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Two Men Arrested at Rest Stop in Connection with Sniper Killings

Aired October 24, 2002 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. Army base in Washington State. That's not very far away from the property in Tacoma where he reportedly once lived and which federal agents searched yesterday. Malvo is said to be 17 years old and from Jamaica. There may also be a connection to Montgomery Alabama, where a shooting outside a liquor store on September 21st left one woman dead and another wounded.
As we mentioned, the sniper investigation is crisscrossing the country. The killing spree began here in the Washington, D.C. area just over three weeks ago. The two suspects now in custody, once lived in Washington State and they recently have been in Montgomery, Alabama, where police are searching for a killer. CNN has correspondents covering every aspect of this fast-developing story.

Standing by with more details, CNN's Jeanne Meserve. She's here in Montgomery County, Maryland with me. Brian Cabell, he's in Montgomery, Alabama and James Hattori in Tacoma, Washington. Let's begin right with Jeanne Meserve. She has some new news that she can report right now.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, it's about a weapon, a weapon that has been found in that vehicle, that 1990 Chevy Caprice. I am told that a Bushmaster .223 was found behind the seat. This weapon would fire .223-caliber ammunition. That's the kind of ammunition that has linked the various sniper slayings. I am told that this weapon is either on its way or is already at the ATF laboratories in Rockville, Maryland, where it will undergo ballistic testing.

What they were trying to do there is make a match to find out whether the fragments that they've recovered from the scenes of the sniper shootings match this particular weapon. I'm told that testing could take a couple of hours. It is possible that the briefing that currently is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. here in Montgomery County might be pushed back just a little bit as they wait for the results of those tests.

Also, there is more searching to be done. We know that some black bags were taken out of the trunk of that car. I'm told those have not yet been opened. We don't know what that will yield. But once again, the headline, they have found one weapon and it is a weapon that fires .223-caliber ammunition in that car that was stopped last night when they made these arrests.

BLITZ: And Jeanne, we're looking at these pictures. This is the car, the actual Caprice, the Chevy Caprice they have been looking for and in this car were the two men. They were asleep, 3:00 a.m., something like that, last night and inside the car they have now found this weapon that's capable of firing a .223 bullet.

MESERVE: That's right. One of the more interesting things that struck us this morning is that these men were asleep on the side of the road, sighted there by an attendant at a rest station and also a driver. Maryland State police were alerted, they responded and kept up surveillance until task force members got there, moved in and made that arrest at about 3:00 a.m. But what's amazing about this is that last night we were all on television talking about these individuals.

We talked about the vehicle that they were looking for, a 1990 blue Chevy Caprice. We talked about the names of these individuals. We even had a picture of one of the individuals. There was no secret about the fact that authorities were looking for them and during this whole story there's been this theory that the people involved in these shootings were watching television and listening to the radio and very much reacting to what was being said about them. Apparently last night they weren't in the loop or one would have guessed they would have taken some sort of action that would have taken them out of obvious sight.

BLITZER: And that Chevy Caprice has now been brought here, transported to an evidence area right here in Rockville, Maryland where Montgomery County police, of course, are leading the investigation in this task force. The letters, speak a little bit about these respective letters because I know you've been digging over these past few hours and got some more information.

MESERVE: Yes, it's very interesting. We've got a lot more information about that letter that was found behind the Ponderosa Steakhouse in Ashland, Virginia. That's where a shooting took place Saturday night; a man killed there. There had been a phone call to authorities advising them to look for the note. When they found it, it was wrapped in plastic. A bit of a delay in opening it as they did some testing.

The -- there are several Jamaican references in the letter, we are told, by a source. The letter reads "For you, Mr. Police, call me God. Do not release to the press." And then there are five stars written on the pages of the cover letter, the letter and I am told that there is a Jamaican band by the name of Five Stars and investigators thought that might be a Jamaican link.

