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Police Apprehend 'Person of Interest' in Sniper Case

Aired October 21, 2002 - 11:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, we want to go back live now to Richmond, Virginia, and that's where our Ed Lavandera is. He is standing by at the site of that gas station, where they apprehended the van and the person.
I guess, we'll just call them a "person of interest," at this point, since police aren't calling them a suspect.

Ed, good morning, once again.


The scene here, as investigators continue to work on it. And one of the interesting things that has developed over the last 10, 15 minutes is I don't know if you make it -- see it through the command center, that's been set up here across the street, there's a Citgo gas station across the street and authorities there have roped off that gas station, as well, put up crime scene tape around that, as well.

I saw a couple of ATF agents going through all of the wastebaskets in the parking lot, looking for, what we might imagine, any type of evidence. They're also -- the cars that are in that parking that have -- needed to be cleared out, they cleared out all the cars and they started looking at the cars that were left behind, looking at license plate information and inspecting and searching some of the cars that were left behind in that parking lot.

Not sure what to make of that, quite honestly, at this point. But it is another development here that's kind of started over the last 10 or 15 minutes. The situation here has settled down quite a bit after the initial rush of excitement that erupted this morning, as investigators rushed onto the scene here.

The scene here, just behind these officers here, that yellow and white canopy that you see behind me, there's a telephone booth just underneath that, and that's where the white Plymouth Voyager, the white minivan, was parked this morning, just next to that pay phone.

And as one witness described to us, the authorities came rushing across this part of the parking lot, approached the backside of that minivan, and pulled out one person that they saw out of the passenger side of the van, put them down on the concrete and took them into custody at that moment, so that's how it all kind of played out here.

We're also told in, probably, about an hour and a half, possibly two hours, as we've learned over the last 24 hours, some of these press briefings are very -- fluctuate quite a bit, as the information seems to be changing quite rapidly for investigators working this case.

And of course, Daryn, the other thing to remember here is that this is now another jurisdiction that is working this case. So Richmond police and the county officers here, as well, now working with all of the other investigators that have been -- that are working the sniper case, we presume, because we're told that at the press briefing, in a couple of hours, local, state and federal authorities will be attending here, and usually we see that or we have seen that in all of the sniper shootings, because those authorities have a strong suspicion that there might be some sort of connection, so that's expected to happen here over the course of the next couple of hours. Daryn.

KAGAN: Thank you. Yes, when you look back and start counting towards October 2, by my count, I think we're talking eight different local police jurisdictions. And, of course, as you mentioned, you saw state and federal officials and agents working on this case. Thank you. We'll be checking back with you.

And Leon, back to you.

HARRIS: All right. Thanks, Daryn. I just want to update you, as well, and the folks who are watching, with a couple of bits of information we're just now getting about different press conferences. We'll be expected to get some more information, number one, coming up in about an hour and a half from now. We expect to get an update from the police investigators right now, the Ashland County -- Ashland police, rather, in Montgomery county, they one were running the operation. We expect that in that briefing now has been moved from noon to 1:00 p.m., so 1 p.m. on coverage of that.

Also coming up after that at, another hour and a half after that, at 2:30 p.m. We expected to get updated at the hospital on the status of the man who was shot at that Ponderosa restaurant on Saturday night. We understand he's undergone a good couple of surgeries, and they have much more on their plate for him to come, down the road.

Now, also, we want to let you know that our Jason Carroll is now on his way to Henrico County's Justice Government Center. That is where, as we understand, that two men who have been taken into custody within the last, oh, couple of hours or so, last hour and a half or so, are right now sitting there. And as we said, they have not been called suspects, as yet, however, they're going to be questioned while they are there.

We're talk now with Eric Haney about that, what that process might be like. Now, first of all, you said there's no way that they would question -- the authorities would question these two men together?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, certainly not. You always separate your suspects. I mean, that's part of intelligence work, to begin with. But, you don't want them cooking up a story and you want to work your will on them, but I don't think that's going to be a problem here.

HARRIS: Why? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just utterly believe these two want to talk, and they're sitting there now, saying, guys, sit back, turn on your tape recorder, pay attention, I'm going to give you a lesson on how all this has worked.

HARRIS: What makes you say that? What makes you think that now they want to talk, after all this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's part and parcel of it. They've been in complete control, all along. While they were running the killing operations, they were saying, see, it works according, to my will. And then they negotiated their method of surrender. See, it's going to work the way I want it to work. Maybe there's an earlier fowl up and something happened. But they established again -- they re- established the bona fides.

