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Falls Church Shooting May be Sniper Attack

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Falls Church Shooting May Be Sniper Attack

By Serge F. Kovaleski and Matthew Mosk

Washington Post Staff Writers

Monday, October 14, 2002; 10:46 PM

A fatal shooting tonight in Falls Church seemed consistent with the pattern established by a sniper who has already been blamed for eight fatal attacks in the Washington region over the past two weeks.

The shooting at the Seven Corners Shopping Center occurred shortly after 9:30 p.m. near the Home Depot store at the center, which is located near several major northern Virginia traffic arteries, and it prompted police to set up check points on major roads for miles around.

The attack came on a day in which President George W. Bush addressed himself at the White House to the series of killings, which have curbed school activities, sowed fear and apprehension around the area and prompted many people to rethink daily routines.

Consistent with the shootings that authorities have linked through ballistic evidence to the sniper, last night's attack apparently involved a single shot. It occurred in a shopping area near main traffic arteries.

Tonight's slaying was the third in northern Virginia, and came more than 80 hours after the last fatal attack, which was in Spotsylvania County. It came after a weekend free from the shootings.

Manuel Solis was approaching the entrance to the Home Depot from within the garage when the shooting occurred.

"I heard one shot and then the whole world started running inside the store," said Solis, a construction worker from Falls Church.

He turned to see the fallen victim about 100 feet away near the store's exit.

President Bush today called the Washington area sniper "a sick mind who obviously loves terrorizing society" and promised to continue "lending all the resources of the federal government" to the investigation of the shootings.

"I'm just sickened, sick to my stomach, to think that there is a coldblooded killer at home taking innocent life," Bush said in his strongest statement yet on the attacks that have killed eight people and wounded two since Oct. 2.

Members of a task force hunting for the sniper responded today to the arrest of a Baltimore man who was driving a white van similar to one seen leaving the scene of a shooting last week in Spotsylvania County. But authorities later discounted the man as a suspect.

"It's not related," said Capt. Nancy Demme of the Montgomery County police. "We can't explain any further."

The investigative task force quickly dispatched a team to Baltimore after it was reported that local police had found a rifle that used the same .223-caliber ammunition fired by the sniper in a van driven by the Baltimore man, whose identity was withheld by police last night.

The weapon was rushed to a federal ballistics laboratory for testing, and police sources said they determined that the gun did not match the one used in the shootings.

A law enforcement source said, "We have three or four of these [fruitless tips] a day." The only difference yesterday was "you found out about this one."

"This is what the police do. They follow up leads like this, and many of them sound promising," the source said. "When they say they're making progress, they mean that they're following leads like this every day."

Investigators have questioned dozens of people who ultimately were eliminated as suspects, the source said. About half a dozen men were considered for a time the "most promising" sniper suspects, but none of the leads turned out, the source said.

"They keep getting guys who might be good for it, and then it turns out to be nothing," the source said. "You wouldn't believe some of these people, different from you and I, guys who travel around with .223 rifles and Nazi types."

Responding to reporters' questions at the White House yesterday, Bush said of the sniper attacks and the fear they have caused: "I weep for those who lost their loved ones. . . . The idea of moms taking their kids to school and sheltering them from a potential sniper attack is not the America I know."

The president said he has been updated daily on the investigation – including "a full briefing" yesterday by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III – and said authorities have found no indication that the shootings are linked to a foreign terrorist group.

"First of all, it is a form of terrorism, but in terms of the terrorism we think of, we have no evidence," Bush said. "But anytime anybody is randomly shooting, randomly killing, randomly taking life, it's coldblooded murder. . . . And we're doing everything we can to capture whoever that might be and bring them to justice."

FBI Special Agent Gary Bald said yesterday that the full weight of the federal investigative ability has been employed in the case and that he saw no reason for his agency to take command of the effort.

"There hasn't been any talk among the investigative team of the FBI taking this case over," Bald said. "There are no resources that we have that are at our disposal that we aren't bringing to bear. . . . The group is working very effectively together."

After three days without a reported sniper shooting – the longest quiet stretch since the attacks began Oct. 2 – Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose said yesterday that authorities "are indeed making progress" in the case.

"We will not be at peace in this community until we catch whoever is doing this," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

When asked why police would not release a psychological profile, which the FBI has been working on, Moose said: "None of that has been released because, again, we do not want to paint a picture that somehow causes people to exclude the possible suspect or people involved in this.