The thing that's interesting is that John Lee Malvo was born in Jamaica. We're also told that in the text of the letter is this quote "If we give you our word, that is what takes place. Word is bond." "Word is bond" lyrics from a song by the Five Star band and those words, "our word is our bond" were echoed last night by Chief Moose when he was attempting to communicate with the people he believed to be the snipers.

So just some interesting insight there into how investigators might have made some connections here. We do know that there were other things about that letter that made them wonder about the nationality of who might have written it. There were irregularities in the grammar. Certain phrases made them wonder if it was written by someone who's native to this country. One of our people who they now believe to be a suspect is Jamaican. This may explain it. We don't know yet.

BLITZER: And just to clarify, that last shooting in Ashland, Virginia, the second from the last shooting...


BLITZER: ... the victim has not yet died - he's not died. He's still alive. He's in critical condition. I was told, I think you may have said that he died in...

MESERVE: No, I believe that the victim...

BLITZER: The one in Ashland, Virginia...

MESERVE: OK, now...


MESERVE: ... you have to excuse me. It's been a very long night.

BLITZER: The one -- the one in Aspen Hill in Silver Spring has passed away...


BLITZER: He passed away at Suburban Hospital...

MESERVE: Excuse me.

BLITZER: in - here...

MESERVE: I stand corrected.

BLITZER: All right, I just want to make sure...

MESERVE: It's quite possible at this hour, this late day...

BLITZER: You've been doing a terrific job...

MESERVE: ... but you're absolutely...

BLITZER: Thanks for that report and stand by because Jeanne is going to be digging more and getting some more information for us. Jeanne Meserve with all these late-breaking developments.

Now to that rest stop in Frederick County, Maryland, where the two suspects were taken into custody in the middle of the night, 3:00 a.m. CNN national correspondent Bob Franken has been there all morning and he can give us a little bit more. Bob, give us a little flavor. What's going on where you are right now?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now it's crawling with members of the media because they finally opened it up to us within the hour. Of course, it had been shut down for so many hours while the investigation went on. An investigation that if in fact these are the people who were involved in the Washington sniper shootings, it would be ending in such an unusual, quiet mundane way after all of the tragedy and all of the methodical planning. Let me just show you, the arrest was made.

The car, the Caprice was sitting in that space right there. The men inside, the two of them were apparently taking a nap when a person drove up. This is close to the entrance here, drove up, and after hearing various broadcast reports throughout the night decided that he needed to call the police.

So he went into that area there where there would be pay phones and the like and did call the police. Now we've been told by one of the people who was working in there that the man who called the police, as well as the employer, were told to go sit in the white van owned by the caller somewhere in this parking lot. We haven't been able to pin down exactly where that was.

And meanwhile, state police sent a couple of patrolmen, and they merely offered reconnaissance and that lasted a couple of hours. Meanwhile, going on at the same time over there, which is where Myersville, Maryland is, there was an assembly of very slow formation of a force, a tactical force. There was a very methodical plan made to come through the woods and try and avoid any sort of trouble by surprising the men who were in this vehicle and arresting them.

At the same time the patrolmen who were on site, keeping them under surveillance, would have followed the vehicle, had it tried to leave this area, but the men continued to sleep until the tactical operators came through the woods, went over there, had the benefit of surprise and were able to, in fact, arrest the men and then, of course, the vehicle was kept here for a very long time while about 70 police officials from the state police, from the local police, Montgomery County Police, FBI, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the whole group, about 50 vehicles in all came into this area.

This all happened between 1:00 and 3:00 - about 3:30 a.m. This area was shut down. There was no access or exit to it, while they combed the area, they combed the car, they waited for a search warrant before -- so they could impound the vehicle and as we saw a while ago, they removed it and opened this up.

So, the irony here is, Wolf, that the people who were making the arrests probably used the cover of the trees that are all around us, which has been so much a part of the tragedy of the snipings that's been going on here in Washington, in the Washington area - Wolf.

