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Sniper on Loose: Two in Custody in Richmond, Virginia

Aired October 21, 2002 - 12:01   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We are tracking what may be a couple of breakthroughs this hour on this "Sniper on the Loose" investigation in the greater Washington area.
Ed Lavandera is standing by for us. He's in Richmond, Virginia. Our Jason Carroll is outside the Henrico County jail. Daryn Kagan is in Montgomery County, Maryland, the scene of the task force.

First of all, let's go right to Ed Lavandera. He's at the Exxon station, where there were some dramatic developments over the past few hours.

Ed -- bring our viewers up-to-date.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just a short while ago, I had a chance to speak with one of the Henrico police officers here on the scene, and he -- in kind of a simple, poignant statement, he said, "It's been an interesting day." But he had that look in his eye that that simple phrase speaks to a lot more than just a simple phrase; quite a lot going on here at the scene.

Just several hours ago, a SWAT team of investigators moving in on this scene, and what we've had is eyewitness accounts of what they saw happen as officers approached this Exxon station, and particularly a telephone -- a couple of pay phones just on the other side of this minivan that you see here, and a white Plymouth Voyager van that was parked next to it.

From what witnesses described, they say they saw a team of officers approach the van, pull one person out of the passenger side door, throw them on the ground and take them and arrest them. And we also have learned that a second person has been arrested, but that person was not arrested at this particular location. That person was arrested elsewhere.

So, here, investigators continue to look over this scene, and they look for evidence or any other kind of clues. But again, the most powerful stories here coming from the witnesses who have described what it was like as officers moved onto this scene in a rapid, swift motion.


KEITH UNDERWOOD, WITNESS: This actually is a picture of the -- after they had put on the bullet-proof vest, they started hiding. They were getting closer and closer to the Exxon property, and instead of just walking, they would hide behind here, and then they'd hide behind an inventory car, they would hide behind another pillar.

LAVANDERA: And this was before they stormed onto the Exxon parking lot?

UNDERWOOD: Yes. And it wasn't a full-fledged run. It was a calm, collected -- just a continuous march right up to the passenger side of the...

LAVANDERA: And there's some more Polaroids here that he took showing -- I think this is the officers approaching the van here.

UNDERWOOD: That's when they finally got onto the grass and started making their moves to the van was that -- that's one right there.

LAVANDERA: In case you can't make it out, you can see what appears to be three officers just here (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNDERWOOD: Pulling his arm.

LAVANDERA: There's the white van, which appears to have the parking...

UNDERWOOD: The engine was running the whole time. You could see the smoke coming out the tail pipe. It's been kind of coldish, rainy here today. The parking lights I think were on. I don't think they were brake lights; they were parking lights.


LAVANDERA: That was Keith Underwood who works just next door here to this Exxon gas station. He was looking out the window and had the presence of mind to pull out the Polaroid camera and start snapping off a few pictures, and probably the closest images we'll be able to get to see as to exactly what was happening this morning when these events took place.

One last thing to point out, Wolf, is that as the investigators here continue to work this Exxon gas station, they're also focusing just on the other side of the street at a Citgo gas station, where they've roped off the parking lot and the gas pumps in that area as well. You are seeing ATF agents also rummaging through the garbage cans next to the gas pumps as well. Not exactly sure what they're looking for at this point, but just another idea of just how this particular scene has expanded around this intersection in western Virginia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Ed, just to be precise on this point, before the individual was detained or picked up at that phone booth, that entire area had been pretty well staked out by police authorities, is that right?

LAVANDERA: It has to be right, because from what witnesses have described to us, they said that in a matter of moments, there were 20- 30, or what appeared to them to be like 20 or 30 police officers and police cars showing up at the scene and here in just a matter of moments.

So, to the witnesses that we've heard from, it definitely seemed like something they knew, that appeared planned out to them as well. And one witness said -- going on to say it was just an incredible thing, an amazing thing to watch.

BLITZER: So, basically what happened was that individual driving that van pulled up to that phone booth, got out -- or didn't get out, but police surrounded that individual within a matter of only seconds, is that right?

LAVANDERA: It appears to be the case. And you know, the way the van was parked, it was so close to that phone bank that's there, that it appears that if you're in the driver's seat that you could just reach out the window and dial the phone. That's how close that minivan was parked to that telephone.

BLITZER: All right, Ed Lavandera, stand by. We're going to be coming back to you.

This is a fluid situation, and we still don't know for sure what the individual or individuals who were picked up, what, if any, connection they have to this entire sniper story, but we will continue obviously to check all of these leads out over the next minutes and hours as this story continues to unfold.

The two people who were picked up this morning are being questioned at the Henrico County jail in Richmond. That's where Jason Carroll is standing by. He has some more.

Jason -- what are you seeing and hearing from your vantage point?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (AUDIO GAP) the Henrico County Government Center. Just to set the scene for you. It's located just about a block, a block-and-a-half from where that gas station is located.

