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Police Release Composites of Serial Sniper's Truck

Aired October 12, 2002 - 17:14   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's go the chief who is now approaching the podium behind us here in Rockville, Maryland. Montgomery County police chief, here he is, Charles Moose.
CHIEF CHARLES MOOSE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE: At the completion of this briefing, we will make copies of the graphic available. It has now been prepared and it will be passed out. It really consists of two photos and it will be made available to everyone. It will also be made available on our Montgomery County Police Web page. And it will be made available on the ATF Web page and the FBI Web page.

It is a graphic of the box truck vehicle from the shootings in Montgomery County. After working diligently with victims of this case, these are the graphics that have been prepared. We want to stress that this is a composite and is not a photograph. It is compared much the same way many of you are dealing with -- used to dealing with composites that we hand out of people. So please understand it is not a photograph of the truck. It has been modified. It has been retouched. And it is very close to what the witnesses tell us from their memory. But again, it is a composite. It is not a photograph.

It does have a roll-up door in the rear and the damage to the rear bumper is very difficult to see in the composite but it is indented. And we want to stress it may be hard to visualize on a composite, but there is damage to the right rear. The vehicle has oxidized paint and we want to stress there is no gleam or sheen, even though, again, the composite we pass out the way you download it, may have gleam or sheen to it. But the actual memory recall of the witnesses, there is no glean. It is oxidized paint. So it tells us that it is an older truck.

There is large lettering on the side and in the composite, it simply demonstrates that writing by saying unknown words, unknown words. And, again, not to challenge anyone's intelligence, I just want to stress that the writing on the side of the truck does not say "unknown words/unknown words." It is simply there to demonstrate that there is lettering. None of the witnesses have been able to give us the exact wording, but we do want to stress that. And although there is a lot of information out there, I want to stress that the witnesses have not been able to give us a license plate number.

We will continue to bring forth composites, as witnesses work with us and as we're able to put that kind of thing together. Please understand that in the preparation of these types of items, we often have to do numerous re-interviews. And when we're dealing with numerous people, sometimes it just takes time. Oftentimes, people may be confused by what they've seen, what they've heard and we want to be very careful before we put a composite of this type out. And certainly, we anticipate an even larger version of this composite, but we were not able to get that prepared at this time.

We also remain very interested in the white Astro van that was discussed with regards to the shooting in Spotsylvania County yesterday. We would anticipate being able to do a composite on that vehicle but we are working with the witnesses. And again, we put no time frame on that. We're operating with a sense of urgency, but when you're dealing with witnesses, re-interviewing, letting their emotions -- giving them downtime, all of those things that are necessary for people that are involved in this very traumatic series of incidents, sometimes it just takes time.

We are pressuring them as best we can, as nice as we can, but there are witnesses -- there are people that have been impacted by being in and near, around this situation. And as this situation continues to evolve, please understand that the trauma also evolves. So we will do it and we will do it as quickly as possible, but it does take time.

I want to stress that the composite for the box truck that we are sharing today, there's been much in the way of questioning in terms of whether or not it is witnesses from only one, and we want to stress that we have witnesses from more than one location reporting this composite. We value our witnesses and I will not entertain any additional questions about any specifics on the witnesses or the location of the witnesses that helped us with this composite. I hope that everyone understands the rationale there, the trauma, and the fact that we are obligated to do everything possible to assure the safety of our witnesses.

And with that in mind, I would like to have another brief revisit to something that we spent some energy on a couple of days ago, and that's the police and media relationship. It has come to my attention that some members of the media have made a decision to follow investigators, go to other great lengths to see what investigators are doing. And perhaps now they have stationed reporters, camera people, and locations where people suspect that we are going to make an arrest at any moment and it's their job to be on the scene. If you are engaged in that kind of activity, we ask you to please consider the fact that you may jeopardize this very critical investigation, you may jeopardize the safety of our investigators. You may actually be compromising our witnesses.