BLITZER: An incredibly, incredibly complex operation to go apprehend those two suspects, to actually go and stop them and obviously, it required all sorts of precision. As far as you can tell right now, Bob, are they still searching for any evidence in the area or have the police effectively left the rest area where you are right now? FRANKEN: I think about the only police we're seeing right now are those who might be sent to keep us under control. As you can imagine, there's a large contingent of media here, but the police seem to have gone for the moment, but something that I have noticed throughout this entire siege is that they will live an area and then a day or two later they will sometimes come back looking for new evidence.

So it would not be any surprise to anybody if they came back to look for things, but of course, the key piece of evidence has been removed and that's the automobile.

BLITZER: The automobile, and now we've learned that there was, in fact, a weapon in that automobile that is capable of firing that .223 caliber bullet. Our Jeanne Meserve reporting that here only a few moments ago. You're looking at a picture now. I want to clarify what you're seeing.

You're seeing that Chevy Caprice. It was transported here to Rockville, Maryland only a few moments ago inside that van, police now bringing that vehicle inside a garage. They'll be -- it's already in the garage right now. They'll be keeping it here, obviously. It has evidence that would be very useful in connection with the investigation.

The weapon is here as is that vehicle. The ATF has a lab, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms right here in Rockville, Maryland. Bob Franken, thanks for that report. The attendant at that Maryland rest stop did not notice that the Chevy Caprice was there when he arrived at midnight, but he did find the motorist who was on the phone with police.

Larry Blank told CNN's Paula Zahn this morning about waiting in the van with that motorist until police arrived.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Was the man who was in the van nervous when he talked to police?



ZAHN: And how about you?

BLANK: He had -- the whole time he had to keep the cell phone open with a police officer -- the whole time because they was asking questions back and forth and wanted to know if I knew how many vehicles were in the parking lot and things like this, to try and give more details, but all I could do was tell him how many vehicles was in the parking lot and things like that, where my vehicle was parked at, things like that.

ZAHN: Now, was it the police that told him to lock the doors of the van and have the two of you stay there until they got in place?

BLANK: Exactly.

ZAHN: Now, were either one of you armed?


ZAHN: And did - after - your - the man in the white van hung up with police, did you talk about how vulnerable the two of you might be not having any idea who these two men in the car could be in relationship to the sniper investigation?

BLANK: That's right. We was hoping they were the ones that they were looking for so the whole thing would be over.


BLITZER: Blank said he was too far away to see the men as they were taken into custody. As we mentioned, authorities are investigating possible links to a deadly shooting in Montgomery, Alabama last month.

CNN Brian Cabell is there on the scene for us and he has the latest - Brian.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've just confirmed in the last hour that there is a fingerprint match between John Malvo, the 17-year-old sniper suspect, and a fingerprint lifted from a scene here about five weeks ago. What happened here on September 21 was this. Two women were closing up the ABC Beverage store here behind me. They were accosted by a man whom they really didn't see, apparently ambushed and they were each shot.

One of them was shot fatally. A search ensued; a chase ensued. Apparently one of the officers got within about two feet of the man, but never quite caught up to him, but he did get a - apparently a fairly good look at him. They came up with a composite sketch. The sketch, according to some officials, is pretty close to John Malvo.

But again, nobody is saying definitively this sketch is John Malvo. But we do know now a fingerprint lifted here was that of John Malvo. That raises questions, of course, why would he have been here and when might he have left? Those questions yet to be answered.

Also, one other thing, Wolf, for the last half day or so, we have been talking about a place called Ground Zero USA. It's a training camp, a gun range of sorts about 50 miles from here in the town of Marion. There were reports, we thought authoritative reports, that the FBI had searched that range, turns out we've been told now in the last hour or two, that was not the case.

The FBI said it did not search. It has no interest in that place. We talked to the manager of that camp repeatedly last night. He adamantly denied that there had been a search. He adamantly denied that there had been any sort of illegitimate activity. It turns out he was correct. But again, the big news here, they have a fingerprint match between John Malvo, the 17-year-old sniper suspect and what happened here about five weeks ago when there was an apparent hold-up and a shooting.

