End of the Manhunt for the D.C. Sniper
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RAY SUAREZ: Now, more details from reporters covering different aspects of the story. Marc Fisher of the “Washington Post,” Dan Bailey of the Montgomery, Alabama, “Advertiser,” and Steve Miletich of the “Seattle Times.”
Marc Fisher let’s start with you, It’s breathtaking speed with which these pieces began to suddenly fit together and lead to a rest stop on a highway north of the district. What led, do we know yet what led to such a detailed description, names and a description of the car late last night?
MARC FISHER: Well, there are a lot of strands and they’re coming together really all around the country. We saw the search last night in Washington State, the incident down in Montgomery Alabama and this was all coming together over the course of a week. There was a phone conversation that Muhammad himself apparently initiated to the task force in which he made the tie himself to the shooting that he took part in Montgomery, Alabama. That was an early clue.
In addition, there were the letters that came in to police over the last few days and other tips coming in as well from other sources in Virginia and elsewhere. So all of this was coming together and we’re piecing together now how they managed to bring it altogether. But Muhammad himself played a very key role in initiating his own capture.
RAY SUAREZ: Very shortly after the arrests leaks started to emerge from law enforcement agencies involved in the joint task force that these were the guys. What do we know has been recovered from that automobile in Maryland that points to them being connected with the sniper?
MARC FISHER: Well, they have recovered from the car a 223 caliber Bush master rifle and that is a rifle that was associated with the various shootings in the Washington area. They also found that the rear of the car was outfitted in such a way that someone from inside could shoot out through the trunk. There was a hole in the back of the trunk that enabled someone to shoot from inside sight unseen.
RAY SUAREZ: Which would also explain why I guess from several of the shootings no shell casings were recovered?
MARC FISHER: That’s correct. It would also explain why no one saw someone on foot and why they were able to get away in the vehicle as quickly as they did.
RAY SUAREZ: Now these two men have been arraigned in the last hour or so but not on charges connected to the murder of all these people in Maryland and Virginia. On what charges were they arraigned today?
MARC FISHER: Well Muhammad was arraigned on a federal firearms charge and Malvo is being held as a material witness because of his juvenile record. The expectation is that the prosecutors in the various jurisdictions will have a conference call tomorrow and begin assembling the larger charges from the various shootings.
RAY SUAREZ: Does that mean they also have to figure out exactly where to try these two men, because the three jurisdictions involved, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia have very different approaches to, for instance, capital punishment?
MARC FISHER: They certainly do and of course, Alabama may be in the mix as well. There is some speculation that this would take place in federal court – that that’s a compromised position. Obviously there are prosecutors angling to have a piece of this case. The Montgomery County, Maryland prosecutor said earlier in the day that he expected that the trial would take place in his jurisdiction but we’re hearing other things now from the federal authorities that it may go on as a federal case.
RAY SUAREZ: And I guess the scheduled conference call between all these school districts in the area might be a much more – well, happy affair than it was planned to be. They’ve been worried about whether or not to start closing schools closer to the nation’s capital haven’t they?
MARC FISHER: This has been probably the most grating aspect to the daily lives in the people in the Washington area – the sense of children now having been held down in lockdown situations in their schools for three weeks and more and there was just a palpable sense of maybe liberation on the part of many children in the area and many parents as well today but no one has been allowed out of their classrooms quite yet. Today the lockdown situation continued.
There is a lot of hope I heard from my own kids and their friends that tomorrow will be a better day. There is even talk at some schools of having a full day of recess to celebrate this return to some sense of normalcy. But in the long run it’s going to take a long time before any sense of normalcy returns to the this area. I think children and adults are quite traumatized and we’ll see the lingering effects of this for some time to come.
RAY SUAREZ: Marc Fisher, I guess we should mention that there was a lot of concern already — we were talking about a year where a jet plane crashed into the Pentagon, where there have been economic reversals in the area, where it hasn’t been, you know, the easiest of times to begin with.
MARC FISHER: That’s true. We had a poll in the “Washington Post” today that asked a question that would have been absolutely inconceivable just more than a year ago. When we asked Washingtonians which they were more personally threatened by — the events of 9/11, the anthrax attacks or the sniper, it was just inconceivable that we would have had to ask such a question. The way it turned out — 44% said the sniper was the most threatening to them. 29% cited 9/11 and 13% spoke of the anthrax attacks.
RAY SUAREZ: Dan Bailey joins us from the “Montgomery Advertiser. ” How did the Montgomery connection first arise, Dan?