If we get to a point -- because people are concerned about their anonymity and their safety -- that we get no further witnesses in this case and maybe we get no further witnesses in any crime in this country because once you cross over that line and a witness can no longer be safe because every witness is going to be subject to this kind of media scrutiny, their safety, perhaps their reputation, their willingness to assist law enforcement could be at risk. I'm asking you to consider what you're doing, to give some thought that that may be inappropriate behavior. There continues to be many, many crimes in our great nation but one of the things that has always been wonderful is that witnesses, law enforcement -- we have a spirit of cooperation and we've been very successful in protecting witnesses so that people will come forward, keep future crimes from being committed, keep us from getting additional victims. So certainly we ask you to think about that. I clearly know I can't make you but I'll appeal to your intelligence. I'll appeal to your sense for the greater good, and realize that there are multiple fallouts from the kind of behavior that has you following investigators, setting up on locations, being in people's yards, and all of the ramifications that come with that.

The next briefing will be at 9:30 tomorrow morning. We'll take questions.

QUESTION: Chief, with the box car being white, the Chevy van being white, are you suggesting now that the assailant or assailants is using multiple vehicles, or do you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) emphasis on the color of the box truck that's now (UNINTELLIGIBLE) witnesses in their eagerness to help to provide you the information that you're using?

MOOSE: It is not our goal to make any suggestions or assumptions. We're working with the witnesses. We're putting information out, asking people to have their memories jogged, to continue to assist us in locating the vehicles that we're look for.

QUESTION: But is it an error to concentrate on this color white? I saw so many roadblocks yesterday, all stopping white vehicles. Is this perhaps limiting the effectiveness of the investigation?

MOOSE: Well, sir, we're all welcome to our own opinion. Any other questions?

QUESTION: I know you're cautious about this, but how many shooting scenes had the sighting of a box vehicle?

MOOSE: Sir, I've said all I'm going to say about that issue. I said that I wouldn't take any additional questions there.

QUESTION: Could this be a...

QUESTION: Chief Moose, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the suspect itself or just simply not (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

MOOSE: Sir, I have no information to provide with regards to the status of the investigation.

QUESTION: Chief Moose, the reward fund is now over a half billion dollars. What does that say about the kind of public support you're getting and whether or not it's helping this investigation?

MOOSE: Well, sir, I appreciate that question. And we do say to someone, or a group of people out there, that may have information that will help us arrest and indict the person or people responsible for this, we have $500,000. That is the reward and we're not accepting any additional -- that is the reward. That is the cap. That is what is available for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the person or people responsible for these crimes.


MOOSE: Ma'am, it would be inappropriate for me to answer that question.

QUESTION: Chief, you said you're also working on a composite of the white Astro van. Yesterday, there was a question as to whether this van had anything to do with the shooting. Are you now saying that you believe this white van is actually connected to the shooter and shooting?

MOOSE: Ma'am, yesterday, we put out the white Astro van with the ladder on top. We asked people to help us locate that vehicle and we continue to ask for that help.

QUESTION: So are you saying that the leads are connected or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- it may not be connected at all?

MOOSE: Ma'am, we are interested in a white Chevy Astro van with a ladder and we've asked people to help us locate that vehicle and we continue to do so.

QUESTION: Chief, at the 13,000 block of Georgia Avenue this afternoon, up around the area where the original shootings took place, the first several incidents, there was a military helicopter circling around. A lot of people are wondering what it was doing. Can you help us with that?

MOOSE: I cannot help you with that question, sir.

Our next briefing will be at 9:30 tomorrow morning. Thank you very much.

HEMMER: That is -- that is Chief Charles Moose. We -- to our viewers, stay with us a moment here. We do anticipate the leaflet, the placard, to be handed out, which apparently will contain two different photographs.

The chief went a long way to stress that the photograph release is actually a composite that has been thrown together by the eyewitness testimony of how many people we don't know, but specifically he said this is Montgomery County, quite interesting, not Prince George, not Prince William, not Spotsylvania, not D.C., but only the shootings here in the local Rockville area. It's a photograph of the truck. It is not the same as a composite. It's close to the memory, he stresses, from the eyewitnesses who have given the testimony.

A rolled up door in the rear, he described. A bumper indented, right rear side, damage to the right rear. He says it's an older truck with large lettering on the side. But what the lettering is, what the words are, we don't know. No license tag number. And then he went to talk about the Chevy Astro from yesterday. It appears either one or two things is happening here -- the vehicles talked about are two separate vehicles or they have yet to make the connection between the two.

