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Police Update on Sniper Investigation

Aired October 17, 2002 - 12:15   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to go back to Montgomery County, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C. We're getting ready for this news conference.
Here's the Montgomery County police chief.


CHIEF CHARLES MOOSE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE: ... Fairfax County Police Department is here to provide an update on that situation -- Chief.

CHIEF TOM MANGER, FAIRFAX COUNTY POLICE: It's been determined through further investigation that the information provided by one of the witnesses at the scene of the shooting in the Home Depot describing a cream-colored van with a malfunctioning taillight is not credible.

In addition, there have been several media reports related to the description of a specific weapon and the suspect. That information, as well, is not reliable.

We continue to follow up on leads from other witnesses that we have at the scene, and I would encourage anyone who can provide any information at all to call the tip line at 1-888-324-9800.

I would say that we continue to be confident that this case will be solved based on the investigative efforts and the excellent cooperation between all of the agencies involved, and through the information we receive from the public.

QUESTION: Did you get any information out of those witnesses at all?

MOOSE: Excuse me, sir. We will take questions at the end of the time period here together.

Because there continues to be so much confusion about a weapon -- a type of weapon, descriptions out there, I wanted Special Agent Mike Bouchard to discuss with you some of the problems of putting photographs and details of specific guns out in the public's eye.


As I said the other day, we'd ask you to be very careful before you release any information. We're in this business, and what we do is we receive information and we try and corroborate that. We don't release information unless we corroborate that, and I'd ask you to do the same, particularly with firearms.

As I've said before, the type of rounds we're looking at here that are in the .22 family, such as a .221, .222, .223 caliber, are fired by 30 plus types of firearms.

If you interview witnesses, they may not know exactly what kind of gun it is. Within these 30 plus firearms, each manufacturer has a number of different models that look the same. There are accessories you can buy for these guns that make them look like another gun. So, from a distance, they may look like another gun when, in fact, it's a different model.

So, again, we try and corroborate this. You can't go by what someone just sees from the outside.

So, I'd ask you to try and verify that information with us, and as best we can, we'll tell you what we know. And I think we have been very fair to tell you we're trying to get to the public these are the type of rifles. It could be a bolt-action rifle. I'd ask people to focus more on the round of ammunition.

But other things such as the assault-looking weapons like AR-15, the things that people have seen like that, that are black in color, some have wood grain stocks, et cetera. Some have folding stocks. So, you can't just go by what someone thinks it is.

So, there are a lot of different rifles that chamber this round. Keep that in consideration, please.

MOOSE: Thank you, Mike.

As was mentioned yesterday, we had the good fortune of -- myself and a number of chiefs from the Washington Metropolitan area to meet to discuss planning strategy, information that we want to provide to the men and women out on the street.

There certainly was a focus with the sheriff from Spotsylvania County, Chief Wilson in Prince George's County, Chief Ramsey from MDD, Chief Charlie Dean down in Prince William County, and then certainly, Chief Manager in Fairfax County.

This strategy session, we're very hopeful that it will bear fruit, but we're also very hopeful that it remains confidential. I know that there may be inquiries about that, but we would like to again stress that we must have strategies, we must have some capacity to give ourselves an advantage to be in front as opposed to be constantly reacting.

So, if you can contain yourselves, if you can please just understand that we have to have those types of meetings. We have to have that sense of privacy that these strategies are very important in our effort to keep people in our community safe.

Chiefs at that meeting were from all over the area. I'm not going to try to go down some list, tell you who I may or may not have forgotten, and the group of interested chiefs continues to expand. In terms of the advantages of that, I want to again stress that there's a lot of experience and there's a lot of talent at that table. So, the best ideas from our federal government, the best ideas from our local and state law enforcement community are to our advantage.

And if you want to paint that as, we can't control that or that we're going to have infighting, I guess so be it. I can't tell you what to do. But my report on that meeting, extremely productive, extremely beneficial, we will do as many more of those as is necessary.

We talked about a lot of things, and I benefited from it, our task force, our law enforcement in this community is better as a result of that session.

So, again, it's very important that we remain confidential about that, about anything that was discussed there. And quite frankly, I guess I'm saying is that in your inquiries, if you find someone that does want to talk about that, I would just personally ask you for all of the citizens of the Washington Metropolitan area that even if they talk to you about that, maybe you consider that you don't want to report on that. You don't want to report on that until this situation is brought to closure. That would be very helpful to us, and I think it would be very helpful to all of the people, all of the millions of people that are living through this situation.

So, your help and any guidance that you may provide me on that matter is would be very helpful.

Our next briefing will be at noon -- noon tomorrow, and we'll take questions.

QUESTION: Chief Manger, what was exactly was...