"I've looked at some of those things from a historical standpoint," he said about cases in which publicly releasing profiles have helped investigators. "I've studied those cases as part of my training. But in this case, we again don't want to create tunnel vision. We want to keep an open mind. We'd like for people to look at the big picture."

Besides Montgomery, where five people were slain, sniper shootings have occurred in Northwest Washington and in Prince George's, Prince William and Spotsylvania counties.

The fact that the sniper is not known to have shot anyone during either of the last two weekends could be a tantalizing clue for law enforcement authorities as they try to develop a profile of the assailant, outside experts said.

"It is a glimpse into the killer's possible activities," said James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston. "Typically, serial killers strike when they have some free time, meaning no work or home responsibilities."

He said the pattern "is not something we can depend on. But since the past two weekends were attack-free, we could speculate that the killer was either busy with other, more mundane activities or was involved in planning his next move."

Fox, however, stressed that the back-to-back weekend lulls are not enough to suggest that the killer will continue holding fire on Saturdays and Sundays. "We are only talking about behavior that has happened, and not making predictions . . . because he has already shown his unpredictability," Fox said. "So far, he has been a weekday warrior. But what he will do in the future, God only knows."

Meanwhile, investigators have broadened the search for a possible military connection to the sniper attacks and have asked military officials to search records of personnel discharged from the Marine Corps or Navy who have been trained as snipers.

More than 100 Marines annually receive advanced training as snipers at Quantico Marine Corps Base, and thousands more learn basic sniping skills at other installations across the country. Navy special operations units also include snipers.

The Army's Criminal Investigation Command has been conducting a similar search at the request of the FBI, looking for discharged soldiers who have "had sniper training," a Pentagon official said yesterday.

Before last night's shooting, J.T. McCann, a former D.C. homicide detective, was among several law enforcement experts who said that despite the weekend lull in attacks, they did not believe sniper would cease fire permanently. McCann said he based his opinion on the general behavior of serial killers.

"It is very rare that they just stop," said McCann, now a private investigator. "To think that this guy is going to stop and drift back into everyday life is just not going to happen. Psychologically, he could not be content or happy with the mundane life he led before this happened.

"These guys just don't stop," he said. "They get caught or they get killed."

Staff writers Jo Becker, Christian Davenport, David A. Fahrenthold, Hamil R. Harris, Nelson Hernandez, Allan Lengel, Phuong Ly, Lori Montgomery, Jamie Stockwell, Steve Vogel, Josh White and Craig Whitlock and Metro researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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What I find puzzling is the fact that a few minutes after the shooting they created a several mile perimeter around the area and the sniper was able to get away. It is some scary shit. This person or persons obviously has a very detailed plan. He/she/they must have pre-determened spots as well as mapped out escape routes. I just hope they catch that animal soon before anymore people have to go through this ordeal.

Sassa hope all is well with your mom.

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Well, Sassa, right now it seems like DC itself is the safest place to be, especially downtown...its the surrounding suburbs (I live in Montgomory COunty) that you have to watch.

Guess the buildings are too close together and too many lights in DC itself for the sniper to be able to make a quick escape. However, I'm not gonna assume anything!

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Originally posted by dnice35

Do you guys think it might be more than one person doing this shit?

I think it might be more than one person. It seems that every eye witness account has the mysterious white/cream van speeding away immediately following the shot. For one person to set up, shoot, put the rifle away and then proceed to drive off seems highly unlikely. I could be wrong, but I just believe it's more than one person. Some I work with mentioned something, it could be way off. They said what if this is some terrorist cell commiting these crime to divert attention from a larger scale attack. You know to keep authorities busy tracking down the sniper while the rest of the cell carries on with something bigger. They made a good point in asking why would the shooter choose the DC area why not somewhere a little more rural where there would be less of a police presence. I find it far fetched, but he did make me think.

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Originally posted by nabuc1

I think it might be more than one person. It seems that every eye witness account has the mysterious white/cream van speeding away immediately following the shot. For one person to set up, shoot, put the rifle away and then proceed to drive off seems highly unlikely. I could be wrong, but I just believe it's more than one person. Some I work with mentioned something, it could be way off. They said what if this is some terrorist cell commiting these crime to divert attention from a larger scale attack. You know to keep authorities busy tracking down the sniper while the rest of the cell carries on with something bigger. They made a good point in asking why would the shooter choose the DC area why not somewhere a little more rural where there would be less of a police presence. I find it far fetched, but he did make me think.