BLITZER: We did hear, though, Brian, as you well know because you were there at that news conference with the local sheriff suggesting that the bullet used in that shooting or the bullets used in that shooting were not the same kind of bullets that were used in the sniper spree here in the Washington area, that .223 caliber bullet. Tell our viewers precisely what we know on that specific issue.

CABELL: Well, what we know is that there was not a .223. That was a rumor, as you well know. That was out there for the last couple of days. Turns out that bullets used in this shooting were not .223s. They are not saying precisely what kind of bullets were used. But they are saying definitely we're talking about a different kind of bullet here.

So, if this was indeed Malvo, it was a different kind of gun, a different kind of ammunition.

BLITZER: Brian Cabell in Montgomery, Alabama, with all of the information from there. Stand by. We'll be getting back to you, of course, as this story continues to unfold. The two men in custody have links to Tacoma, Washington where the FBI conducted a search yesterday.

For more on that, let's go to CNN's James Hattori. He's on the scene for us in Tacoma - James.

JAMES HATTORI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello Wolf, .223 caliber bullets were undoubtedly on the mind of investigators here as they searched this home behind me in south Tacoma yesterday all day, as they begin now to prepare a case against John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo.

Federal agents did spend much of the day searching this home where the two suspects did live for a time. They seized a great deal of evidence including at least one tree stump, which may have been used for target practice. Law enforcement sources have told CNN they were looking for bullet fragment or perhaps shell casings.

Neighbors in the area say that they did overhear gunshots at a time as recently as last January. One neighbor tells us he even called the police, although nothing ever came of those reports. Now at the same time yesterday, federal agents also paid a visit to Bellingham High School, which is up in the Canadian border, about three or four hours' drive north of here.

Officials this morning confirm that John Lee Malvo attended school there for a brief time, they say. He was - the investigators reportedly were looking for handwriting samples. They did seize some documents from the school, perhaps to compare to notes left by the D.C. area sniper. Now, what we do know about Malvo, according to officials up there, is that he was a rather unexceptional student, didn't stand out from the crowd. In fact, they said he spent a lot of time in the library by himself. As for Muhammad, he is an Army veteran, served time at Fort Lewis, Washington, which is not very far from where we are right now here in Tacoma.

He served in the Gulf War. He was not trained as a sniper, we are told, although investigators are obviously looking a lot more closely at the backgrounds of both of these men as the case goes forward - Wolf.

BLITZER: James Hattori in Tacoma, we'll be getting back to you, of course, today as well. We're learning much more today about the military background of one of the men arrested, John Allen Muhammad.

For that, let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's been looking deeply into that part of the story. Barbara, tell us what you've learned.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at the moment what we are waiting for here at the Pentagon is some sort of public release of the basic facts of John Allen Muhammad's military record. The FBI, we are told, is reviewing that at this moment deciding exactly what material can be released under privacy laws.

We do expect to get some basic details and as James Hattori reported just now, the one thing we are being told is that they have every reason to believe that John Allen Muhammad had no particular special firearms training, that he was not trained as a marksman, a sniper or part of Special Forces, that he had the same basic firearms training that any other Army person would have.

What may be most curious is if we can learn from the Pentagon here the circumstances under which he departed the military. We know he did serve at Fort Lewis, that Fort Lewis is the home to the Army's ICORP (ph), the second Ranger Battalion, the first Special Forces group. He may, we do not know, he may have had some friends, associates, some knowledge, some training that he gained there, but at the moment the Pentagon believes very strongly that he had no special firearms training or expertise as a result of his military service.

We do expect to learn more within the next several hours - Wolf.

BLITZER: What I hear you say, Barbara, is we don't know if he was honorably or dishonorably discharged.

STARR: That is correct and we are told by military officials here at the Pentagon this morning, they may not be able to tell us that. They may only be able to tell us the date at which he left the military. There are privacy laws for everyone in this country.

