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Two Men Arrested, Questioned in Sniper Investigation

Aired October 24, 2002 - 07:01   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING everyone. If you are just joining us, CNN has been covering fast-breaking developments in the sniper case all night long and all through the morning.
The most significant break: The arrests of two people, 42-year- old John Allen Muhammad, described as "armed and dangerous," and his 17-year-old stepson, John Lee Malvo.

Affiliate station WUSA was on the scene in western Maryland when a police task force closed in on the 1990 Chevrolet Caprice police had been looking for.


MAJ. GREG SHIPLEY, MARYLAND COUNTY POLICE: Shortly after 3:30 this morning, the tactical response team arrested two individuals from that vehicle, who were sleeping in the vehicle. They were taken into custody without incident.

They are described as African-American males, one approximately 20, one approximately 40. That's the only description we have at this point.


ZAHN: Police later announced they had an arrest warrant for Muhammad late last night, but they were very careful to say he was not a suspect in the killing spree.


CHIEF CHARLES MOOSE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE: We believe that Mr. Muhammad may have information material to our investigation.


ZAHN: Suddenly yesterday, after three weeks of frustration, the investigation blossomed into a cross-country search. The FBI combed a paramilitary training camp in Marion, Alabama known as Ground Zero.

Now, according to some reports, they were led to the area because of a fatal shooting in Montgomery, Alabama on September 21. That incident, according to the "Baltimore Sun," involved the same .223 caliber ammunition the sniper uses.

Now, across the country in Tacoma, Washington, the FBI and the ATF swarmed over a private home where Muhammad is believed to have once lived. They used chainsaws to cut down a tree stump that may have been used for target practice. Neighbors had reported hearing gunfire from there in the past.

John Allen Muhammad is a Gulf War veteran. He once served at Fort Lewis, Washington, not far from Tacoma. He was not trained as a sniper, but had expertise in combat support missions. He had not been in the area for nine months, we are told.

John Lee Malvo, who is being called his stepson, is a Jamaican citizen. He actually was a student at Bellingham High, and throughout the morning, we're going to try to get information from our reporter, who is on West Coast, more about his activities at school, because apparently, the pair, according to "The Seattle Times," had captured the interest of the law enforcement community long before this.

Let's get the latest details now from Carol Lin, who is standing by at the Montgomery County command center in Rockville, Maryland.

Good morning -- Carol. I know you've got a lot to take us through this morning. What's the very latest from there? Are the men there now?

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we don't exactly know where the men are right now. We do know that they are being questioned at an undisclosed location somewhere in Montgomery County.

I'm here at the command post at the police headquarters, where we're hoping to hear very soon, but certainly sometime in the next few hours a regularly-scheduled noon briefing is still on the books. But those men are being questioned right now.

We understand that that arrest went down without incident. We don't know if any weapons were actually found at the scene.

We do know that there is a search warrant that they're trying to execute now, so that they can search that 1990 blue Chevy Caprice that the two men were sleeping in.

Joining me right now is Patty Davis. She has been working the story for most of the evening -- or the early-morning hours.

Patty, it has been an exciting night. We're all hoping that this is a big break in the case. But let's talk about some of the detail of how this went down.

There was a midnight news conference, right, where Chief Charles Moose came out. We didn't expect to hear from him after they cancelled last night's briefing. But he came out with the idea that there were these two men that they were looking for.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And he's been doing that. He's been coming out either with cryptic communications for the sniper -- in this case, he came and announced that there was an arrest warrant out for this 42-year-old John Allen Muhammad, also known as John Allen Williams. He was -- the arrest warrant was for a federal firearms violation, not related to the sniper case.


LIN: And he was very careful to say that wasn't...


DAVIS: Very careful.

LIN: ... that John Allen Williams is a material witness, not necessarily related directly to the sniper shootings.

DAVIS: Exactly. And that he was accompanied by a juvenile, we've learned to be John Lee Malvo, his stepson, 17 years old.

And indeed, a little bit more than an hour later, it was only about an hour-and-a-quarter hour later that someone at that rest stop in Myersville, Maryland spotted the exact car. They gave a license plate. It was a New Jersey license plate, a blue 1990 Chevy Caprice. Someone spotted it, phoned it into police on a 911. Police responded, the Maryland State Police, right away, and called the sniper task force, and then a special tactical unit brought in.

It took about two more hours until they had these men, who were sleeping in the car, then in custody.

LIN: And the entire time they were under surveillance while this special task force sealed off the exits, surrounded the area, and tried to decide how they were going to maneuver in on this car.

DAVIS: Absolutely. They were very careful to keep them in their sights. When they finally spotted them after the bulletin was put out for them, they were told -- we were told that the older man, John Allen Williams, was indeed armed and dangerous.

So, police proceeded very carefully. These men are considered material witnesses at this point, as you said, being questioned here somewhere in Montgomery County; police not leaping to the word "suspects" in this case. They are not saying that at this point. They are being very, very careful.

As you said, still need a search warrant to look through that car. They want to know, is there any connection? Is there any evidence of any type that may either lead them to the snipers in this case or show that these two men are connected?

LIN: And the lead in this case, or at least the tip in this case, according to the "Baltimore Sun" this morning, may have actually come from the sniper himself in a phone call to police.

DAVIS: That's right. Well, the "Baltimore Sun" reporting that indeed police received a communication from the sniper, saying "Take me seriously." Also, "Check with the people of Montgomery."

LIN: Not Montgomery County.

DAVIS: Right. You would think Montgomery County, but obviously, they're checking out everything, every possibility, every which angle.

They looked at Montgomery, Alabama, shootings that had taken place there recently; discovered one September 21 outside of a liquor store. It was a double shooting, a woman killed, another person critically wounded, a .223 bullet there.

Now, we don't know, as we've been saying, that fingerprint on that bullet, we don't know if there is any connection there. But very interestingly, John Lee Malvo's fingerprints, the 17-year-old, found on a piece of paper nearby.

LIN: And that led them...

DAVIS: And it connected them to Tacoma, where they have done the search now.

LIN: Yes.

DAVIS: So that, according to the "Baltimore Sun."

LIN: All right, thank you very much, Patty Davis -- great reporting this morning.

We are trying to be very cautious about this, Paula, but you can feel it in the air here. There is a lot of anticipation, a lot of excitement that this could be a major break in the case.

Some evidence taken from that Tacoma house. Investigators went there late yesterday and searched the back yard with backhoes.

They also sawed off a tree stump, which, according to witnesses in that Tacoma neighborhood, was used by the previous resident there for target practice.

So, I think what they're hoping to find there are samples of perhaps .223 caliber bullets used as target practice in that house, and that indeed would be a big break in the case, but once again, evidence taken from there.

We don't know if there was any evidence taken at all from the paramilitary camp that you mentioned earlier out of Marion, Alabama.

But once again, the story is just beginning to unfold, as I'm sure our viewers are waking up to this breaking news -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Carol.


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