If you take a look right behind me, you can see there, just right across the street, there are a number of police cars parked right in front of the entrance to the center. They are blocking traffic, being very cautious about who they let into the center. We've seen many police cars at various locations surrounding this center out here in Richmond, Virginia.

According to federal law enforcement sources, two people are in custody, being questioned here at the facility. We don't know why they're being questioned. We haven't gotten any sort of official word out here as of yet as to what these people are being held or questioned for.

But according to the source telling CNN that one man is in custody is the man that was taken into custody down there at that Exxon station. That was the man who was driving that white Plymouth van. The second man was taken into custody somewhere in the vicinity.

We're being told down here, Wolf, that at about 1:00 Eastern Time, just about an hour from now, local, state and federal authorities will be holding a press conference right here at this facility. Hopefully at that time, Wolf, we'll get a better sense of who was arrested and why, or at least taken into custody and why -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And that will be the next news conference that is now scheduled subsequent to that. At a later point, we do expect that Montgomery County police headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, another news conference. We'll be standing by, awaiting that. Of course, CNN will have live coverage. Jason Carroll will be coming back to you.

The investigation, of course, remains centered in Montgomery County, Maryland. That's where we expect to hear a follow-up after that news conference in Richmond. Sooner or later, all of these developments will become a little bit more clear to all of us.

The head of the sniper task force presumably will be coming out and explaining what is going on. That would be the Montgomery County police chief, Charles Moose.

CNN's Daryn Kagan is watching all of this together with all of us. She's in Rockville, Maryland, very dramatic developments, at least potentially -- Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we have seen a lot of movement, even if we don't completely understand what they mean this morning, Wolf.

And you did mention that news conference that we are expecting to take place here. They haven't put an exact time on it. As you mentioned, they're going to let Henrico County go first. And that's how we've seen things unfold here in the recent weeks; that they let the county where the action is actually taking place go first, and then they follow up if there is a need with their news conference.

We want to take our viewers back to when the action really began, and that was Saturday night with this latest shooting that took place in Ashland, Virginia. A 37-year-old man and his wife stopped at the Ponderosa Steak House not that far from I-95, did like a lot of travelers do. They stopped in there to get a bite to eat, spent about an hour.

And then, sometime around 8:00, left, and were walking across the parking lot to their car, and that's when the sound rang out.

On Saturday night, we were hearing from police officials that the wife didn't even know what the sound was. She thought perhaps that it was a car that was backfiring, but her husband took a few steps and collapsed, and said he had been shot.

And he is now in Richmond, Virginia. More on him in just a moment.

We're showing you this map of the Ponderosa, so you can get a sense of Ashland, Virginia, a very small community, about 6,000 people, with equal access to both Route 1 and also I-95. If you were with us live on Saturday night, you saw that huge dragnet that police put into effect all the way from Ashland. There were still some stops up here in Washington, D.C., and yet once again, the killer or killers got away.

Another point as we look at this bigger map, you can get a geographical feeling of the significance of how this shooting breaks out of the sniper's pattern. Geographically, it is far outside of the Washington, D.C. Metro area, where all of the other shootings have taken place.

Also, the timing of it is different. Up until Saturday night, the sniper had not struck on a weekend night, and that apparently is a string that was broken with this latest shooting.

The other significant thing, of course, is the note that was left behind, and we heard Chief Moose come out yesterday and saying that he would like to be in contact with that sniper. And then this morning, came out earlier and said that they are crafting a statement, they are getting ready to say something, and that that will come at a later time.

We will be standing by if and when that happens.

Wolf -- back to you.

BLITZER: Two very, very terse, cryptic statements from Chief Moose -- one last night, one earlier today. Both of them seemingly addressing the sniper or snipers involved in this particular case.

I noticed, though, that the second statement, Daryn, that came out a little while ago came after the individual or individuals were arrested, or at least detained at that phone booth, at that Exxon station in Richmond, Virginia. Is there any explanation we're getting whatsoever about that?

KAGAN: No, and, in fact, we did take note that the timing of that was so interesting. It makes you wonder who exactly the chief is addressing, because since this is the lead agency of the task force, you have to know or you have to assume that they did know that these other people were being taken into custody.

So, it just makes you kind of wonder who else is out there that police feel they need to communicate with.

BLITZER: Because obviously the point being that if they thought they indeed arrested the one or two individuals who were responsible for these sniper killings, and then the chief still goes out, that may mean they didn't arrest anyone significant, or they're still looking for others who may be involved as part of some sort of conspiracy.

We're just speculating right now, but it does raise those kinds of questions. I assume you're looking into that.

KAGAN: We are looking into that, and also, we'll be asking a bunch of questions when that news briefing begins here after the Henrico briefing.

BLITZER: All right, Daryn Kagan, she is on the scene for us in Rockville, Maryland. She's been there for days and days, and very much on top of this story.


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