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Press Conference on Metropolitan Area Sniper

Aired October 15, 2002 - 13:02   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are standing by, waiting for this latest news conference to begin. We learned the most today from an earlier news conference this morning from Fairfax County, Virginia, and that is the site of the latest shooting that Carol was talking about. Falls Church, Virginia, it is where we find our Michael Okwu.
Michael, what's the latest?


You know, last week, in the Washington D.C. area, you could not have imagine the fear being any more palpable, any more real, and yet, this morning, it most certainly it is.

9:15 last night, Linda Franklin, 47-year-old specialist with the FBI, gunned down in this parking lot at the Home Depot here in Falls Church, Virginia, her husband not too far away from her.

Authorities have been coming this area now for more than 15 hours. FBI federal agents, as well as other inspectors, literally some of them crawling on hands and knees, trying to amass as much physical evidence as possible.

Now based on information given to them by eyewitnesses, authorities say that they are looking into the possibility of finding a light colored Chevy Astrovan.

Now two vehicles that were apparently taken away from this location about an hour ago, unclear who those vehicles belonged to. We understand there's some speculation that perhaps one of them belonged to Ms. Franklin. Clearly, investigators looking at evidence in or around those cars. Investigators are still amassing a great deal of information based on eyewitnesses and what they called various sources. One of the things that they are looking at is the license plates of some of these vehicles.

Back to you, Daryn.

KAGAN: It looks like the news conference is about to begin. Let's listen in to Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose.


CHIEF CHARLES MOOSE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE: ... we know that there's a link between his shooting last night and the shootings that we've been working here, the shooting in the District of Columbia, shootings in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. I know there've been a lot of questions about the status of things on the ground is Spotsylvania County. So at this point, Sheriff Knight would like to give some details about things in his community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, chief.

I just wanted to address, especially the citizens of Spotsylvania County that we're involved in the task force. We're working closely with all the members of this task force, including the FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshall, Secret Service. Everything that can be done is being done at our level and also with the task force.

I certainly would like to think govern Warner for his support in giving us all the manpower that we can use with the state police, and also hopefully some money can come our way to help defray some of these costs.

But again, we had the two incidents in our county, and again, we're working very close with this task force. We are speaking with one voice. That's all I really want to reassure the residents of the county, that we are in this together and we're working very closely with everybody.

Thank you, chief.

MOOSE: Thank you, sheriff.

The second shooting in the sheriff's district involved witnesses that talked about a white van. So we have been working diligently with the special projects team from the FBI to prepare composites to try to hone in the reports from the community and also to work being done by law enforcement officers.

So with an overview of those composites, we asked the major from Spotsylvania County Sheriff's office, Major Howard Smith.

MAJ. HOWARD SMITH, SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: As you're aware, Friday afternoon, we briefed you and told you that we had interviewed several witnesses that had seen a white van leaving the area. We've been working with the FBI and have come up with two composites that we would like to release today of those vehicles.

The first one is an Astrovan Chevrolet. Please pay attention to the ladder rack which is on top of this van. The second one is a Ford Econovan, also with a ladder rack on top of it. We're also the public, if anybody knows anything about these two vehicles, please call the 800 number. We're also asking if you drive one of these vehicles and were in Spotsylvania County on Friday afternoon near the intersection of Route 1 and I-95 to please call the sheriff's office, or please call the 800 number, so we can talk to you and interview you.

Please take a look at these. If you know anybody that drives one of these vehicles that you might suspect, please call. And if you were in the area, please call us. MOOSE: And again, I want to emphasize the major's comments that we are -- these are graphics. These are not exact photos. These are not photos of vehicles that we know and are sitting on or observing at this time, but these are graphics. We want to use this to jog people's memory, people that, again, may have seen them in the area, people who know people who have them, and again, his point, with regards to if you have this vehicle and you were in the area at that time, then please contact law enforcement, let us talk to you, let us work with you with regards to why you were there and what you were doing.

