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Two Men in Custody in Connection to Sniper Case

Aired October 24, 2002 - 06:00   ET


CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back everyone, and we want to bring you -- try to bring you up-to-speed on all of the latest developments in this serial sniper case.
Two men are now in custody this morning in connection with the investigation. The men were apparently found sleeping inside a car at an interstate highway rest stop there.

CNN has confirmed that the men are John Allen Muhammad and his stepson, John Lee Malvo. Muhammad had, of course, been sought in connection with some firearms violations.

And also, authorities in Tacoma, Washington yesterday, searching the back yard of a duplex, where the 42-year-old Muhammad reportedly once lived. Authorities hauling away a tree stump they believe was used for target practice in the back of that yard.

Also yesterday, federal authorities searching the property of a paramilitary training camp in Marion, Alabama. Ground Zero USA specializes in special weapons training.

And then, finally, sources telling CNN that authorities Monday missed the man believed to be the sniper by just a matter of minutes at an Exxon gas station in Richmond, Virginia.

Well, just a short time ago, we heard from Maryland County Police on the early-morning apprehension of these two suspects.

Let's listen in to what he had to say.


MAJ. GREG SHIPLEY, MARYLAND COUNTY POLICE: Shortly before 1:00 this morning, Maryland State Police at the Frederick Barracks received a telephone call, a 911 call, from an individual who was a motorist passing through the area. He was at a rest area, westbound on Interstate 70 about 11 miles west of Frederick.

The gentleman reported to State Police that he saw a vehicle in the rest area that matched the description of a lookout given by the task force last night. This was a 1990 Chevy Caprice.

A Maryland State trooper responded to the rest area, verified that that was the vehicle and verified the tag number that had been given out by the task force. The trooper immediately established the perimeter with other State Police. The task force was immediately contacted, and a joint tactical response team responded to the area. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CALLAWAY: And CNN's Ed Lavandera is now standing by where that news conference took place not too long ago.

Ed -- certainly a lot more questions to be answered in this case.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. We got a couple of details passed along.

You know, there's no question that there is a team of officers in the Maryland area here who are going to have quite a story to share with people, and not only are those officers and the team that moved in on that car this evening -- or in these early-morning hours moved in will have an interesting story to tell, but also that motorist from Maryland, we understand, from the Maryland area. Where exactly and who exactly this person is, we don't know at this point, but obviously that person as well will have an interesting story to share, because from what authorities here are saying, that person was actually asked to stick around in that rest area. We also understand that there were several other cars and other people in that rest area as well.

And as this whole event transpired, it took about two-and-a-half hours. We were just told by the major here that that 911 call came in at 12:47. An interesting time, because if you look back at the night before, it was at 11:30, about an hour-and-15 minutes before that, at least here on CNN, we started broadcasting and reporting the license plate information.

Shortly after that, authorities in Montgomery County had come out and also started talking about the license plate information and the specific car information.

I tell you that just to give you an idea of just how quickly things have moved here in the overnight hours, about an hour-and-15 minutes before the motorist in Maryland was able to pass that information along to troopers.

Another interesting point as well is that we've talked about how it took about two-and-a-half hours to get this tactical team into place and be able to move onto this car. Well, we asked the major if these guys had woken up in their car and they had driven off, would they have been able to get away from that rest stop. The major saying that there were one or two, I think maybe possibly three state troopers who were already in position. They had already pretty much locked down that rest stop area.

So, if these guys had tried to -- these guys had woken up in the middle of their sleep there and tried to drive away from the rest stop area, the major saying that there was no way they were going to get out of that particular rest stop. They would have just moved in and tried to make the arrest right then before the tactical team would have been able to get in place.

But as we've been able to report, that didn't happen, as the two men remained sleeping, and it gave enough time for that tactical team to move into place and make the moves that they needed to do -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: Had to still be some very anxious moments there while they were waiting on authorities to converge on that scene there. Ed, I can't image what that was like.

