bank robbery -- a prospective bank robbery venue. He has picked a place that is close to an interstate or a fast moving highway, where he doesn't have to worry about escaping through traffic. He has waited for an individual to walk into his kill zone and very frankly, this case becomes more and more like a hate crime, to me, from several shootings ago, the first -- one of the things that came to mind, and with certain of my other colleagues, it appears that this could very well be racially motivated, even though some of the victims were non- minorities. It has many of the earmarks and characteristics of a hate crime to me now.

PHILLIPS: Well, talk to me about those earmarks.

COULSON: No motive except appearance of the victim, it is very similar to the assassination of Dr. King, the wounding of Vernon Jordan, the case out in California where Buford Furrow (ph), a Christian Identity neo-Nazi, went into a nursery and shot up the premises there, and injured quite a few people and killed a minority mailman.

They generally target people who are unsuspecting and helpless, and that's exactly what we have here. These people are not a threat to anyone, they are -- their only common denominator here is -- for most of the victims, is they are minorities or they could possibly appear to be minorities. So I think -- I'm sure the FBI is looking at that, and that's -- to me, it is a distinct possibility.

PHILLIPS: Now that's interesting. That's a new twist here, because we haven't talked about that, we haven't even heard about that. As a matter of fact, we haven't really received a lot of information about every single victim, but when you look at it, they all are -- they are not Caucasian, any of these victims or individuals that have been shot.

COULSON: They are not, and if you look at the ratio of minorities to non-minorities in our country, but then look at the ratio of victims here to people who are positively minorities and those who aren't, the numbers just don't work out.

There has to be some reason for that, and it's a terrible thing to think about, but I think it's some avenue that these people have to pursue and I'm sure they will.

PHILLIPS: You call him the ultimate predator. Is that different from a serial killer, a mass murderer, a thrill seeker?

COULSON: No, no. They are all same, they are predators. They have different ways of taking on their victims. Ted Bundy, who looks like a very pleasant young man can lure unsuspecting women into a compromising position, and then murder them.

This individual is another type of predator. He takes a target of opportunity who happens to walk into his kill zone. So, they are all predators, it's just their techniques may vary from case to case or individual to individual.

PHILLIPS: All right. Now, you're a former FBI agent, and now I'm hearing that the FBI is using a rapid start program. Will you explain to us what this is and how it's helping with this crime, and why the FBI is using it?

COULSON: Well, it's not a new technique. I actually used it in the Oklahoma bombing several years ago.

What it is, it's a database that collects all the information that's collected during the investigation. It's all entered into a program, and it has full text retrieval of every bit of information that comes into the investigation. It helps track leads, it tells you what leads have been covered, what portions of leads have been covered, which ones have not.

It's especially valuable with regard to prosecution of the case. It's helpful to solve it, but probably its greatest value is the prosecution of the case, because it brings every bit of information gathered in the case, on this one particular case, and then makes it available to prosecutors who can use it in court.

PHILLIPS: Does it remind or alert or bring something to the attention of an investigator, maybe something that hasn't been covered, as it collects this data? Does it beep, all of a sudden and say, Hey, look at this, don't forget this? Can it be used in that way?

COULSON: Not in that regard, but yes it does. It helps you track your leads. One of the biggest problems you have in a major case is figuring out what you have done and what you haven't done. You may get one call in that gives you five or six leads, and it helps you keep track of all five of them, so you can assure that they are all covered properly, and then follow-ups from those leads are also documented so one -- it's a great retrieval mechanism for the managers and the commanders of the case.

PHILLIPS: Danny, finally, who is going to solve this case? Is it the law enforcement, is the shooter eventually going to just screw up so badly that he makes himself obvious, or is it going to be the FBI, ATF, and other agencies?

COULSON: Unfortunately, I'm afraid it's going to be solved in a situation where he does it again. You saw today he did it in the presence of a police officer, a police officer handling an accident right there within only, probably, 100 yards or so away. I think he is ultimately -- he or they are maybe looking for an ultimate confrontation. They may, in fact, expect a grand finale to this killing spree that may involve confrontation with law enforcement now.

PHILLIPS: Well, he thinks he's so brave, but he's such a coward, yes?

COULSON: He is, that he is.


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