All of the assaults and deaths in this situation are traumatic in their own way. Our empathy continues to go out to the families, the relatives of these victims, but certainly when we talk about last night's victim, when we all recognize that she was an employee of the FBI, then certainly our hearts also go to all the agents that are in and about our area assisting on this case.

We do want to emphasize that the victim was not working on this case. She's a non-law enforcement support personnel with the FBI. And we don't want any confusion that it was a person assigned to the case.

A tragedy, as have all of the deaths been tragedies, but we did want to clarify if there was any confusion with regards to her role in this investigation.

And certainly, we continue to work with a number of witnesses from the situation in Fairfax County, and as more information becomes available, if it's determined that that information would be helpful to put out in the community that people in the community can assist in the investigation, then we will willingly share that information at that time.

Certainly, the task force has continued to be extremely busy. There is certainly a lot of energy out there, in terms of people that have been contacted, people that have been talked to. Many people in the media have now had contact with some of those individuals. So we certainly want everyone to understand that we are doing that work, asking questions of individuals, doing research, doing research on their whereabouts at certain times, and many, many of these people have been eliminated as suspects. We don't deny that that work is out there. We in some ways would prefer to keep that close to the vest for the investigation, but we also know the reality of interviews and people talking, and people wanting to be on record that they are not involved in this situation.

So a lot of it is human nature, but we also want to make it real clear that a lot of this work has happened and is going to happen into the future. We still need information. We want to emphasize the 1- 888-324-9800 number. When people are looking at the composites of the white vans, we would like them to focus on the roof racks for law enforcement. We know a lot of white vans have been stopped and interviewed over the last several hours, and we will also tell you that law enforcement will emphasize the white vans with the racks on top. So, again, we realize that there's a high state of anxiety, that people want to assist us, and so we're doing everything possible in working with witnesses to define the composites and to find the of work that we want feedback from the community as best we can.

Some of it is very general. We apologize for that, but that is also the nature of an ongoing investigation.

At this point, we'll take questions.

QUESTION: The new composites, when you've got the two different images. You are not looking for two different vehicles, are you? Are you saying it might be this vehicle or it might be that vehicle? Or are you looking for two different vehicles?

MOOSE: We would like to be clear, sir, that there are composites, that when you deal with victims, that we don't all see the world the same. So out of respect, we couldn't take it down to any one composite. So these are images to jog people's memories. They're not two separate vehicles, but we just want to be real clear that there is not a photograph out there that we can share, and in working with people, these are the best composites that we could provide today.

QUESTION: And if I could follow up, have you shown those two composites to the eyewitnesses from last night's shooting?

MOOSE: Well, sir, we continue to work with the various witnesses in this case. And again, it has been our practice to not talk about any details of comments and interaction with the witnesses.

QUESTION: I guess some people are wondering the white box truck and these two different descriptions, do you think this guy might be using two different vehicles or you're looking for the same general picture?

MOOSE: We don't want to speculate, but certainly it's not beyond any reality that the person or people involved in this would have numerous vehicles that they could be using. From a law enforcement standpoint, we've asked our officers to focus on box trucks that have the damage that we tried to be clear in describing.

Where I realize people continue to contact us, we really want to, from a law enforcement standpoint, narrow our focus on the box truck to the specific damage and hopefully that will help us, again, to define our activities.

On the white van, they are composites. There's no lettering on the composites, and we really want to focus on the racks. There are any number of white vans, and a lot of them don't have any kind of racks, some of them have lettering from their companies, and we're not asking people to call us about those.

QUESTION: There is obviously there's a lot of frustration in the community involving this case. Do you envision a time in the near future where you will be able to release additional information, the public can become more involved in this investigation, a composite, a partial license plate? Do you envision a time where there will be more information released to the public in the near future to assist in the investigation, other than the vans?

MOOSE: Well, sir, certainly I remain very hopeful that at some point we can provide very detailed information about exactly who we're looking for. We hope that we can actually come out and tell you that arrests have been made. All of that is hope. But we also want to be very careful with partial information, because that's partial information; it's partial information, and if it somehow paints some group or causes people to be misidentified and causes them hardship, that is a dilemma we want to stay away from. When we can be accurate and very sure, then we take that and put it out there.