Lets hope thats not the case....

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Originally posted by nabuc1

I think it might be more than one person. It seems that every eye witness account has the mysterious white/cream van speeding away immediately following the shot. For one person to set up, shoot, put the rifle away and then proceed to drive off seems highly unlikely. I could be wrong, but I just believe it's more than one person. Some I work with mentioned something, it could be way off. They said what if this is some terrorist cell commiting these crime to divert attention from a larger scale attack. You know to keep authorities busy tracking down the sniper while the rest of the cell carries on with something bigger. They made a good point in asking why would the shooter choose the DC area why not somewhere a little more rural where there would be less of a police presence. I find it far fetched, but he did make me think.

Hopefully, thats not the case. Regarding the "why the DC area question"...there could be a couple of reasons...one, he lives around here, and so knows the area better, and can still pretend to live a normal life. Also, he gets a high from outsmarting the police, so he might not necessarily be looking for less police presence.

Whatever the reason, or whoever it is, regardless of whether its a single individual gone crazy, or a diversion, its still a terrorist attack. Just coz it might not be Al Queda does not mean its not terrorism.

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Originally posted by raver_mania

Hopefully, thats not the case. Regarding the "why the DC area question"...there could be a couple of reasons...one, he lives around here, and so knows the area better, and can still pretend to live a normal life. Also, he gets a high from outsmarting the police, so he might not necessarily be looking for less police presence.

Whatever the reason, or whoever it is, regardless of whether its a single individual gone crazy, or a diversion, its still a terrorist attack. Just coz it might not be Al Queda does not mean its not terrorism.

I agree with you that who ever it is is still a terrorist (al Queda or not). As far as the theory my friend had, I highly doubt it. that's just pure speculation on his part. The person(s) who is doing this clearly knows the area inside and out. In actuality know really knows what the fuck is going on. Last night during the press conference the police officer (forgot his name) stated that he was pretty sure that they where not using bloodhounds and them a few minutes later the cameraman catches a shot of a dog with his handler combing the area. The authorities aren't realing much information.

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is it a possibility that the sniper is shooting random people and then will shoot a certain person that he wants dead, but is using the other murders as a cover up for a madman on a rampage...

my german friend brought this up yesterday, and as whacked out as it sounds..you never know.

he also brought up a very interesting point about the pentagon during 9/11. why is the hole in the pentagon much smaller than it would be if a plane HAD gone through it? and then, why in all the pictures taken of the damage, we don't see burns on the grass in front? it looks completely fine, wouldn't a burning plane set that shit on fire...

hmmm...i dunno...too many controversial theories running through my head right now.

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Originally posted by sassa

is it a possibility that the sniper is shooting random people and then will shoot a certain person that he wants dead, but is using the other murders as a cover up for a madman on a rampage...

my german friend brought this up yesterday, and as whacked out as it sounds..you never know.

he also brought up a very interesting point about the pentagon during 9/11. why is the hole in the pentagon much smaller than it would be if a plane HAD gone through it? and then, why in all the pictures taken of the damage, we don't see burns on the grass in front? it looks completely fine, wouldn't a burning plane set that shit on fire...

hmmm...i dunno...too many controversial theories running through my head right now.

Someone mentioned that today. Its a possibility....

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Originally posted by sassa

is it a possibility that the sniper is shooting random people and then will shoot a certain person that he wants dead, but is using the other murders as a cover up for a madman on a rampage...

my german friend brought this up yesterday, and as whacked out as it sounds..you never know.

he also brought up a very interesting point about the pentagon during 9/11. why is the hole in the pentagon much smaller than it would be if a plane HAD gone through it? and then, why in all the pictures taken of the damage, we don't see burns on the grass in front? it looks completely fine, wouldn't a burning plane set that shit on fire...

hmmm...i dunno...too many controversial theories running through my head right now.

Regarding the sniper issue, why would he kill other people to cover up his murder victims? I mean, either way, once he's caught, he's going to hang - also by making it seem like a madman's rampage he's going to be hunted down with a MUCH higher intensity than if he made it seem like murder. I mean, how many murder cases make the headlines of most world newspapers?

Nah, I think its a serial killer, and with the audacity with which he conducted his last shooting, he really does fit the profile.

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