Their personnel records are kept private and under federal law, they cannot tell us the circumstances under which he left, whether it was honorable, dishonorable or simply an administrative discharge for some sort of flaw on his military record. We're just going to have to wait and see what they're willing to let us - what access we can have to his records.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. I know you'll be checking, continuing to check over there. We'll continue to check in with you. Thanks very much.

Let's get a little bit more information on the training that typically takes place at Fort Lewis, the Army base in Washington State. For that let's go to CNN's firearms analyst, Eric Haney. He's a founding member of the Delta Force. What can you tell us about what a soldier would be doing at Fort Lewis on a typical basis?

ERIC HANEY, CNN FIREARMS ANALYST: Well it would depend on what his job was, and we've heard some early reports that possibly this man, Muhammad Williams, was is ICORP (ph), which is, of course, a court command and those are concerned principally with logistics, quartermaster functions and also depot maintenance of vehicles and other equipment.

So, if that is true, given that, then he would be required as also to guard, to qualify annually with his principal weapon. In most cases that's going to be an M-16 rifle.

BLITZER: Eric Haney, stand by a little bit. I want to get back to you, but I also want to bring in two guests right now that we have. As Brian Cabell reported earlier, Montgomery authorities in Montgomery, Alabama, are cooperating with law enforcement, the sniper task force here in Rockville, Maryland, to determine whether the shootings are connected to that earlier shooting, that homicide in Montgomery, Alabama, last month.

For more on that now, let's go to the Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright. He's joining us from Montgomery and the Montgomery Police Chief John Wilson. Mr. Mayor, Chief Wilson, thanks to both of you for joining us. Can you...


BLITZER: ... clarify -- Mr. Mayor, let me go to you first.


BLITZER: Right now, can you tell our viewers here in the United States, around the world if you know for sure that the killing in Montgomery, Alabama last month is indeed part of this overall sniper- killing spree that's plagued the Washington area?

MAYOR BOBBY BRIGHT, MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA: We do not know for sure. It has not been verified officially. We are informed that it has something to do with it. It is connected in some form or fashion, but as far as any official verification, we have not been notified of that fact.

BLITZER: Walk us through, Mr. Mayor, and I want to bring the chief in, in a moment, but walk us...

BRIGHT: OK. BLITZER: ... through how you first became involved, connected to the task force investigation.

BRIGHT: Well, of course, the chief would be able to give you more details about that, but we've been involved since Sunday night, when we were contacted by the federal task team and they contacted our investigators and wanted to get some information about the particular crime that happened here September the 21st and of course, we gave them that information and one thing led to another until finally we provided to them all of the information, all of the evidence that we collected here at the scene, and they've been evaluating that information and that evidence to determine if, in fact, there has been any official connection between the crimes up in the Maryland, Washington and Virginia area and the murder shooting here in Montgomery, Alabama.

BLITZER: We did hear from our Brian Cabell, our reporter there on the scene that they have now matched a fingerprint of...


BLITZER: ... John Lee Malvo to...


BLITZER: ... the crime scene where you are. Tell us about that.

BRIGHT: Yes, we've heard that, but there again, that's your verification of the connection. We will not give any official verification until we get the call from the federal task force, and we have not received that call yet. Neither I nor the chief have received that call yet, but...

BLITZER: Chief...

BRIGHT: ... we are -- we do feel very confident that the evidence collected here in Montgomery is connected to the sniper shots up in D.C.

BLITZER: All right. Let me bring Chief Wilson in and let him walk us through for our viewers who may not have heard some of his news conference earlier what he can tell us about the connection, how he was informed by the Montgomery County Task force here that there may be a connection to Montgomery Alabama where you are.

Chief Wilson, talk about what they told you Sunday night.

CHIEF JOHN WILSON, MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA POLICE: Sunday night I received a call from our investigators who indicated that they had been contacted by the task force and that they had received a call. I don't have any way of knowing who that person was at that time and they were trying to verify things that they knew and said that you may want to check on a case that happened in Montgomery, Alabama near Anne Street (ph), where a murder occurred at a liquor store.

