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Possible Sniper Link was Investigated in Tacoma

Aired October 24, 2002 - 10:33   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: The press conference is happening now. Let's go live to Bellingham, Washington.

CHIEF RANDY CARROLL, BELLINGHAM, WASHINGTON POLICE: We'll continue to work closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, gathering information that may be pertinent to their investigation and helping them follow leads. I just got off the phone with the FBI, and I can tell you that in the Bellingham area, and in relation to the case, it appears that these people are -- that have been taken into custody are not acting as -- with any group, or with any organized group of people. It appears that they are, and have acted on their own.

Our focus has been supporting the investigation and ensuring the safety of the citizens of Bellingham. A part of our investigation has taken us to Bellingham High School. And because of the circumstances surrounding the grand jury subpoena that has been issued and served at Bellingham High School, no one in the school district is free to talk about the circumstances, or the subpoena or the information that they have provided.

Now contact with Lee Malvo was made here in Bellingham December 18th of 2001. Suspicious persons report came to us through the Bellingham High School resource officer. We have quite an extensive program where we have officers in high schools, and the circumstances warranted a contact and an investigation at that time.

Mr. Malvo stated that he had been in Bellingham since October of 2001, and that he was here to finish high school. He said he was staying at the Lighthouse Mission here in Bellingham. And at that time, Mr. Malvo and Mr. Muhammad were known to be together. At that point, we attempted to verify transcript information and Mr. Malvo's history, regarding his prior education, and were unsuccessful.

Several people here in Bellingham have come forward with very substantial and good information for us in support of this investigation. And I encourage anyone who has information about Mr. Malvo or Mr. Muhammad in Wacham (ph) County or in the Bellingham area to contact us at 676-6920.

Now, you as members of the media undoubtedly have questions. There may be some questions that I can answer, and some questions that I have to refer to the FBI field office in Seattle. But I will keep you informed of in our part of the investigation and any further developments here in Bellingham, as far as I am able to do that. The Bellingham Police Department has an outstanding relationship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We hope that our part in the investigation is in some way significant in bringing about a resolution to this case, or in this investigation. If you need further information about what happened here in Bellingham, you can contact me at 676-6916. And if you have specific questions about the investigation being conducted by the FBI, their field office number is area code 206-622-0460.

Again, I thank you all for coming this morning. And if you have questions that I can answer, I will take them now.

CARROLL: Specific in what way?

QUESTION: Well, what was the specific activity?

CARROLL: There was a question about Mr. Malvo's attendance at Bellingham High School, and because he had arrived at Bellingham High School without transcripts or without documents, we were attempting to assist the school district in verifying where he came from and assist them in finding out his point of origin, to see if we could help them obtain documents that would verify his past education.

Go ahead.

We were unable to determine where he had come from, and we were unable to verify any transcripts or any prior education.

QUESTION: Did he stay in school then?

CARROLL: He stayed in school briefly. And then we lost contact with him and he moved on.

Not that I'm aware of. And the school district is not -- is not able to answer that because of the federal grand jury subpoena.

Go ahead.

Documents were taken and you would have to ask the FBI exactly what they're going to use those for.

I don't know specifically what kind of documents. And as I said, they were taken under a federal subpoena, and the FBI could tell you that. I would invite the mayor to at this point make a comment to you -- Mayor.


First of all, I'd like to thank you all for joining us this morning on this beautiful Bellingham Day. And I want to first of all acknowledge the incredible work of the Bellingham Police Department. On a day in, day out basis they show tremendous degree of professionalism, and an approach to problem solving that is proactive, that is highly, highly professional, extraordinarily well trained. These are folks that know their job, do their job well, and are under very strong, capable and effective leadership with Chief Carroll.

Also want to make a general, and if not general, in fact, specific commendation to the FBI with their obvious attentiveness to detail, to their utilization of resources in a very effective way, the way they can rapidly take advantage of any bit of information they might find that would be relevant to the case that they're working on, in this case, the sniper shootings in Washington D.C., the way they work effectively with local law enforcement to build partnerships quickly, obtain information unobtrusively, and move swiftly in furtherance of justice.

I think it is marvelous to see that these people who are of interest, who may or may not be actual suspects in the case, but are people of interest in the case, have been apprehended within a few short hours of the access to background information that may have been available in Bellingham or other locations.

