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Police Briefing on the Sniper on the Loose

Aired October 15, 2002 - 09:11   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: As promised, back to Fairfax, Virginia. Again, Paula, this is all relative to what happened 12 hours ago at this time, a woman shot and killed in the parking lot of a Home Depot, after shopping with her husband inside.
CHIEF THOMAS MANGER, FAIRFAX COUNTY POLICE: Good morning. These developments that we've had since last night is that ballistics evidence has conclusively linked this case to the other murders in the area. The victim in this case has been identified as Linda Franklin. She's 47 years old, from Arlington, Virginia. The autopsy of the victim is going on this morning. I've been in touch last night with Chief Moose from Montgomery County, Chief Dean from Prince William County. We have been a part of the task force assisting in this investigation prior to our case last night. Obviously, we're still a part of this task force investigation.

We've put out information about a vehicle that we were interested in finding last night, a light-colored Astrovan. There's been some misinformation about the taillight. Let me clear that up. We are looking for a light-colored Chevy Astrovan with the left taillight out. It didn't appear to be cracked. It just did not appear to be functioning. We're still in the early stages of this investigation. We are still in the process of interviewing witnesses and evaluating information that we have. I want to encourage anyone that has information about this case or any of the cases to call the tip line. That number is 888-324-9800.

I'll answer any questions at this time.

We're not releasing any information about the suspect.

QUESTION: Witnesses saw him. Why won't you tell us?

MANGER: We're still in the process of evaluating information from a number of witnesses, and so we are not releasing any information about that.

Again, there's a number of witnesses that we've spoken to that have given us information. We're still in the process of evaluating that information. We're still in the process of evaluating the information that we've received from the witnesses.

We're not releasing that information at this point.

QUESTION: ... the optimism last night. Unlike some of the past shootings, this shooting might be unique that people may have seen more than they'd seen in previous shootings. Is that optimism warranted?

MANGER: These investigations take time. They take patience. We're working through process as quickly as we can. There was some additional information that we were able to get from last night's case. And I am confident that ultimately that information is going to lead us to an arrest in this case.

QUESTION: I noticed that Chief Moose arrived here this morning. I understand that there's going to be a couple hours worth of meetings. What will you be doing this morning?

MANGER: We're going to be coordinating all of the information that we got from last night's case, making sure that we are coordinating that investigation with Montgomery County and their cases. There will be some investigative strategy meetings this morning.

QUESTION: Any written material that you all picked up that may suggest that the perpetrators tried to communicate with you all either at the site last night...

MANGER: No, there's no information that we're releasing now about anything -- any evidence that we were able to pick up at the scene.

QUESTION: What about one witness did have a partial license number? Is that the case, and what should the public be looking for...

MANGER: The information I've released about the vehicle we're looking for is the best information we have in terms of a vehicle lookout. We got a number of tags, license plate information, from witnesses who were nearby the scene after the shooting. We are following up on all of that information, but we are not at this point ready to release any license plate information.

QUESTION: Should people not assume, though, that it's any particular jurisdiction? In other words, at this point, operate on the basis that we really don't know what the license plate origin is?

MANGER: Again, we're not ready to release any tag information with regard to...

QUESTION: Supposedly, it said it was partial Maryland. Would it be incorrect to assume that that's accurate?

MANGER: I can't give any information about what the governor's office is putting out.

We're not releasing any information on that.

QUESTION: What about a Maryland car? There's also some reports that it's a Maryland tag. Can you comment on this?

MANGER: Again, we received license plate information from several witnesses, different information on different tags. We're following up on all of that information. We are not ready to release any tag information about suspect vehicles.

QUESTION: Can you tell us any more on Linda Franklin?

MANGER: I have no other information other than what I've given you on her.

We've interviewed a number of witnesses from the scene.

QUESTION: ... saying that one witness said to police that that person saw someone actually get out of a van and shoulder a weapon. Is that in the mix of the people that you interviewed last night?

MANGER: We interviewed a fair number of witnesses at the scene last night. And, again, I can't comment on information coming out of the governor's office.

QUESTION: ... police coming to the scene afterwards. How was the guy able to get away?

MANGER: I don't know.

QUESTION: ... able to get there quickly and surround the area? Were there too many exit routes from that area to cover?

MANGER: There are a fair number of ways to leave that area. We had officers in the areas as quickly as we could, in an attempt to get any information we could about folks that were in that area.

QUESTION: Has anyone been able to determine approximately where the shot was fired from?

MANGER: We have been at the scene since last night. We continue to have folks at the scene processing that information and recovering any evidence that might be there.