But to simply put out bits and pieces that are not flushed out, that is also not good business. So it is a balance that we've been seeking. Whether or not we've reached it in your mind or not, we've reached it as best we can when we talk about the team, our experience, people that we turn to for advice, that when we feel good about it, we'll put it out there, but partial is just that; it's just partial. And oftentimes, that's too weak to put out.

QUESTION: Chief moose, a question about last night, please. Chief, how did the gunman get away last night?

MOOSE: Go ahead, sir.

Well, sir, I was, again, just trying to say that partial, inaccurate, we're trying not to do that. So In addition to the fact that if we were doing some kind of work along those lines, it would be inappropriate. But partial is that's just what it is, partial, and we prefer not to deal in that.

QUESTION: Chief Moose, a question about last night. You had a massive response. Can you briefly characterize what the reaction was when you learned there had been a shooting, and say why you think the sniper got away.

MOOSE: Well, sir, it has been my practice to not talk about any speculation about why someone did or did not get away. So I really not -- not capable to respond to your question.

QUESTION: Can I be a little more specific, chief.

MOOSE: That would be helpful, if you could.

QUESTION: OK, we saw something different in Spotsylvania County, in the surrounding areas, clamping down on the roads, very aggressive, cooperation by motorists who were delayed, a plan that was carried out even quicker and at least as thoroughly, maybe more so, last night. What did it teach you about the plan, and if you don't want to be specific about why you think the gunman escaped, how about sharing your perhaps reaction to the fact that the gunman did escape.

MOOSE: Sir, again, we all want to do whatever we can to bring this to closure. So I don't doubt my reaction was any different than anyone else that wants this closed. So I don't know what good it does us there.

And clearly, I still think it's inappropriate to talk about any evolving law enforcement strategy, because if the person or the people involved in this are paying attention to this, then they would have that strategy, and therefore, you know, they would make that part of their strategy. So any comments there are totally, in my mind, inappropriate, because we're trying to do everything possible to put ourselves in a position to do what we need to do.

QUESTION: Did anybody get a good look at the shooter last night?

MOOSE: Sir, it has been our practice and I hope everybody can understand why we don't want to talk about the information that we gained from our witnesses. That puts our witnesses in a position that we have told them we wouldn't put them there. So we want people to continue to talk to us.

QUESTION: Putting together those composite pictures, have you gotten any information from traffic cameras or surveillance cameras that have helped you in putting together these composite pictures.

MOOSE: Sir, as I tried to state earlier, the composites are work that we've been able to do as a result of specialists spending time with the witnesses.

QUESTION: Certainly from everything we've been able to learn publicly, certainly fits the profile of these other sniper shootings, one shot, apparently from a distance. I know there's been additional investigation. Do you now believe that incident is consistent with the other sniper attacks?

MOOSE: Sir, you know, we have continued to do the investigation. I still have not really comprehended the relevancy of the persistent questions with regards to that case. We've looked at all evidence, talked to all witnesses with regards to that matter, and certainly have folded that pertinent information into our investigation.

OK. Well, sir, certainly there potentially is some nexus between the white van last night and the white van that was presented by Sheriff Knight. We have not had a chance to spend the proper amount of time with witnesses from last night. We would certainly risk some contamination of their memories by putting today's composite out. But we do want to continue to work with them on their composite.

And certainly, the information about the tail light. The tail light was burned out; it wasn't broken out. And so that is a clear distinction. As you so astutely indicated, now that that information is in the public arena, one does have the capacity to go buy a light bulb and no longer have that light be out.

So, you know, we struggle with what information needs to be out there, what's the relevancy of it and its potential to cause someone to change, to adjust and then perhaps further elude capture. So it is a balance that we're seeking. But if we're able to do composites from the witnesses last night, I anticipate we'll be able to present those. And we don't deny that those composites may be somewhat different than the composites today. People see things differently. People remember things differently. Our experts are working with them the best they can to provide the best rendition to help spur other people's memories. So it is a work in progress.