I've always been convinced that they would not fight. If they were cornered, they were just going to hold...

HARRIS: You've said that a number of times, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So in this in this case, even better than that, for them. They said, I still own the mechanism. Now we're going to talk. They're very proud of what they've done, they are omnipotent. They're omniscient. They have been the ones who've run society ragged in all of this, not the other way around.

HARRIS: And having said all that, we still want to remind folks that we don't know for sure whether or not the two people who have been taken into custody are actually the suspects who are believed to be responsible for all these shootings in that area.

Still holding off on calling them suspects. What we know right now, they are what you want to call "persons of interest." That's a term that we've been using quite a bit the last few months or so here. And right now, police are, perhaps, questioning them, even as we speak. We don't know about that yet. Maybe we'll learn some more at 1:00 p.m., once we do get that press briefing underway and we get some more information one what's happening in this case.

Let's go to our Kelli Arena, who's standing by. She's in our Washington bureau. And I believe, Kelli, you've been working your sources there. What have you learned?

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, sources have told us that there were several locations that were under surveillance today, that intelligence gathered had led law enforcement officials to a variety of areas, one of them being in the Richmond area, where this person was picked up, and another person picked up not too far from there, so they were -- agents were lying in wait. I was told it was not only ATF and local police, but U.S. Marshals, as well, who were at that site, where the individual was picked up.

And so, obviously, not the only location that you had agents, federal and local, lying in wait for this individual to show up. Again, I asked one official is this, indeed, the sniper? His only comment was, well, we sure hope so. they -- at least, there are some people within law enforcement who believe that they may have the person in custody again. I have to underscore, we have not heard that officially from anyone, that either of these two individuals is connected in any way.

Obviously, though, law enforcement taking this very seriously, as part of this investigation and, hopefully, we'll be able to get more to you, before those press conferences, Leon.

HARRIS: Now, we can't say that enough right now. We don't know, because we'd hate to disappoint folks, by finding out later on that these two people are not believed to be responsible. However, we do have these two persons of interest right now who are being questioned. Kelli, before we let -- I have to ask you this...


HARRIS: The sources you spoke with, you know, without coming out and saying that these people are the suspects, is there any condition under which they would mobilize that many different agencies, that many different forces from...

ARENA: Well, this is...

HARRIS: ... that many -- to that many different locations, if they did not believe it was?

ARENA: Well, it was obviously based on what they believe to be credible intelligence that led them to what I said was a variety of locations where they had agents lying in wait for this individual. So the intelligence that directed them toward this individual was taken seriously enough to mobilize that many -- that many law enforcement agencies together at these various locations.

You know, sometimes intelligence doesn't lead you to the right person. Hopefully, in this case, it has, but again, no official confirmation. But, obviously, there are -- you know, sources that we have spoken to who do believe that the intelligence that they had led them to this person and they hope that this person is, indeed, the sniper.

HARRIS: Got you. Kelli Arena in Washington. Stay in that area. Let's go now to Daryn Kagan in Montgomery County -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right. We're covering this from all levels, from the federal level there with Kelli, to the local level here. And we have our Jeanne Meserve, who's done a great job of covering the story, pretty much, since the beginning.

Would love to be a fly on the wall, just on the other side of that building, inside Montgomery Country Police Headquarters. What sense are you getting from what -- the kind of movement we're seeing this morning?

MESERVE: I think people are very much encouraged. When you talk to people here, and I've talked to some people elsewhere who were involved in this investigation, they tell you this is a situation that's unfolding, that this is a situation that's developing fairly rapidly.

They are not drawing a clear-cut connection, at this point, to this situation in Richmond, but they're not steering us away from that. One official telling me it looks very, very promising. Another official saying to me you could definitely say that the pace has picked up. The tempo of this investigation has picked up. Really, a sense here of concrete movement of something going forward here. We have not had this, since the sniper business began, until last night when we had this cryptic message from Chief Moose about a communication, so a real sense of forward motion here.

KAGAN: And then to follow up on that, the other statement that he came out this morning and said we don't have something to say right now, but we are crafting that statement and we'll be back.

MESERVE: Yes. You get the definite sense there's a definite to and fro here, some sort of communication. It's a little puzzling to me that he made that statement, just as this arrest was being made in Richmond. I can't tell what you that means. I can't tell you if it that means there's a second person out there. They've said, all along, this could be one person, it could be more, we just don't know. But definitely, the tempo here, the pace is different than it has been.