And again, the witnesses, more than one location --go ahead and hand it to me, that's fine, I'll take it. Mike, do you have it there -- more than one location contributed to this composite. Let's go ahead and hold it up. This is one and we do anticipate one more. At least one of the photographs given out here, and it appears, Mike, if you look at it with me, pal, that's the rolled-up door in the back of the van that they're giving out.

MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's tough, again, to see the damage, the right rear bumper. And also, he stressed that they did not have a good tag number. So we do not know exactly what state -- they said earlier about the tag number. We don't know what state the tag's from.


HEMMER: Go ahead and bring the camera in, if you could, guys, and we'll just get a tight shot of this for our viewers to see at home. And as we do that, Kathleen Koch is going to come join us as well. And again, we anticipate a second picture. We haven't seen it just yet, but perhaps in a matter of moments we'll see it.

Did you find it interesting that it appears, Mike, that -- there it is right there. I believe this is coming off the Web site right now that the chief talked about -- it appears, again -- go ahead, and take a look at that -- unknown words written on the side of that van, sort of centered with two lines, with bolder words on the top and smaller lettering below it.

Did it appear to you as well that we're talking about two different vehicles, at least at this point anyway, no connection made between what happened yesterday in Spotsylvania and the incidents here in Montgomery County?

BROOKS: Right. And when pressed about the incident yesterday at Spotsylvania County, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he wouldn't go into any depth about that. And one of the things is -- you know, there's a big difference between the box van that they're talking about and the Chevy Astro van with the ladder on top.

HEMMER: How so?

BROOKS: The size. I mean, the size of the Chevy Astro van as compared to the box van, they're almost totally, completely different -- with a ladder on top. Again, two work-type vehicles.


BROOKS: Right. Exactly. But totally different in size.

HEMMER: I'll tell you the one thing that does synchronize, though, with the stories we've heard anyway, is that there are no windows on the sides of this van.

KOCH: There is more detail too. They also gave out this description that is much more detailed than we've gotten earlier in the week.

One point that it makes is not only, again, as the chief said, there is the oxidized paint which has no gleam and no sheen, which indicates it is an older truck. It says here the witness also heard the motor of the truck, which was loud and consistent with an older vehicle. I'm reading on down -- everything else is pretty much consistent with what is in the photo there, or the composite, again.

BROOKS: Now, older vehicle, are we talking a loud motor or are we talking some kind of diesel-type engine? A lot of times these Isuzu -- I think early on they were talking about Isuzu, but they didn't mention this time, so I don't know what their thoughts are on that, but these kinds are sometimes diesel-type vehicles, so they sound old.

HEMMER: And the thing that he stressed also in that briefing was that although it was a photograph that we're looking at, this is actually a collection of the memory of a number of witnesses, possibly from a number of scenes here in Montgomery County going back 10 days.

KOCH: Certainly. And again, they're promising that we may get something like that from Virginia with the Chevy Astro van.

But they seem to be drawing a little finer line with that one, saying we want to talk to these people who are in this van. It may not necessarily be connected, and they're not making this distinction with this vehicle. They've said from the start they believe this one is definitely involved.

HEMMER: All right, we're going to continue to look at this. Anderson, go ahead and jump in here. I understand you have a few things you want to point out as well?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, I'd like to hear from Mike Brooks. I mean, how -- let's talk a little bit about eyewitness testimony to the police. You know, as you mentioned, Bill, these composites are made up from several eyewitnesses, we're being told. The police chief also stressed that a lot of these witnesses have to be re-interviewed. And I'm curious to know, how do things change over time and why do things change over time? Does it change -- do they become more accurate? How often does testimony -- does eyewitness accounts actually change?

BROOKS: Well, early on, Cooper, many times during the initial interview, people are very -- they are under a lot of stress and they can't remember a lot of things, don't have a lot of recall. So as days progress, they may start to think, well, you know, I remember something about this truck, and their subconscious may come forward.

We don't know -- the question hasn't been asked, but you know, was there any hypnotism used on victims. That's also a tool, an investigative tool that sometimes they use. We don't know if that was used in this, again, to help pull some of that memory recall out of someone's subconscious.