QUESTION: Do you anticipate at any point in time -- we know you've interviewed some witnesses. Do you anticipate in the near future of giving us a composite of the suspect, much like you've given us a composite of the box truck?

MOOSE: Well, sir, I'll try to be clearer. When the other gentleman asked this question, he asked if we would have a composite any time soon, and I explained to him that we would love to come forth and show you the mug shot of the person we arrested and now the case is closed. I would love to do that. So I don't know what your question is actually getting to. And so, again, I think I've answered it already in the sense that, if we have information that we feel needs to be in the public arena, would be helpful in the case, we will present that information.

QUESTION: Chief, you definitely had more witnesses last night than you've had in some of the other incidents. Can you talk without compromising them in any way about the kind of momentum this is giving your investigation?

MOOSE: Well, ma'am, all I can say is that the people that continue to reach out to us, the people that continue to call the hotline, the people that were willing to stay on site to be interviewed, all of that continues to be extremely healthy -- helpful. And I think that -- it has been my experience that people working with the police continues to be our best methodology for solving not only maybe this crime, but maybe other crimes. And so witnesses, people talking to us continues to be very, very helpful.

QUESTION: It sounds to me like you're saying is you don't have a sketch of a suspect that you're holding back from us. What you're saying is, based upon what you have from the eyewitnesses so far, you don't have enough in your own mind to put something forward. You don't think you have got an image of this guy that you're keeping to yourselves; you just don't feel like you've got what it takes to put something out, right?

MOOSE: You know, sir, again, probably the last thing I want you to do is pin me down on something. But if we had something that put in the public domain and asking people, do you recognize this person, do you know this person? We have seen that. All of us have used that. And we know the powerful advantage of that.

So, I guess if there's some thought that and we're just not going to share it with the public because we don't like the media, then no, there's nothing like that. We are working. People are working. We're spending time with witnesses. We're making some progress, but if -- you can feel the frustration from people. They want the answer. They want the picture. They want the address. My tactical teams want to know, which house do you want us to do the door? But we can't them at this point which door to do, so. QUESTION: You've said that there is not a photograph out there that we could share. Is there a photograph out there that you cannot share of either the van, the box truck?

MOOSE: Ma'am, and I apologize if I confused you. I was just trying to answer the question that we know the value of a sketch or a photograph. If we have that, we know the value of putting that in the public domain.

QUESTION: Chief, please clarify between your allusion today to a white van and the Fairfax police last night from today going from beige to light to today white. What color van do you want people to look for?

MOOSE: Well, sir, I would just -- for those of you that may have been there or had people on the ground in Fairfax that when you're dealing with a parking lot and the kind of yellow lights that -- you tell me what that does to a white truck or a beige truck. Again, our witnesses are doing the best that they can. Our specialists are doing the best that they can.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Just to clarify, one second, sir chief, just to clarify, and I don't want to put words in your mouth. But, sir, you said today white. Should we put out white, or should we put out light?

MOOSE: Sir, I would hope that you would put out the composites that we provided from the Spotsylvania County Sheriff's Office shooting. These are what we actually would like out on the street and in the community. We continue to discuss with the witnesses from last night, and we need time to do that.

Excuse me, sir.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the loss of one of your own last night? Does the FBI know -- will they step up their efforts even more so after losing one of their own?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, as I think as you can imagine, it's always a tragedy when somebody loses their life. And it does hit particularly close to home in this situation, but the resources that we're dedicating to this investigation are as much as we can draw from. We're going to pull as we would yesterday, and as we will tomorrow, just as many resources into this investigation as we can. The tragic loss last night doesn't change that. We're going to work as hard as we can to help the chief and the other agencies involved in this to resolve this case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Folks, before we do any questions, I would like to try and clarify something that would prevent you from reporting anything erroneously or mistakenly damaging somebody's reputation. We're obviously getting a lot of tips in this case. There are a lot of people in this country that possess firearms, specifically rifles, and there are a lot of them that chamber .223 rounds. We're getting a lot of tips about those things. Most of those are possessed legally. However, some are possessed by people who shouldn't have them.