KAGAN: Yes. Certainly, there is an energy in the field that we didn't have all last week, when things were so quiet.

MESERVE: Absolutely.

KAGAN: And in terms of the next statement coming out, are you getting word when that might happen?

MESERVE: No, in fact, I just talked to someone upstairs here involved in handling the press, and they said they don't know yet. I think it will hinge, to a certain degree, on what it is exactly that's developing down there in Richmond. Also the communication that Chief Moose mentioned this morning when he gets that ready for public presentation. I guess they'll brief unless it becomes a moot point because of what's happening in the investigation elsewhere.

KAGAN: If there comes a time when they do need to come out and make that statement, you know that they are going over that word by word, letter by letter.

MESERVE: We've had the feeling from the beginning that Chief Moose's words were vetted fairly carefully past some of the federal folks, particularly the profilers engaged in this investigation who have been -- wanted him to be -- very cautious about what he said and not said in order not to trigger whoever was out there pulling the trigger.

And I'm sure, at this point, which could be perhaps the most critical juncture in this entire investigation -- when there does appear to this line of communication set up -- that again they are being very cautious. That is why he's saying no questions -- here's what I'm saying -- that's it. Live with this. In fact, they didn't even want us last night to be interpreting what he was saying, wanting us just to stick exactly with his words -- an indication of just how carefully they are trying to manage the words being said publicly.

KAGAN: Jeanne Meserve, thank you very much. We are going to cut you loose and let you go find out more and bring you back.

MESERVE: Thank you very much.

KAGAN: Leon, when I was here last night and going live and we were talking to Chief Moose and he came out and he said, There'll be no questions. I'll just make this statement. There was a sense of, oh, well, great, now we're not going to learn anything. Little did we know we were about to get one of the biggest bombshells that we've had in this case so far.

HARRIS: And there's been no shortage of surprises at this whole thing. And we're sitting right here in the middle of this one, Daryn. In fact, let's go to Henrico County Justice Government Center.

Jason Carroll, as we said moments ago, was on his way there. We believe he's arrived.

Let's check and see what he's learned since he's been there.

Jason, are you there?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am here, Leon. I'm standing right out in front of the Henrico County Government Center. Just to set the lay of the land just a little bit. We're located just a few blocks from that Exxon gas station. If you take a look behind me, you can see the police car here, blocking the entrance to the Government Center. In fact, there are police cars blocking several of the entrances to the Government Center out here.

According to federal law enforcement sources, two people that are being questioned are being held somewhere here at the facility. According to that very same source, one man who was in custody is the man who was driving that white van -- that white Plymouth Voyager. The second one was taken into custody somewhere in the nearby vicinity.

At this point, Leon, we are waiting for a press conference. That press conference is scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. We are told state, local, and federal officials will be here for that press conference.

Again, here at the Henrico County Government Center where it is believed two people are being questioned in connection to what has been going on -- Leon.

HARRIS: Good deal. Thanks, Jason. We'll get back to you in just a bit.

As we sit here, watch your shot, Jason. Right behind you, we're watching a ton of media vehicles pulling in right behind you and all of them about to take place -- or at least take their positions -- so I'll let you get to yours.

Jason Carroll reporting live.

Eric Haney, back to you here this morning, talking about this interrogation process that might be taking place right now. You're saying that you believe this is the moment that these people may have been waiting for now to get out and tell their story.

SERGEANT MAJOR ERIC HANEY, CNN FIREARMS ANALYST: It's phase two of that. But phase three unfortunately is going to be the trial. And once they are finally seen by the public, you know, their great debut in their own minds. But it's not a tough interrogation. It's sit back, listen, have plenty of tapes for your tape recorder. I don't think they're going to shut up for days.

HARRIS: Let me ask you this because we've been talking, for the last few days, about, you know, what we might suspect the kind of people involved in this might be. And coming into this, we're talking about people who were bold, brash, who were challenging the authorities. What happened to all of a sudden wipe that brashness away?

HANEY: I'm sure they're -- this is a tough word to use with them -- they are intelligent. They can think well; they plan; they're crafty; they have demonstrated a lot of cleverness and cunning. They had enough intelligence and lack of delusion to realize this wasn't going to run forever. It had to eventually come to an end.