Stay with me, I just want to talk a little bit about what you just said about that motorist that apparently called 911, was traveling on the interstate there, Interstate 70, spotted this vehicle, a very alert motorist, called the police on 911 and said, I think we've spotted this Caprice. A state trooper comes there, confirms that it is, indeed, this vehicle. And then, they all stay on the scene waiting for the plethora of authorities that were eventually going to converge.

How long was that before the call was made and the authorities actually converged on the vehicle? Do you know?

LAVANDERA: I'm not exactly sure how long it took for the officers to arrive on the scene right after that 911 call was placed, but we're about 11 miles away from where that scene is, from where the Maryland State Police headquarters are here in Frederick County. But as you know, there are officers out patrolling the area throughout the evening.

So, we could imagine that probably happened rather quickly, although we're not exactly sure. And then, it took that two-and-a- half hours roughly, a little less than two-and-a-half hours to move the rest of the team into place.

CALLAWAY: And we also have WUSA video of these people converging on the scene there -- amazing video. Take a look at this, if you haven't seen it yet this morning. WUSA capturing the law enforcement officials heading to this rest stop to apprehend these two individuals, heavily armed, some in unmarked vehicles. Obviously, we have local officials here, state officials and federal officials. And in just a second here, you will see them taking off and heading down the street to that rest stop there on Interstate 70.

Stay with that -- there we go, there's the video there.

Bob Franken across the street now from that rest stop where this took place, where that Chevrolet Caprice is still sitting, waiting to be combed through by officials, right, Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Of course, they're going to be looking for any weapons, any sort of ammunition -- anything which may tie them to the case. Of course, there's going to be fingerprinting. We are told that they did have a fingerprint or so that they might want to compare any DNA evidence -- all of that type of thing that might be in the car.

Of course, they're going to also try and determine how they got into that particular car.

But as Ed pointed out just a moment ago, this rest stop, which is located about 50 miles north of Washington, about 10 miles north of Frederick, Maryland, maybe 40 miles from Pennsylvania. I just want to give you an idea of the geography.

It's an area -- it's a rural area. This is one of the rest stops you see just about anywhere along an interstate highway, and apparently, these two men decided that they would take advantage of the rest stop to get some rest when that alert motorist spotted their car and called the Highway Patrol, the Maryland State Police.

And as we heard reported, State Police troopers came there and waited for the specially-trained tactical units with the body armor to come and swoop down on the surprised -- and arrest the two men without any sort of resistance.

Now, we're waiting for daybreak here. We're waiting so the officials can come and use the light of day to go over the car. It's, of course, harder to do when they're doing it with flashlights.

As a result, as you can see, they have closed down the rest stop where the car is. About the best we were able to do is to drive by, and you can get some sense, as you watch us driving by, of all of the police cars that have just blockaded the rest stop.

As a matter of fact, when we were driving up here, even before we got to Frederick, there was one of those neon signs that you see over the highway saying that rest stop 42 would be closed until further notice, and of course, we knew why. We all know why now, because this has become a key part of an investigation into a state of siege that has affected Washington and areas farther to the south, as well as the northern suburbs for more than three weeks -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: All right, thank you, Bob -- CNN's Bob Franken across the street from where all of the activity took place tonight.

We're going to go now all the way, 2,400 miles, to Tacoma, Washington, where James Hattori is standing by with the latest on what's going on in the investigation there. We saw officials hauling off tree stumps -- all kinds of things out of a home that was searched by authorities yesterday.

James -- what are you hearing from officials?


We are at the home, as you say, where John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, his stepson, lived for a time here in the south Tacoma area earlier this year.

Law enforcement sources tell CNN that they came here looking for evidence, including bullet fragments. And we have some footage of the search that went on pretty much all day yesterday. FBI agents scouring the property with metal detectors and heavy equipment and, as you say, removing at least one tree stump, plus lots of other evidence for examination.

Now, a man, who lives across the street, says he remembers hearing high-powered gunfire at night coming from Muhammad's property last January. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was about a month, about a month of firing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every other day, every day -- it just varied. Always at night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How far into this was it that you called 911?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was probably about after the 14th or 15th time I heard gunshots.


