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Man in Custody in Suburban Sniper Case

Aired October 21, 2002 - 09:37   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We need to go to some breaking news out of Richmond, Virginia. A number of local affiliates there are now reporting what could be a break in the sniper investigation there. A male came out of a white Astrovan into a phone booth. He's now surrounded by a SWAT team and perhaps agents of the ATF.
We'd like to give you more information on what that means. Just to give you an idea, the Richmond area is south of where the last shooting took place Saturday night. And although there is no conclusive evidence at this point, at least the police have not told it to tie the sniper to the shooting on Saturday night they have told us all weekend long, they are making that assumption, and the doctor who did the surgery or several surgeries on the man hit Saturday night told us he successfully removed a rather large fragment of the bullet.

So we're awaiting a 9:45 news conference with the officials in Richmond.

Let's check in with Bill Hemmer who's standing by in Montgomery County. We have talked about the jurisdictions involved. Have you learned anything new what is happening further than 90 miles south of where you are right now?

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it's a great question, Paula. I find it interesting that indeed this is a development relative to the sniper why the chief would be coming out now in a matter of minutes. They seem to parallel each other right now. But if anything comes out of the situation, certainly everyone will be hopeful it goes that way.

One bit of caution right here, though, for three weeks, we have been essentially watching the police chase their own tail. Any time a story comes in about a shooting they respond. I tell when you, when I was first down here two weeks ago it was a Wednesday afternoon, a deranged man in his home shooting his gun. The only guy home at the time. It was 4:00 in the afternoon. Within minutes, there were a dozen police cars surrounding his house, and they had blocked off the entire neighborhood. That's the kind of response you get. I'm only getting, just a bit of caution, until we more information out of Richmond, because they have really chased a lot of dead ends on this story for the past 20 days running.

ZAHN: Bill, I'm just going to have you stand by for a moment, because we have a man on the phone who might be able to do just that, R.E. Dotson.

Mr. Dotson, where are you right now?

R.E. DOTSON, WITNESS: I'm a block away from the Exxon station at The Car Guys, which is where I work.

ZAHN: And what have you seen take place over the last five, 10 minutes or so.

DOTSON: I was sitting at the traffic light at the intersection of Palm and Broad, about 10 minutes to 9:00, and there were probably 30 police cars just came from nowhere, zoomed all around the Exxon station at the intersection of Palm and Broad, which is kind of like the hud of the west end of Richmond, and they've blocked off Broad Street, which is the main artery of the town, and they're diverting traffic away from the Exxon station.

They have white tape -- I mean, yellow tape surrounding the gas station. There's a white Astrovan over by the phone booth, with all the doors open and police surrounding it. So you really can't see what's going on in there.

ZAHN: Describe to us this van, what you can see of it?

DOTSON: I'm sorry. Say that again.

ZAHN: Describe the van, what can you see. You say all the doors are open. Is there a ladder on top? What does it look like?

DOTSON: All I could tell is was a white Astrovan and they started diverting traffic (INAUDIBLE). I'm walking towards it now. There is a helicopter hovering over the gas station, police cars everywhere, that's really all I can tell you. Now, like I say, I'm walking towards it now, but I really can't see much of anything else.

ZAHN: How close do you think you can get to that perimeter area?

DOTSON: Well, I'll keep walking. I can probably get within 20 yards.

ZAHN: All right. So, once again, you described some 30 police cars converging on the area. Does, it appear to be from Richmond or can you even tell, from where you're standing?

DOTSON: What, the police cars or the van?

ZAHN: The police cars.

DOTSON: The police cars are all local.

ZAHN: All local.

DOTSON: Henrico County Police.

ZAHN: All right. There was one report that the ATF is already on the scene. Is there any other vehicle that would suggest they are federal agents that are already in place?

DOTSON: I don't see that yet, but let me get a little closer. I'm just a couple of minutes away from that intersection. ZAHN: OK. And then, Mr. Dotson, once again, you describe this area on Broad Street being blocked off and you described the Exxon station. What about the...


ZAHN: ... phone booth. These initial reports of this guy being in this phone booth. Can you see a phone booth?

DOTSON: I could, when I was at the -- when I was in the car at the traffic light. I can't right now. I'm just a couple of yards away from that intersection now.

ZAHN: And as you're walking, Mr. Dotson, we'd love for you to stay with us, because we have gotten our first live shots up from WRIC, the local affiliate, in Richmond. We're going to try to keep an eye on this and just let you continue to tell us what you're seeing. Now, obviously...


ZAHN: ... we don't want you to get in the way of investigators, but you can walk until they stop you, I guess.

DOTSON: Yes. I guess, nobody's stopping me, as of yet. They're still diverting traffic. There are police everywhere. Let's see. I'm at the intersection now. Let's see. I see phone crews, news crews, I don't see any feds anywhere, as of yet.

ZAHN: And we're seeing a Henrico County Police van drive up now in our picture. Is the helicopter still up in the air from -- because this picture looks very misty? It wouldn't seem like very good weather to have a chopper up in the air.

DOTSON: Well, it's -- yes, it's raining, and I'm looking up at the chopper now, it's there.

ZAHN: OK. We lost your little signal there, for a moment.