It may seem odd for most of our citizens that we would have any connection whatsoever with this case. And, of course, our connection is truly a tangential one. It's one more some people who are of interest happen to pass through our community for a short time. We have a community that is safe. We have a community that is close. We have a community of strong neighborhoods, strong connections between people, and that reality continues to this day.

It's my intention from the outset of the discovery of the possible connection between the D.C. sniper shootings, and Bellingham, to assure our community that, in fact, we are safe, that there is no risk posed by the fact that these people who have some involvement potentially in the case, happen to be in our community for a very short time.

Finally, I'd like to make a brief comment about the nature of the society we live in, and while we live in a society that is facing a variety of challenges and some truly terrible things can and do happen, I believe that the fundamental principle that has been elicited by events in the last 24 hours is this: The most powerful weapon in the defense of freedom is the truth, and as the truth is dispersed in our society, it has an amazing and effective role in keeping our society safe, sound and secure.

And I am delighted that we have such a terrific police department, such a great cooperation and collaboration among police agencies and other agencies and other agencies, such as the Bellingham school district. A group of people led by Dr. Kinsley (ph), whose primary purpose is not just the protection of children, but the empowerment of young people, so that they can be effective members of society, they can move on to fulfill their dreams, living in a community that is supportive of them, believes in them, and will do anything in its power to ensure their success in the future.

Thank you -- Dale.

CARROLL: As he said, the grand jury subpoena prohibits the school district or any of their employees from speaking to the matter. So, I appreciate you coming this early in the morning, and if you have questions, go ahead.

I'm gratified that we have and will play a part in bringing about a resolution to the case. Certainly, I felt, as a citizen, I felt the angst and the sorrow for the loss of the people back there, and for what the police department there was going through, all of those law enforcement officers and their hours of work.

Go ahead.

I'm sorry?

There is an indication that the Wacham (ph) County Sheriff's Office had some contact with them. What that is, I don't know at this point.

Go ahead.

The information that I have was that he was quiet, and that he spent a lot of time in the library studying, and did not -- was not openly gregarious with the other students.

Go ahead.

Certainly there are a number of places, a number of leads that we have followed here in Wacham (ph) County with the FBI. Those specific places, besides the Lighthouse Mission, I'm not aware of at this time.

Go ahead.

Well, we don't know, we don't know how Mr. Malvo and Mr. Muhammad or Mr. Williams are or are not related. Certainly, when they were here, Mr. Muhammad or Mr. Williams was posing as Mr. Malvo's father, or some relation to him.

As his father. That's correct.

OK, folks.

If was the one serving -- if I was the entity serving the search warrant, what I would be doing is trying to find background information, and if there were documents that had handwriting on it that happened to come into my possession, I would use them in the investigation as I saw fit.

OK, thank you very much for coming.

COSTELLO: OK. We're going to break away from this news briefing in Bellingham, Washington.

We want to go to Tacoma, Washington, where James Hattori is standing by.

James, one of the interesting things the chief of police said there is he wanted to assure the citizens of his town that these two people were not part of any organized group. Why do you suppose he did that? JAMES HATTORI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm sure it was to try and assure that there was no ongoing threat, and that there was no further connection to folks up there, although he did point out that there apparently was some contact between the Wacham (ph) County sheriffs, which is the local sheriff's up in Bellingham, and the two suspects, although he would not elaborate on that. And as in much of the information, he said he was limited by what he could say, because of the federal warrants and the federal investigation that is ongoing.

It was also interesting that he did confirm that the two suspects were there just brief period of time, apparently describing them as living in a Lighthouse Mission, which sounds like some sort of transient housing arrangement.

He described Mr. Malvo as quiet, student who kept to himself, spent a lot of time in the library. He did not make a big impression on a lot of people there.

So, as we hear more about these two suspects and their very widespread travels, some of these gaps in what we know about them are beginning to be filled in.

COSTELLO: Yes, the other thing he says is he says that this James Muhammad was posing as the boy's father. So apparently there was some confusion about what the exact relationship was between the two you know, from school officials.

HATTORI: Yes. I'm not sure what to make of that. It could be that because, again, they showed up without a lot of records and they may have just been admitted temporarily, and he's been described, as you know, as his stepfather. So, that could have been just, you know, a mischaracterization, somehow overlooked in the process of arranging for his acceptance into the school.

COSTELLO: All right, James Hattori, thank you for the update from Tacoma, Washington.


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