Our investigators confirmed for them that that was in fact the case. We did have such a case on September 21. After that was confirmed, they were even more interested. They wanted us to send them some of our evidence. That was sent by an FBI agent from Montgomery to the task force. Once they compared that evidence, they became more interested in it and we sent an investigator of our own up there last night with some additional evidence and he is still on the ground with the task force up there now.

BLITZER: You did say, Chief Wilson, I heard you say and we have reported that the bullets used in the shooting in Montgomery, Alabama last month were not .223 caliber, which of course, are the bullets that were used in the sniping spree here in the Washington area. Can you tell us what kind of bullets they were?

WILSON: Well, I will tell you that you're correct. I did talk by phone to the ATF agents yesterday with the task force and they confirmed for us that it was not the same gun used in your area there. I don't want to go into is the specifics of our case. We have a lot of evidence that could be very crucial to both us and the residents in the Washington area, and we don't want to do anything that would jeopardize their case or ours, so I don't want to go into any great detail about what kind of gun we do think was used.

BLITZER: So you don't even want to say whether it was a handgun or high-powered rifle.

WILSON: I don't mind confirming for you that it is our suspicion that it was a handgun simply because an officer did see the suspect standing over the victims. We had a patrol car that was across the street. They heard the shots, they came over, saw two victims on the ground and there was a suspect standing over one of the victims, going through the purse. So using that deduction, he didn't mention anything to us and hasn't since in any of the debriefings that he saw a long gun of any kind.

BLITZER: One of the victims, as we know, died. The other victim has managed to survive. Tell us how she's doing.

WILSON: She is doing great. She's a remarkable woman. She's been very instrumental to our case; that's Ms. Kelly Adams (ph). She is a walking miracle. How she survived, nobody knows, but she's been very helpful to us.

BLITZER: Chief Wilson, thanks very much. I want to just ask one more question to the mayor before I let both of you go back to work. Mr. Mayor, how is your community reacting to these very, very dramatic developments? I guess the last thing most of you thought or any of you thought when you got up a few days ago is that there might be some sort of connection to that killing in Montgomery, Alabama to the killings that have been going on here in the Washington area.

BRIGHT: Well you know, we're disappointed that we're connected to this at all, but what is heartening in this particular case is this thing is coming to a head and that Montgomery and our excellent investigative team, police department here in the city of Montgomery, hopefully when all is said and done will be credited where credit is due for helping bring this case to a dramatic end and conclusion. BLITZER: And one final question because we've been bombarded with e-mails from viewers who are just curious. Has anyone said anything to you, Mayor or Chief, about the fact that the killing in Montgomery, Alabama and the killings here in Montgomery County, both in a place called Montgomery that there possibly could be some connection to that or is that purely coincidental? Chief...



BLITZER: Chief, go ahead. Why don't you answer that, Chief.


BRIGHT: Go ahead, Chief.

WILSON: Well I really had a hard time hearing your question, but the -- if I understand it right, the caller that talked to the investigators indicated that it was Montgomery, Alabama. I mean he was pretty specific about that and particularly near a place called Anne Street (ph), which is right behind me. So I don't think there's any confusion about where the two occurred.

BLITZER: No, but I was wondering if there was any possible connection to the fact that there have been killings in Montgomery County, Maryland, as well as in Montgomery, Alabama. Has anyone from the task force suggested that there could be any connection or purely coincidental?


BRIGHT: Not to us at all.


BRIGHT: It's just ironic and purely coincidental at this point in time. We have no evidence insinuating any connection whatsoever just because of the name, the similar names or identical names.

BLITZER: Mayor Bright and Chief Wilson, good luck to both of you in your investigation. Thanks for spending a few moments with us here on CNN. We appreciate your good work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And next, our "Sniper Roundtable" will weigh in. We'll hear from a former NYPD homicide detective, Bo Dietl, CNN security analyst, J. Kelly McCann and CNN criminologist Casey Jordan.

And later, the two suspects in the sniper case, who are John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo?

We'll take a closer look. Plus we'll bring you the latest developments in the investigation. Stay with us.



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