And also I believe they were just near exhaustion, just keeping up this tempo of the killings, looking over your shoulders, planning these things, bringing them out will wear you completely to nothing. I can just tell that from normal combat operations as a soldier. So they were running to the end and also the police were getting closer every time. You know, the last two, the task force, was able to shut down areas within two minutes, so they knew: Our day is coming, we probably can't do it one more time. And if we do, when we're caught in this act, we're going to die.

HARRIS: You think it only took intelligence to do this? It didn't take necessarily any special training. When you consider what we've been watching this morning, and again, we must say, we don't know for sure whether or not the two people who are right now in custody are the two men responsible or the two people responsible, I should say.

However, you combine the different elements of this ballet that we've been seeing happen with the communications between the police and the people picked up, or whatever, today. And we've been seeing these people being able to get away, despite the fact that there have been these dragnets, these massive dragnets that have been deployed moments after any reports of these shootings. And each time, they've gotten away. You don't see any special training here at all. You see it as only a matter of just intelligence. That's it? HANEY: I do. I have to tell you. I've been a part of, received, and delivered the most specialized training in the Western world on any of these types of methods and the trade craft involved. All of that. Absolutely not. I can't think of a student that I've had even in some of our most special forces who would be pulling this off consecutively, because the military mind-set becomes so rigid and it's cookie-cutter sort of mentality.

These were calm, clever amateurs, but they gleaned this from publications, from magazines,from some movies, some of which are pretty accurate about how things really take place out there in the world. And it's been -- I have been amazed at the cleverness. It's the only word that can apply to all of this.

HARRIS: Alright. For those joining us now, 46 after the hour, we want to take a quick look right now at this morning's fast-moving turn of events in the sniper case that we've been discussing here.

Now, we're going to show you now what we think happened this morning. This white van -- police staked out an area around an Exxon gas station, just west of Richmond, Virginia, where a van described as a white Plymouth Voyager pulled up to a pay telephone. A witness says that, after awhile, police approached that van with guns drawn. And later, the vehicle was, as you see here, placed on a flatbed truck and then towed away from the scene.

Investigators at the scene took two men into custody. A source says that one of the men had been inside the van. He was taken into custody there, and the other man was picked up somewhere else in the vicinity.

Let's go back now to Daryn Kagan, standing by there in Montgomery County -- Daryn?

KAGAN: Leon, we expect to learn more with a briefing that will be taking place, usually scheduled for noon. That's been delayed, but one will be coming up here. Also, the next police briefing we do expect to be coming out of Richmond, Virginia -- those scenes where you were showing us taking place there.

Let's go to Ed Lavandera, who's standing by live very close to that gas station -- Ed?

LAVANDERA: Daryn,the scene here has calmed down significantly since the story erupted this morning. And what we see behind us is the streets along near the intersection are still roped off, for the most part, and traffic is being diverted around the area. Directly behind the Exxon building is where the press briefing will take place -- where we're told local, state and federal authorities will be attending that briefing, as well.

You also see the crime scene or the police line that has been roped off, at this point. This is just off here to the right, if you can pan over just a little bit. From this direction over here is where the investigators rushed onto the scene this morning. One witness described how they were moving up and down each car just about ten feet at a time as they made their way up along this little grassy hill and then toward the back of the white Plymouth Voyager that was parked here in the parking lot next to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next to this pay phone.

LAVANDERA: We saw it be towed away about an hour and a half ago. So the scene here is continued to be worked off. I also mentioned that another area being worked on, as well, is directly on the other side of the street, over there at the Citgo gas station. That scene has also been roped off, as well. We see investigators searching cars, looking through some of the cars that were left there in the parking lot, as well as the trash cans next to all of the gas pumps, as well.

Daryn, the scene here is news helicopters fly overhead, and the streets remain closed. And we get ready for this press briefing in a little while -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Yes, Ed, it's important because we can get all wrapped up in our coverage, so it's important to keep in mind, I guess, that people are joining us as we continue our coverage. So for those who just might be, give us a quick geography lesson in terms of where you are compared to where the shooting took place on Saturday night?

LAVANDERA: The quick geography lesson -- we are on the western side of Richmond. You can come straight down I-95. We were in Ashland this morning when this story first broke, and it took us less than 20, 25 minutes to get here to the scene. And that was with a little bit of traffic once we approached this area. So relatively close and a very easy shot to get from where the shooting took place Saturday night to where we are right here.

KAGAN: Alright. Ed Lavandera, we'll be checking back with you.


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