DAN BAILEY: We are told that, I believe over the weekend, Sunday, the police chief said this morning, that the federal authorities — federal task force investigating the shootings had contacted his office or at least the police department to inquire about a document, I believe it was… excuse me? Oh, okay — contacted authorities about a magazine that had been found near the site, particularly a fingerprint on that magazine. So authorities were looking into the Montgomery angle, I guess, four or five days before the alleged phone call was made this morning or yesterday claiming responsibility or connection to that – to the liquor store shooting of September 21.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, there was the phone call from whoever made to the area task force but how did they attach the particular people, Muhammad and Malvo, to the convenience store and to the magazine?
DAN BAILEY: Well, it wasn’t… just as I point of clarification it wasn’t a convenience store per se, it was a state-owned and operated liquor store. That’s a minor detail. But as I say it wasn’t a convenience store. It wasn’t a 24-hour deal. They were closing. They were closing at the time. But the connection was made, I think, in part because of a – (a) it was an unsolved crime; (b), the weapon was different, apparently. The bullet caliber was different but something made someone think that there was a connection. I have heard, we have had reported, I’m not sure that we have enough to go with but we have heard reported that a tipster line was phoned here in town sometime between now and then — I mean, sometime this week.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, so far the police are not saying that they have anything that directly connects all of the crimes but I guess the circumstances still point. Now, does Malvo have a record so that a fingerprint on a magazine would point to a record, a database somewhere?
DAN BAILEY: We don’t know. That would appear to be the case. Otherwise, it could be anybody’s fingerprint on any magazine. And it wouldn’t necessarily point to anyone. But it would appear so.
RAY SUAREZ: Dan Bailey, thanks.
RAY SUAREZ: Steve Miletich is with us now from the “Seattle Times.” There were some fairly long routes from John Muhammad in the Seattle area, were there not?
STEVE MILETICH: Yes. Going back to the 1980s, he served two stints at Fort Lewis Army Base, which is south of Seattle and actually closer to Tacoma, which was the site of the search last night for ballistics evidence.
RAY SUAREZ: Did he obtain the weapon in your area?
STEVE MILETICH: He did. We have reviewed court documents today that show he purchased a Bush master rifle — a semiautomatic .223 caliber on May 23, 2000 at a gun shop in Tacoma, Washington. Now we don’t know for certain if this is the weapon that matches the one used during the sniper attacks. But this appears to be a… where he obtained the weapon.
RAY SUAREZ: One of the reports talks about he and Malvo living in a homeless shelter. How was he employed during the time that he was living in the Pacific Northwest after his Army service? Do we know that?
STEVE MILETICH: Well, he started a business and the type of business is somewhat unclear. There was a commercial dispute with a co-owner and some litigation over unpaid debts. And there appeared to be a falling out between the two. And this led to the two splitting apart in the… and Mr. Muhammad leaving the business. It also appears that it may have been the beginning of some kind of downward spiral in his life.
RAY SUAREZ: The intriguing thing that’s sort of still got a lot of question marks hanging around it is the connection to John Lee Malvo. Original reports called him Muhammad’s stepson but that doesn’t seem to have any legal basis.
STEVE MILETICH: We are trying to find documentation of that and as far as I know we haven’t found it yet. It appears there is a good chance that they had a father/son type relationship and he may have described himself as a stepson or possibly to school authorities, that was the way he was portrayed. But we’re still trying to untangle that question.
RAY SUAREZ: Malvo is said to be a Jamaican citizen. Do we know anything about the circumstances that brought him to the United States, whether he came with family or a guardian?
STEVE MILETICH: That’s very hazy at this point. You just asked if a few minutes ago about where they may have found fingerprints in a database. The one possibility is that there is some kind of immigration record that would have fingerprints on it. That’s one possibility; otherwise there is not a whole lot known about how he came to the United States.
RAY SUAREZ: And does John Muhammad have any criminal record?
STEVE MILETICH: It does not appear that he has any serious offenses in his background. He has several traffic violations that are on record. And also on record is some domestic violence matters, civil matters that were handled in the court near Seattle; a restraining order was issued against him several years ago on an allegation of domestic violence.
RAY SUAREZ: And do we know anything about his record during his Fort Lewis days that would point to any proficiency in the use of weapons?
STEVE MILETICH: Nothing involving special training. There is a program at Fort Lewis for sniper training. We do not have any indication that he enrolled in it. There is always a possibility that he tried to get into it. But there has been assumption that this person would have to be a highly trained sniper, and some experts say that the distances that these shots were being fired in the D.C. area and the type of weapon that was being used would allow a person with just regular training to hit their target with some accuracy.
RAY SUAREZ: Steve Miletich in Seattle, Dan Bailey in Montgomery and Marc Fisher in Washington, gentlemen, thank you all for your help.