D.C. Sniper Investigation
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RAY SUAREZ: Nine sniper attacks in eight days have the Washington metropolitan area on high alert.
Since last Wednesday, seven people have been killed and two wounded.
One was a thirteen-year-old boy who was critically wounded at a Maryland middle school. Since then, security has been beefed up at area schools, and many parents are worried.
MAN: You’re scared. I mean, you try not to be, but it’s hard not to think about what – what’s going on out there and not knowing really affects you; it really affects you.
RAY SUAREZ: The latest shooting took place just after 8 o’clock last night, about 30 miles west of Washington, D.C. This morning, authorities identified the victims but said they had few clues about the attacker.
SPOKESPERSON: The deceased has been identified as Dean Harold Meyers, M-e-y-e-r-s. He was a 53-year-old man from Gaithersburg, Maryland.
The only information we have on a possible vehicle was a white minivan described as a panel vehicle, meaning it had only front passenger windows; the rest was solid.
RAY SUAREZ: Police spent the day combing the area around the latest attack for evidence. At a press conference this afternoon Prince William County, Virginia, authorities detailed some similarities between yesterday’s killing and the others.
SPOKESMAN: We can report that the autopsy has been completed, and the indication is that the person died of a single gunshot wound to the upper part of the body.
The autopsy results did reveal some evidence. That evidence has been turned over to the ATF, the laboratory who are conducting analysis at this time.
The overall circumstances of this case still appears to be consistent with the other shootings, that is, the overall circumstances are consistent with the other shootings in the region.
REPORTER: You said that there are some overall circumstances that are consistence. Could you spell some of those circumstances…
SPOKESMAN: No, not other than what we’ve already released. You know the circumstances as they have been released to date regarding this being at a service station, an individual being shot probably just before gassing the vehicle, and the circumstances that we’ve released, many of them speak for themselves. Of course, there are other circumstances that we’re not going to discuss.
REPORTER: Are you getting help from witnesses?
SPOKESMAN: Yes, yes. We have had witnesses that we think are of value, have provided valuable information.
RAY SUAREZ: Authorities have offered a reward of more than $300,000 for information leading to the arrest of this elusive killer.
RAY SUAREZ: And in just the last few moments police authorities ruled out the white panel truck or van that was seen last night in the most recent shooting as a factor in this case.
RAY SUAREZ: With me now is Arnett Gaston, associate professor at the University of Maryland’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Well, you’ve got nine crime scenes, six jurisdictions in two states in the District of Columbia. Where do you start?
ARNETT GASTON: That’s a very good question. We have to start every place that it dictates you begin. The investigations are very, very complex in each instance. It is not as one-dimensional as many of our cop TV shows would have you believe.
There are many, many aspects to every investigation. Once a crime has been reported, initial people arrive on the scene, they have to secure the entire area so that nothing is contaminated or nothing is compromised; they have to arrive on the scene assuming that the crime is still in progress.
Once it has been determined it is not, they have to make sure that all evidence is secure, that people are treated who need to be treated, that initial people are called like a medical examiner if there’s a body, or emergency medical service or people are wounded so they can be transported.
The entire area has to be canvassed for any type of indications or evidence. And additionally, the initial responders have to contact the principal investigator who will arrive on the scene.
If the medical examiner is there, they have to allow the medical examiner to do what he or she must do, but caution them not to do anything that could contaminate the crime scene.
Once the other principals arrive on the scene they again have to go through a walk through, they have to look at every aspect of the crime scene, gathering evidence, cataloging it, making sure it is not contaminated.
And once they have done all this, they must then have a debriefing to ensure that everybody has been talking to each other so that all the information can be shared, and now the real difficult part begins — because after they leave the crime scene, all those involved now have to really look at it, assess the data, the evidence, prioritize it, bring in all the other aspects and investigators, the other components, to ensure that everybody is on target and tries to maximize the evidence they have in terms of trying to reach a swift but definitive conclusion.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, in this case you’ve got a geographical spread over 50 miles, the victims of diverse, the venues are diverse, the time of day is diverse. How do you establish patterns that help you?