QUESTION: Are you saying that you're concerned that leaks of bad information are coming from law enforcement officers, confidentially, to the press, and the press is running with it? Is that a problem?

MOOSE: Well, sir, I have tried to be open-minded about where the problem is. Is the problem in reporting? Is the problem in law enforcement? And maybe it's to the point where let's not point any fingers, but let's all be intelligent, let's all be adults, and let's just say that there is a problem if strategies, if things that we're trying to do to bring this case to closure are somehow put out there. Everybody's speculated whether the person or the people involved this are watching the media, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) things in the media encourage or discourage. But we all need to process that, and that is simply my plea.

I ask the same of law enforcement, I ask the same of the media, but it is a reality in today's world.

QUESTION: Chief Manger, did this witness intentionally mislead you? And if so, why? And are there charges being filed against him or her? And do you still think that you've got someone who saw anything there? MANGER: I'm not going to discuss unreliable information. I'll discuss reliable information. We are going to continue to work with other witnesses at the scene who are providing us with leads and we're following up on those leads at this time.

QUESTION: The fact that this cream-colored van is not panning out, the fact that this weapon is not panning out, the fact that there is no really good description of somebody, how much of a step back is this for the investigation?

MOOSE: Well, I hope that if people in the public didn't hear that word, because it has not set back the investigation. We have very good investigators, and I think what you have in the report from Chief Manger is that investigators have done their job.

And in the interim, all of the other investigators have continued to open up, turn over, and follow up on leads. We are making progress. We remain very optimistic. But certainly, we felt that this piece received so much attention that it was important that Chief Manger himself tell you the status of that situation.

QUESTION: What I think I hear -- and please correct me if I'm wrong -- but if the van is inaccurate and I guess the olive-skinned complexion is inaccurate, and the gun is inaccurate, can you tell us what we do have that's accurate that we can put out so people can phone in, you know, accurate tips to you? What are we looking at?

MOOSE: Well, sir, again, we feel like we put out information when we have it. We're not going to put out bad information or misinformation. So, when we have a person, a photograph, we will deal with that. Bt at this point, we do not have that.

All of the information about the white box truck, the composites that we put out about the vans from Spotsylvania County -- all of that is still relevant information, very important information to our investigation. We're simply talking about some information from one scene, and as we all know, unfortunately, we have had many scenes. And so, all we're saying is that small piece is not credible.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) gun, is that what you're talking about? I mean, is that specifically what we're talking about?

MANGER: That was not information -- any information with regard to the -- specifically to the weapon or to a suspect description was not put out by the police, and consequently, should not be seen as reliable information.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the police did say here that you had shown the witnesses from the most recent shooting the Econo van and the Astron van from Friday, and that you didn't want to put anything else out because that matched those witness' descriptions. Are there witnesses from the most recent shooting who say, yes, I saw something like an Econo van or a Chevy Astro van?

MOOSE: Sir, I missed the first part of your question. Was that framed in what "The Washington Post said? QUESTION: No, no, no, it wasn't framed in what NBC News said either. It was framed in yesterday at this podium, we were told that the reason why you didn't put out an additional sketch of the van was because you had shown the witnesses a picture of the two composites that were released earlier, and that those were in accordance with what the witnesses had seen. Is that still the case?

MOOSE: Well, I think in order for us to be absolutely accurate, I'll have Captain Demme, who provided that briefing, and she can tell you exactly what she said. And I do think she did a tremendous job yesterday.

CAPT. NANCY DEMME, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE: Yesterday, when you were asking about the cream-colored van, and we had conferred with Fairfax County, at that time, that was still a good description. That hadn't been excluded, and there was not a composite being done, because it was close enough to the two composites we already put out. It was described as an Astro van with a ladder rack, so we were not going to put out another composite.

At that time, it was still a fairly good description, and obviously, as you just heard, that has been discredited.

QUESTION: Chief, on the subject of the...


QUESTION: Chief, I need you to clarify this. I just need to clarify this. Excuse me, sir. If I could just clarify this?

QUESTION: Did all of the ballistic evidence that you have so far come from the same weapon? Or could there have been multiple weapons used in these crimes?

BOUCHARD: Basically, what I have said before, there are 30 plus weapons that fire this type of ammunition. All we've said is evidence from this case is linked these shootings.

Before I go on, I want to clarify one point to make sure I'm not going to see this tonight or tomorrow.

I did not say anything like a Colt AR-15 is the weapon. I want to make sure that was very clear to everyone. I'm saying the assault- type weapons similar, that look like that, that people commonly see to keep that in the back of their mind. I am not identifying any brand of firearm.

QUESTION: From all of the ballistic evidence, it's come from one weapon so far?

BOUCHARD: As I said, ballistics evidence, as well as other evidence in this case, is linked to nine of the shootings so far.