HATTORI: Now, police came and apparently found nothing and nothing ever came of those reports to the 911 calls.

Now, we should also mention that investigators were up in Bellingham, Washington, which is two, three hours near the Canadian -- to the north of us near the Canadian border. They reportedly went to a high school that Malvo attended and reportedly sought samples of his handwriting.

Now the "Seattle Times" this morning is reporting that there was a tip from a friend of Muhammad's here in Tacoma to the sniper task force in Maryland, apparently telling the task force that he had suspicions about Muhammad and Malvo. Muhammad at one time was stationed at Fort Lewis about 10 or 15 miles from here. We are told he was not trained as a sniper. He served in the conventional Army services. But now, as we've reported, he is in custody as a material witness in the sniper investigation -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: And I don't want to put you on the spot here, James, but I will anyway just because there are a lot of questions to be answered. Lou Pate we heard this morning with KIRO saying that a lot of mixed opinions about him and that there apparently was a restraining order placed against Muhammad. What are you hearing there from residents about their memories of this man?

HATTORI: Well there are reports, and at this point nothing is set in stone or confirmed 100 percent, but there are reports that he had marital problems. Apparently it's -- one of the newspapers here spoke to his wife in Louisiana, and he was at one point accused of, in another instance, taking children away from a home. Again, these are all -- we're still connecting all the dots, as you point out -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: Yes, right.

HATTORI: And more of this information will come together. He did convert to Islam at one point before joining the Army. He was described as perhaps having some -- leaning towards some of the fundamentalists movements. But again, we're still sorting all that information out -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: James, we need a very big map to keep up with this puzzle, especially over the last 24 hours. All right.

HATTORI: Absolutely.

CALLAWAY: Thank you very much for the latest on -- from Tacoma.

We're going to head back 2,400 miles to the other side of the map to Gary Tuchman who's been standing by all night long at Marion -- in Montgomery County headquarters for the latest on what's going on there.

Hello again -- Gary.


And we are told these two men, the 42-year-old and the 17-year old stepson, are in custody here in Montgomery County after they were apprehended shortly after 3:30 a.m., although the time we were told earlier was 3:19 a.m., but either way, it was after 3:00 in the morning. They were brought by police car to Montgomery County to an undisclosed location where they're being questioned as we speak.

There will be a news conference held here at sniper headquarters and it will be later this morning. We don't know exactly what time yet, we're told after the questioning takes place. After they get all their ducks in a row, they will start talking to us. But either way, it's been a very eventful night and morning.

It was 11:45 when Chief Moose came out and made a statement to the killer or killers. An hour and 10 minutes later, the two men whose names he mentioned, he actually only mentioned the 42 year old's name, but said he was traveling with a juvenile but that juvenile was the man with him. Either way, an hour and 10 minutes after he said the name and mentioned the car and the license plate, a passerby, who was at the rest stop, saw the car, notified Maryland State Police, notified other officials.

They all got on the scene. Two hours later, they put the two men into custody and the men are now under arrest. Happened 50 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. in Frederick County, which is on the foothills of the mountains that make western Maryland so beautiful and not too far away from Camp David, the presidential retreat.

With me right now is CNN's Patty Davis. Patty has been covering this story from the very beginning, and it has been quite an eventful morning, hasn't it?

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely an eventful morning, and hopefully the break that police and the community here has been looking for.

It's interesting to me that this rest stop seems to be right in the area where some of these shootings were taking place. And interesting, a "Baltimore Sun" article indicating a big break to police came in the form of a message left by this sniper for them, take him seriously. Check with the people of Montgomery, or words to that effect, according to the "Baltimore Sun."

Well police did just that, actually checked, not in Montgomery County so much as Montgomery, Alabama, and discovered in fact that there had been a shooting there September 21 involving a .223 round. That is the round used in each of these 13 shootings. A woman in that case in Montgomery, Alabama had been killed, another person wounded outside of a liquor store there.