DOTSON: Well, I've got another call coming in.

ZAHN: OK. We'll let you take that call. And then if you'd come back to us, for a moment. Bill Hemmer and I are going to continue to talk about this. Bill, I think you made a very good point earlier. There have been a bunch of false leads in this case. We don't really know what's unfolding here, on our screens, as we look at the WRIC pictures. But, clearly, it's got to be something that caught the attention of investigators, if you have, what our witness described, as some 30 local police vans converging on the area. And then we just saw that Henrico County Police Department van show up, as well.

Have you heard anything from the Montgomery County investigators?

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All quiet, so far, here, Paula. It may be a matter of moments, though, before the chief comes out and, perhaps, he can illuminate the situation we're watching right now.

Just to pick up on your point, though, I mean,even calls like road rage phone calls that have gone into local police, Paula, I mean, they get the attention on such a massive scale in this area that it really lends itself to understanding how much tension and how much people are, frankly, nervous throughout entire area.

Just in sense of geography here, Paula, Richmond is about 15 miles, due south, of Ashland Virginia, that's where the shooting took place on Saturday night -- right off I-95. I heard that witness, who was excellent, by the way -- if we can get him back on the phone -- saying it was in the western edge of Richmond, I don't know if that has anything to do with it.

What I find sort of interesting, though, is that they've surrounded this phone booth, OK. Now, again, I'm going to say this and I'm going to say it. I'm taking the liberty here, because I don't know the information or the facts, but last night when Charles Moose made his plea to the sniper who left this letter at the scene Saturday night, to call the phone number that he left on Saturday evening, I find it very interesting.

Perhaps, it takes us somewhere, perhaps not, but that's the scene we're watching now.

ZAHN: All right. Let's go back to our witness, in the meantime, R.E. Dotson. Mr. Dotson, I guess -- can I call you R.E.? I don't know what that stands for, but...

DOTSON: Yes. It's my initials. That's what people call me.

ZAHN: All right. Describe to us where you are right now. We're looking at a picture, and it's very hard to tell which, obviously, I guess, is close to Broad Street. We saw the Henrico County Police van just go by. What are seeing, from your perspective and where are you standing, if...

DOTSON: I'm standing directly northwest of the Exxon station. I'm directly across from the white van at the phone booth. Let's see, there are police everywhere, traffic is still being diverted, of course, you know, there are lots of people showing up, wanting to see what's going on. So, I mean, you know, it's lots of rubber necking.

ZAHN: R.E., a lot of folks might not have heard what you described when you first arrived on the scene. Tell us how all of this caught your attention to the first place?

DOTSON: I was heading to work at intersection of Broad and Palm. I was on Palm Road getting ready to turn to Broad Street, and all of a sudden 30 cop cars came out of nowhere, and yellow tape start going up on the Exxon station. They stopped traffic. They've been diverting traffic off of palm onto Palm Road away from the Exxon station there at the corner. They have cordoned off all four corners basically when I first noticed there was a white Astrovan at phone booth with all the doors open and police surrounding it.

ZAHN: You can get a better view of the van or are you in a blocked position?

DOTSON: I'm directly across from it. The doors are closed there. Are two policeman in the back of it. There is no conversion of police officers surrounding the van.

ZAHN: And how far would you say the van is from the phone booth you are talking about?

DOTSON: It's like it pulled up to the phone booth so whomever was in the van could talk on the phone from in the car are.

ZAHN: A Richmond resident?

DOTSON: Yes, born and bred here.

ZAHN: You are watching this play out. We should make it clear, investigators can't confirm what we're looking at right now has anything to do with the sniper. What went through your mind when you stumbled upon the scene as you headed to work?

DOTSON: Well, what goes through everybody's mind. The sniper is here. I'm scared. Let me get the heck off the road.

ZAHN: If you will stand by, R.E., we don't want to lose you, you are our best source of information from the scene, I think we have Kelly McCann from Washington. Are you with us?


ZAHN: Do you see this as a planned response?

MCCANN: There's a couple of indicators here. The co-location of the ATF and Henrico County, they don't patrol together. The fact they rolled so fast together seems to indicate there was a preexisting plan. Basically what you are seeing we can not attribute to the sniper yet. You are seeing emergency management control, where they isolate the situation to pr╝otect it from the public. Contain it and control it. Can you see that with the helicopter flying overhead? They have redundancy and ensuring the public safety nobody steps in there. Interesting development.

ZAHN: Kelly, I'm hearing CNN can confirm an individual has been taken into custody. That is about all we know. Come back to specific of the significance what we're looking at here. Bill Hemmer was saying there have been a number of false leads in this case, given the resources Broad Street in Richmond, Virginia, what does it suggest to you?

MCCANN: Suggests high interest. And I mean, obviously if the feds were co-located with the locals, that would mean there was a pre- existing plan to roll quickly to a site. Now, you know, that kind of response wouldn't be rolled out for a prankster if it was known or a guy that was going to file a false report. Somehow it's likely to be involve. Of course, we'll have to confirm, that but the dangerous part like we spoke this morning if this was a test of police holding information secure or ensuring the sniper's safety and it went this way, we should hope that it is, in fact, him.


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