ARNETT GASTON: That is extremely problematic, and this may be because it is somewhat atypical in that it is so random. In many instances when we try to establish patterns, we look for things that occur with relative frequency.
We look for victims, we look at how the victims have been wounded, what signs did the, those who inflicted the wounds, are they ritualistic, are they patternistic or whatever; in this instance we don’t have that.
In many instances people who commit serial crimes they focus on a type of person or a specific type of environment. We don’t have this. There is no specific focus. It has been cross-gender, cross-cultural, cross-geographic, so the random nature, the very randomness on such a level makes it extremely problematic, extremely problematic.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, it was reported in just the last day that at one of the shootings, a card may have been left, a tarot card with the inscription, “Dear policeman, I am god.” If this was left by the killer, why is it significant?
ARNETT GASTON: The first thing we should look at is, we shouldn’t speculate. Those of us who talk, we do so with the hope of educating the public in terms of how they can assist the police.
But a lot of what we hear, we shouldn’t speculate, it could be left by the killer. But then there are other people who try to have what are known as associations, vicarious associations, where they may have left that so they could vicariously live — be part of the entire process.
If it is real evidence, then it could be symbolic in terms of what the person is doing, it may be one of the first indications of the mind set of the individual. Is he a ritualistic killer? We don’t know, but at this point let me say we can only speculate.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, given the scarcity of evidence, are police put in the rather terrifying position of almost needing more crimes in order to break this case — given how short we are on physical evidence right now?
ARNETT GASTON: One would hate to think that. And it has been my experience that there is evidence, much of it that is not shared for obvious reasons with the public, that can certainly help.
I would say, I hope it would not come to that, but on the brighter side I would also say that the people who are working on this right now have the best of the best available to them in terms of the investigative component, in terms of profiling, in terms of all the necessary components one needs to effectively handle this.
Maryland and Virginia really have the best of the best working with them.
RAY SUAREZ: When you look at other serial killers, how are they different from people who commit one murder in a specific situation?
ARNETT GASTON: Well, in many instances when you talk about single murders, that’s a one on one crime – in many instances it’s an interpersonal crime.
A lot of times it is not planned; in many instances it is arising out a domestic situation, four out of five of these cases the perpetrator and the victim know each other.
The situation you have here is, for lack of a better term what we call search and destroy, where a person is looking for victims, they look to kill them, because it is a pattern that fits their mind set, if you will, their frame of reference, whether it be psychotic or non-psychotic, it fits their frame of reference, and they are very different in that they do not have basically a rational motive here.
They do not have association with their victims, and these in part are the major differences between what is considered a personal killing and a serial killing.
RAY SUAREZ: So, what is the kind of thing, either accidental or just the result of good police work, that’s broken open these kinds of cases in the past?
ARNETT GASTON: Actually there are three things. And primary among it is good police work. That in large measure has helped.
Secondly, there is assistance from various aspects of the field, whether it be behavioral scientists and others, with profiling.
Profiling, for instance, has been demonstrated to be an effective tool in many instances. And in some instances, a little bit of good luck helps also. I just am making a parallel to the David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam situation.
When we had that situation in New York, it was a circus, everyone was offering all kinds of information to the police, everyone was trying to give their own theories. And it really hindered the police.
Fortunately for them up in Yonkers, David parked too close to a fire hydrant, and that’s what prompted his, that’s what initiated his arrest, because he readily admitted who he was when the police questioned him about where he was parked. But it is a situation where every one of them is unique.
And as I said before, I am optimistic that if anything is to come of it of a positive nature, they really have, as I said with the FBI, with many of the other agencies working with them, they do have the best of the best. And if this person is to be caught, these are people, these are the processes that will catch him, or them.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Gaston, thanks a lot.
ARNETT GASTON: Thank you for inviting me.