QUESTION: What about the activity over at the Home Depot? A lot of police activity over at the Home Depot?

BOUCHARD: Let me finish while I'm up here, and I'll -- yes, sir?

QUESTION: In the Home Depot shooting, the statements were that ballistic evidence shows that it is related to the other shootings. It can be identified or linked to the sniper. Is that not to imply that it's the same gun? Are we talking about ammunition, the same gun? What is it about the ballistics without being too specific that connects it?

BOUCHARD: Ballistics evidence, as well as other evidence in this case, is linked it to the nine total shootings.

QUESTION: So, three of the shootings possibly came from a different weapon?

BOUCHARD: Three of the shootings, the evidence is inconclusive.

QUESTION: Mr. Bouchard, you mentioned when you were up there, as you were ticking off the 30 guns, you also ticked off the .221 round, I believe .222 was it, and .223. Were these rounds that were able to be identified and checked, were they all .223s?

BOUCHARD: They were all from the .22 caliber family. They are all very similar and can all be chambered from the same type of rifle.

QUESTION: So, then it could -- are you saying that it could be the same rifle, but you don't want to go beyond that? Or are you saying that it could have been a different rifle?

BOUCHARD: I've repeated my statement over and over. I'm not going to say the type of gun.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Monday's night shooting of the witnesses that you think is valuable that you do want to put out there?

MANGER: I don't want to -- I'm not going to comment on any of the information that witnesses at the scene have given us. We're following up on a number of leads.


MANGER: I'm not going to discuss any information that we got from the witnesses.

QUESTION: Yesterday, we were told that a witness saw on someone's shoulder a rifle. We were told that by authorities that you still have a credible witness.

MANGER: That information was put out in the media. It was not information that was given by any police agency or task force member.

QUESTION: No, no. What we told specifically was that witnesses thought they saw -- thought they saw -- not witness, witnesses thought that they saw the shooting take place. Is that true or not?

MANGER: We did not release that information. (CROSSTALK)

DEMME: Yesterday, in my discussions with you, it was based on what little information we had from those witnesses, and we couched them as several, not specifically, and it was at that time my understanding that the witnesses had seen someone exit a vehicle. And that was from questions you all had asked and my understanding, and perhaps that is not correct. And Chief Major -- excuse me, Manager is correcting that right now.

QUESTION: Can somebody comment on published reports that say that federal agents are talking to some of the terrorists down in -- the al Qaeda people down in Guantanamo Bay, and investigators published reports say that they said that the shooter wanted to be seen? Can somebody comment on those?

MOOSE: Ma'am, again, it would be inappropriate. Every time we talk about the investigation, I think we subject our people from hearing things, assuming things, insinuating things. We're not going to talk about any of the details of the investigation.

From my perspective, when we have people from the media interviewing potential witnesses and then publishing reports, we get confusion in the media. We would like to be able to do our job. We're supposed to interview witnesses. We're supposed to collaborate all of that evidence from the witnesses. Hopefully, we can keep that information as part of the package to get a prosecution.

But when we have the media interviewing witnesses, interviewing potential witnesses and writing stories as a result of what those witnesses or those people that they interviewed report, then we get this noise, this confusion out there that I think somehow causes people to have tunnel vision, causes people to, you know, focus in on things that are not appropriate.

So, again, it is a case that there's a lot of interest in, but there also continues to be danger. And so, we would like the opportunity to contain, to do our job. But again, my perspective is media interviews of witnesses and then the resulting stories have caused us to spend time today trying to clarify things that we're trying to do.


QUESTION: There's been a lot of police activity today over at the Home Depot in Falls Church, Virginia. Can you give us any idea, did you miss something over there? What are you going back there again to look at?

MOOSE: Well, ma'am, we're just, again, trying to be thorough, trying to be accurate, and I would encourage you not to be surprised to see us return to any and all of our locations. And we continue to do work. That's just what investigations are. It is just work, rework, rethink, re-look, re-interview, rethink, and continue to also stay on the track of moving forward.

So, that's all you're seeing is just police work.

BLITZER: The Montgomery County police chief, Charles Moose, briefing reporters, together with his colleagues from the task force on this sniper investigation that's been going on now for two weeks.

Apparently, some setbacks in the investigation. The police chief of Fairfax County in Virginia, Tom Manager, saying that the earlier description by a witness of a cream-colored vehicle, not credible, not reliable.

The witness description given by one witness, one eyewitness of the suspect, once again, not reliable.

And Mike Bouchard of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms telling reporters that some of the descriptions that we have reporting about the weapon, the suspected weapon used in connection with the sniper killings, not reliable.

They're insisting they're going forward. Once again, they're cautioning the news media to be very careful, to be very precise in the reporting, to make sure that we don't do anything that could undermine this investigation.


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