QUESTION: Chief, based on the information you gathered last night, do you feel you have enough information to compose a composite sketch of the suspect?

MANGER: I can't release any of that information at this point.

I'm sorry?

Obviously, we're getting quite a bit of information. Have been receiving quite a bit of information from witnesses. I want to encourage that to continue. Information is always the key in solving cases like this. But, yes, we are able to do that.

QUESTION: There's been a report on the radio that a woman who did not speak good English got an exceptional view of a van leaving the area and called in and was not able to communicate, because there was no one to talk to her. Can you tell me if you know anything about that, and how that kind of thing will be handled?

MANGER: We had, obviously, a number of people calling in last night. We were getting to them as quickly as we could. I know for a fact that we had detectives and officers speaking several languages that were talking to witnesses last night. Whether we got to every one the first time they called in, I can't comment on that. I don't know.

We have the capability of taking those calls. Again, I can't comment on -- if -- how many people we had calling in at any given time, and if we were able to get to them all immediately. But we'll get to them all eventually. I'll tell you that.

QUESTION: Chief, did you take anyone into custody last night as a result of your dragnet?


QUESTION: Was there a person at some point...

MANGER: We made a number of traffic stops. I'm unaware of any pursuits that went on.

QUESTION: Is the sniper getting bolder? Is he changing his method of operation?

MANGER: I wouldn't speculate on that.

QUESTION: Chief, could you run through for us a little bit the sequence of events relative to the department and the reaction to the report of the shooting and what they were reacting to and how much time went by before the highway closures occurred?

MANGER: We received several calls about the shooting immediately after it occurred. And officers throughout this region were -- are aware of what to do once those kinds of calls come in that might have been related to these cases, and we were in the area setting up as quickly as we could.

QUESTION: You said the autopsy was being conducted this morning.

MANGER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Does that mean that this case was conclusively linked to the others without the use of ballistic evidence from the autopsy?

MANGER: It was ballistic evidence that conclusively linked this case to the others.

QUESTION: This individual struck again last night. If he's following his own story in the media, he knows there is a massive police plan that drops in on the area after a shooting. If the witnesses who describe that vehicle are correct, he may have used the same vehicle again.

Despite all of that, he seems to be very committed to keeping on doing this, despite the risk of being caught. Does that work into your favor?

MANGER: Again, these investigations, they take time. They take patience. We are working through this process as quickly as we can. And I am confident that the work of this task force will ultimately solve this case.

QUESTION: Did you find ballistic evidence on the scene, and to follow up on a earlier question, how long did it take to react and respond from the first 911 call until the time the dragnet...

MANGER: The ballistic evidence that linked the cases was recovered at the scene. The -- we were on the scene within a very few minutes of the initial report of the shooting.

QUESTION: Chief, would it be...

QUESTION: Did you find a bullet, or shell casings at the scene?

MANGER: I'm not commenting on beyond we've linked the evidence ballistically to the other cases.

We're still evaluating all of the evidence that we've recovered at the scene. I can't comment on that to this point.

QUESTION: What is the last credible sighting you have of the suspect that you have?

MANGER: Again, that witness information is being evaluated, and I'm not going to discuss that at this point.

No, I don't.

QUESTION: Why are you confident you're going to catch him?

MANGER: Because I have confidence that this task force is going to ultimately make an arrest in this case.


MANGER: Because I know what kind of police work they're doing. That's why.

QUESTION: Chief, do you know if this man, do you believe this man is only firing from a car, or is he getting out of the car.

MANGER: We don't know that at this point. Again, we are still evaluating, still interviewing witnesses, still evaluating the information we're getting from the witnesses. So I'm not going to talk about that at this point.

QUESTION: ... different from the previous eight fatalities.

MANGER: I really can't comment what's different about the previous eight cases. I do know that we are still seeking information from the public through the tip line. We are encouraging anyone who might have information about the light-colored van with the silver ladder rack on the top, with the taillight, with the left taillight out. We're encouraging anyone that would have information about that to please contact us through the tip line. Number, again, is 888-324-9800. I recognize that it's very frustrating in terms of the information that we can release at this point. But I think it's important for us to protect the integrity of the investigation. We're still in the very early stages of this investigation.

But at this point, I will tell you that until I have additional information, we won't schedule right now another briefing. When we have additional information, we will let you all know in a timely enough fashion so that you all can be aware of -- when that briefing's going to be. And I thank you for being here.

QUESTION: Chief, can you tell us anything from the victims' families?