But reinterview someone, reinterview them again, you know, and try to draw out the more information they can, because sometimes, again, in the initial stages of something like this, an incident, people are under a lot of stress and they don't recall a lot of things, and they're tunnel-visioned. And that's why I think this is a composite from a number of different witnesses. So this is, you know, the work of a number of different people.

HEMMER: You know, Anderson, the other point on that, just on the local level here, we've heard police -- from local police asking people to carry a pad of paper and a pen with them, and in case they see something, to write it down immediately so that it does not escape their memory.

KOCH: I think it's good to point out, too, that the first question in this press conference was about tunnel vision, as you just mentioned. Is the public developing tunnel vision by only focusing on white vehicles? Because now that it has been announced since the start of the killing, might they be missing something if the killer switches to a dark blue, to a green vehicle and people don't even notice it because they're not looking for it? That the police need to make clear that could change, it is possible.

BROOKS: And during shootings like this, it's not like a shooting that we see on the street where the victim is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and they jump in the car and run away. We're talking about the sound -- people look at the victim, they look around, and what's the first thing your eye picks up -- a white vehicle. You know, and everyone is so ingrained, to have this ingrained with the white vehicle. Could it be another vehicle? Absolutely.

HEMMER: Which could lead credence to the idea as to why this has been delayed a day and a half.

BROOKS: Sure. And keeping in mind, as you were saying earlier, Bill, this is just from Montgomery County, not from the other locations.

KOCH: And I think that also helps explain why they have not at all released any sort of composite of a potential suspect, the potential killer. There are reports in the "Washington Post" today, I think a lot of people have reads, that some witnesses were shown a photo from a surveillance camera, perhaps. But the police have said from the start that's why they wouldn't release anything about a potential profile, because they don't want anyone to zero in on one type of person, one -- whereas a photo, a photo from a surveillance camera would have you looking for one, you know, race of person, one height of person. They don't want to have tunnel vision and eliminate a broader body of suspects who might actually be responsible.

HEMMER: And Mike, you worked in this area for so many years, you know this is one of the most heavily occupied parts of the country when it comes to surveillance cameras. There are a number of them throughout the area.

BROOKS: It is, especially Washington, D.C. Downtown Washington. The civil libertarians were up in arms, as we were talking -- we revisited again during the 4th of July when they were talking about the demonstrations, and having use of the video cameras. This area with surveillance cameras, you've got cameras at intersection, cameras on ATMs. ATM cameras have been used to solve crimes before.

KOCH: Now they're talking down in Virginia to businesses up and down the interstates, again trying to get them to turn their cameras away from their businesses and...

HEMMER: Towards the street.

KOCH: ... perhaps to those escape routes, just in case there is another sniper...

HEMMER: Quickly, let's recap again, Anderson, what we just learned a few moments ago from Charles Moose, the police chief. He's released these two photographs. They are photographs, but we're urged to keep in mind that there's composites based on the recollection, the memories of countless witnesses, perhaps. We don't know, he did not supply a number.

But if you look at it, all of this is coming from people here in Montgomery County, where we are here in Rockville. It's a photograph of the truck, close to the memory from the witnesses. Those are the words from the police chief. There's a rolled up door in the rear, there is a bumper indented, damage to the right rear side of that bumper. He talked about oxidized paint, not sheen, not gleam, which lends the idea that perhaps it's an older truck. Mike, you pointed out it could be it's just sun damage as well, which we see oftentimes with bad point jobs on any vehicle. Large lettering on the side. You can see it quite clearly. Bolder letters on the top, smaller letters right underneath that. Unknown words, though, which I find quite interesting.

None of these witnesses had the opportunity to read the words on the side of the truck, and no one at any point has gotten a license tag number on board that van.

As we talk about this, let's mention again the Astro van from yesterday that has been described by some people who say that was spotted leaving the scene of that shooting down in Virginia.

COOPER: And Bill, we should differentiate that the truck that we're showing you right now, this box truck is different than the white Astro van. The police have said they may come out with a graphic representation on that, the Astro van, some time in the next day or so. But again, this vehicle is different than the white Astro van with the ladder on top that so many people have been talking about.

HEMMER: This is what we have at this point, you're exactly right, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. We will be covering, obviously, this story all day here on CNN. Bill, we'll come back to you shortly.


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