At the scene, according to the "Baltimore Sun," police found a fingerprint on a flyer or another piece of paper with John Lee Malvo, that's the 17 year old, fingerprints on it and were able to trace that back to Tacoma, Washington. That is where you saw overnight that -- or late yesterday, overnight as well, that search going on of that residence there in Tacoma, Washington. And events have just mushroomed since then -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: Patty, just to be clear here, the bullet that you talked about there was the same type but we don't yet if it was a ballistics match to this sniper case, right?

DAVIS: No. No, we...

CALLAWAY: We want to be clear about that.

DAVIS: We don't know that. We don't know that at all. And that's something, obviously, police are going to be looking at in this case. Also, I would assume they will want to know if this -- if this tree stump that they have now confiscated and taken away whether that one is -- has .223 bullets in it as well or whether any of those fingerprint -- the gun fingerprints on that match any of the ballistic fingerprints in any of these 13 shootings here in the Washington, D.C. area. That will be a critical piece of evidence -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: You know, Patty, it's difficult to gauge just how big this is this apprehending these two individuals that they have in custody now. Would be a big disappointment I guess for those if they come back and say they are indeed just being charged with a firearms violation...

DAVIS: Well,...

CALLAWAY: ... and not in connection with the sniper case. But the chief was clear yesterday that they were only wanted in connection with firearms violations.

DAVIS: Absolutely. They are not being considered suspects at this point, mostly material witnesses. They believe they may have, they're saying, at least some information related to this case. They may know something; but these two now under arrest, as Gary has been saying all morning, they are now back in Montgomery County where they are to be questioned.

We -- we're hoping to hear more from authorities here at Montgomery County Police headquarters, the sniper task force headquarters later this morning as to what they may know.

CALLAWAY: You know, Patty, before Gary leaves, I want to ask you both, talking about how officials have been playing their cards very close to their chest in this investigation. Curious about the mood there among the officials there in Montgomery County where you are about how excited, how big they believe this may be? Are they revealing anything to you?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'll let the lady go first.

DAVIS: Well I haven't talked with police yet this morning, but the mood around here, at least among some of the police that we have seen, definitely more uplifted. They are -- they -- but I can't read anything from that necessarily.

Now you've actually spoken with police, Gary, perhaps you can tell me what...


DAVIS: ... you're hearing from them.

TUCHMAN: Right. The police here, the public information officer -- we haven't had any good news for three weeks.


TUCHMAN: This has been a horrible story since October 2, 10 people killed, 3 wounded, and it's just been all bad news that we've heard. So it's the first time where we've seen slight smiles on faces regarding the news that has taken place.

DAVIS: But I can say that we had that same feeling, just everybody being incredibly happy and that was a few days ago when that sting operation went down in Richmond, Virginia, those two undocumented workers that turned out to be one Guatemalan, one Mexican taken into custody. A white van pulling up to an Exxon station right next to a phone booth. And indeed it turned out that they had no connection to this case, so that a real disappointment for police. So they are playing this pretty close to the -- to the vest here. And it could be that this turns out to be nothing. We certainly hope that not to be the case.


CALLAWAY: Well what we can take from this, Gary, and I know you'll agree with this, is that citizens are paying attention and all of the communication that's been -- has been taking place through the media, citizens are at least paying attention and knowing what to look for -- Gary.

TUCHMAN: I'm sorry, Catherine, I couldn't hear what your question was. Can you say it once again?

CALLAWAY: I said it was just the one thing we can take from this, if this does turn out to be not what some people are hoping it to be, is that citizens are indeed paying attention.

TUCHMAN: Yes, you know what, my hearing must be going because of all the hours we've been up. But yes, there's no -- there's no question about it that one of the really good things about this is they had this news conference last night, they announced the type of car they were looking for, they announced the license plate, they said names and you had the citizenry out there looking...


TUCHMAN: ... and finding.

CALLAWAY: Yes, and interesting that that individual who called police on 911 actually stayed at that rest stop until authorities arrived.

Gary, I just want to thank you for being with me throughout the night. I know you are on your way for a break. And on that note, we're going to take a break, and we'll be back with much more in a moment.


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