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: For those of you just joining us, you've been listening to a very disciplined Fairfax County Police Chief Thomas Manger taking questions from reporters, saying he's confident the killer will ultimately be caught, confirming that fact that ballistic evidence has conclusively linked last night's killing in Falls Church, Virginia to the sniper's other victims.

He went on to say that he very much wants the public to be on the lookout for a light-colored Chevy Astrovan with a left taillight out. In addition to that, he said it had silver ladder wrapping on top. When it came to the issue of license plates and what witnesses have told investigators, he said he has been given different info on different tags.

Apparently, the Maryland governor's office releasing information that they believe it was a Maryland plate. The police chief not confirming that at all.

The chief also was asked a number of testy questions about whether a witness actually saw the shooting. He wouldn't even confirm that. He said they were still in the process of evaluating what witnesses have said. But there was an account in "The Washington Post" this morning suggesting a witness actually did see the gunman outside, either outside the van or inside the van firing the shots and someone apparently, according to "The Washington Post" sought a rifle to the shoulder of a sniper.

Let's go to Michael Okwu to talk with you about what stood out in your mind. The license plate issue seemed to be of keen interest to reporter there.

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely right, because that is the one bit of information that is tangible, and it's the one bit of information at this point, other than the fact that this person is using a .223 caliber bullet that actually connects the crime with an individual and might also help the public and the residents here in this area try to help authorities get this person or people who might be doing this.

One of the other things that struck me about this, Paula, is that the chief seemed to try to placate the public. He was trying to calm people down. He kept saying several times, I think, that this is an investigation that is going to take some time, and it's going to require some degree of patience.

Clearly, those comments directed towards some of the very, as you can imagine, very on-edge residents in all of these counties, because this is clearly terrorizing people in the area. Just being out here, that becomes very palpable and very real.

And, again, Paula, linking this officially to the sniper, saying that the ballistic evidence has been done, and, of course, mentioning who the victim was. It's a person with a name and a family, Linda Franklin. She was 47 years old, from Arlington, Virginia, which is just up the street here, and, again, could be one of these streets that the sniper or snipers, used to make their getaway route.

I want to show you pictures inside this parking area where the victim was shot. If you have them. Basically, there have been at least half a dozen, maybe more, recruits here on the scene, and other uniformed officers and federal agents who have been literally on their hands and knees trying to amass as much physical evidence as possible.

Clearly, this is something that has been done in the past. It happened in Montgomery County. It happened when a 13-year-old teenager was shot at the school last week. They're getting all sorts of people involved in the investigation at this point, trying to amass as much physical evidence as possible.

And, Paula, even as they amass this evidence, it's very clear that authorities are trying to keep some of the information under wraps. They mentioned the fact there have been several witnesses who not only talked about the light-colored Astrovan, but also talked about, as you mentioned, the license plate information, and there is also questions about somebody who might have gotten a very clear look at the van and, perhaps, the driver or drivers of this van, who may or may not have spoken very good English, but authorities at this time saying that they want to hold on to some of that information, because -- for obvious reasons. If they feel they might be on to this person, they don't want to give too much away, so that this person may be able to change methodology or do anything that might be able to help them out.

But they said during this press conference that they are very confident that the information that they have received thus far might very much lead them towards and arrest -- Paula.

ZAHN: In closing here, Michael, the chief was asked the question whether he felt the witnesses had seen more this time around than some of the other killings, and he wouldn't confirm that, but how much weight is being given to the reports that have been published in a number of different places this morning about someone described as olive skinned, a light suspect, and actually radio scanners at one point not only describing this guy, what he looked like, but what he was wearing?

OKWU: Well, you know, there's not a lot of credence to that here, at least where I am. There have been a number of reports about who this person might be.

These are the first real signs of any kind of description of anyone really actually getting a good look at who this person might be. But, again, don't get the sense that there's a lot of credence necessarily. That doesn't necessarily mean that that won't change in the hours if not the days or the weeks ahead, because what authorities are trying to say at this point is, they're amassing a great deal of information from a number of different sources.

Now, that is something that they weren't getting early on. So they certainly see that in a positive light. But on the other hand, they've got so many different eyewitness who have been reporting slightly different things that they don't want to give anyone the impression that this is who the suspect is. They don't want to get too locked in to that, because they don't want the public to start, basically, canceling out other possibilities. That person is behaving strange, but is not olive skinned. So, again, basically, keeping everything, everything, under wraps and under consideration -- Paula.

ZAHN: Michael Okwu, thanks for the update.


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