We're following up on those tips as we get them, and I think you're finding out some of the people shouldn't have these guns. And when we go to arrest them, we would please ask you, don't identify these people as suspects in this case. They may simply be illegally possesses a firearm, and it's simple as that. We're not going to turn our back on it. We're going to have to take a look at it and follow through, arrest the people, et cetera.

We are not going to talk about those people linking their guns to this shooting. We've been very forthright with all of you. If something can be linked to these cases, we've come out and told you as quickly as possible. I'd ask you to not keep calling people to confirm it or not. I'm the person who's going to that confirms that or not. You might get it from the wrong person who doesn't have the right information, so let me finish, please. So to avoid any of that, I would ask you to address it here, please. Call the public information office here. But don't, please, don't report these as suspects, because there are a lot of people who we have had to arrest already with long guns that had nothing to do with this case.

QUESTION: Apparently, the federal government, specifically the Department of Defense, has a request pending before it for additional resources, maybe some surveillance resources. There's talk of a credit or loan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's the question addressed to?

QUESTION: To you, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it's me, I can't respond to that question, I'm sorry.

There's no response to that question, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Which agency has operational command of this investigation overall. I understand it's multijurisdictional, but which agency is actually in charge? Are you doing this by committee?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a committee. This leadership team here and the effected department is the leadership team. This effort here is unprecedented. A lot of you aren't used to that type of activity. One person doesn't have to be in charge of an investigation. It's going along extremely well and everybody's putting their best people forward.

These are all homicides in each jurisdiction. They're all federal laws that are all violated. Each chief or sheriff handles this as their own case as a homicide or a shooting. That's where it originates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Collectively, this group has decided we're going to catch whoever's doing this before any decision is made as far as charges.

QUESTION: The task force has been very committed to limiting the information that has gotten out, especially since the Bowie shooting, to prompt the shooter or shooters to act in response to that. And yet last night, a network television station last night reported that six suspects are under constant surveillance based on leaked information, and I'm wondering if there's a concern that that report or the leak of that information prompted last night's event.

MOOSE: Well, sir, with regards to what may or may not have prompted last night's event, we're still in the realm of speculation, and that is inappropriate. But certainly, we have become cognizant of the fact that our pleas for sensitivity in this matter continue to be ignored, that people have technology, they've demonstrated the ability to use that technology to glean information that we think they shouldn't have.

But if the camera can get there and see in there, then we have realized that people will do that. And so in addition to everything else we have to do, we've got to get better at securing our information, and I guess that's how much ever time that takes, we'll have to take that, because when things get out there erroneously, again, that is problematic which causes us to slow down, maybe causes us to have to make an adjustment.

QUESTION: Chief, can you tell me, are you looking for one or two suspects?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma'am, we have continued to keep an open mind.

KAGAN: All right, we've been listening in to Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose. Some interesting information coming out of this news briefing, number one, the two composites coming out on a white van. They're not saying they're looking for two different vans. They just couldn't come up with one specific composite, so they put up two. Good, we're putting those up once again.

One is an Astrovan, a white Chevy Astrovan with a ladder rack on top. The other is a Ford Econovan with a ladder rack on top. Different eyewitnesses have given different account, and this is what police want you to be on the lookout before.

Also, an unusual request, not only if you've seen a van in the area, but they're asking people if you drive a van like that and were in the area of Route 1 and I-95 on Friday afternoon around 1:00 p.m., they want those people that own or drive those vehicles to call into police to help them go through a list of elimination.

And we learned one more bit of information about the latest victim, Linda Franklin. We knew that she worked for the FBI, that she's 47 years old and was from Arlington, Virginia. But Chief Moose wanted to make it very specific that she wasn't working on this case. She's not an FBI agent, but rather she was support staff for the FBI.


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