Update: D.C. Sniper Manhunt
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
KWAME HOLMAN: Regular schedules resumed today at the Montgomery County, Maryland bus stop where Conrad Johnson was shot and killed a day after he became the area sniper’s tenth homicide victim. Meanwhile, investigators appealed to any potential witnesses to yesterday’s events to come forward, including illegal immigrants who may be wary of speaking to authorities. Monday, Richmond-area police arrested two undocumented immigrants. They later were cleared of any involvement in the shootings and handed over to immigration authorities. Montgomery County police chief Charles Moose:
CHARLES MOOSE: We want to talk to them, ask questions about what they saw, heard in the area of this shooting. That would be the focus of our questions and certainly please understand, sir, that Montgomery County police officers do not have any authority or authorization to enforce immigration laws and we want to talk to them about this crime.
KWAME HOLMAN: Chief Moose reiterated his statement of yesterday that the killer has demonstrated the ability to shoot any person, any gender, anywhere, and at any time. He also revealed yesterday that police had received a letter threatening the safety of children. All that has left parents and students struggling to deal with the climate of fear.
REPORTER: What are you telling your kids about the sniper?
WOMAN: That this is a horrible person but that most people are very, very good and that we can’t let him change our lives and we have to keep going and be very cautious.
STUDENT: I don’t want to be at school right now because I don’t like walking in the morning because it’s dark outside and I can’t really — I don’t feel very safe in the mornings.
KWAME HOLMAN: Schools in the greater Washington, D.C., area, and far beyond, once again canceled all outdoor activities. A few school systems continued to lock their outside doors to protect students inside. Meanwhile, government officials tried to ease the public’s insecurity. President Bush, at a White House event, said federal agencies are providing all necessary resources to aid in the effort. Maryland’s governor, Parris Glendening, said the state may place the National Guard at polling places on election day in two weeks. And Chief Moose made this emphatic point.
CHARLES MOOSE: If you have some concern that we are doing something to jeopardize your safety in order to enhance our investigation, then I want to put those thoughts to rest that at the foundation of our process and it is a very emotional process, thoughtful process but at the bottom line, the three of us it is always public safety first and the investigation is second.
KWAME HOLMAN: Moose deflected several questions about his department’s ongoing communications with the area sniper.
GWEN IFILL: As Kwame just reported, one key aspect of this investigation has involved the cat-and-mouse communication between law enforcement and the sniper, much of it springing from two letters apparently left by the sniper for the police. Sari Horwitz of the Washington Post has been reporting on this. She joins us now. Welcome.
SARI HORWITZ: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: Tell us what you can about the contents of this latest letter, the one discovered at the last site.
SARI HORWITZ: Let me start with the Ashland letter. That was left in the woods. Investigators found it tacked to a tree. It was about three pages long, double spaced, neatly printed but there were misspelled words and grammatical mistakes and there were three major themes in the letter: First a demand for money, $10 million to be a deposited into a domestic bank account and the writer of the letter gave details about the account; second frustration and anger that the police were ignoring the letter writer. The letter writer said the police were incompetent and he had tried to research the police in Montgomery County and the FBI at least six times and five people had to die because they ignored him and hung up on him.
GWEN IFILL: So as far as you know the second letter the contents were not so dissimilar from the first?
SARI HORWITZ: Connect. The second letter was shorter but made similar remarks and also threatened children as did the first one.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s take it an item at a time. Let’s talk first about the ransom. It sounds like a gigantic ransom note — $10 million.
SARI HORWITZ: A huge amount…
GWEN IFILL: Was this what Chief Moose was talking about yesterday when he communicated late last night that they wouldn’t be able to make the electronic transfer that they asked about?
SARI HORWITZ: We think so. We don’t know exactly what Chief Moose was talking about but that’s seems most reasonable because she was asking for money to be deposited into a account by a deadline of Monday. They didn’t meet that deadline. And he might have been saying that they could not electronically transfer this money.
GWEN IFILL: Do the authorities have reason to know why after a week he is suddenly asking for money?
SARI HORWITZ: No, and of course we don’t know if there have been requests before for money. This is the first time that we heard this. Also in this letter he told the police he was going to call and left a number but there was a problem with the number and it didn’t work. And by the time the police figured out how to get this number to work and rerouted it – commandeered the number to police headquarters — the deadline there had passed so they were unable to communicate with the shooter that day.
GWEN IFILL: You also said the letter writer seemed angry at the place for what the letter writer thinks is boggling the investigation, not take five or six phone calls. Is that something the police have responded to?
SARI HORWITZ: They haven’t responded to it. They haven’t discussed the contents of letter at all except for the postscript, which is your children aren’t safe anywhere any time. They haven’t discussed anything else about the letter. It was interesting the writer names people he talked to, people who hung up on him and ignored him, says whether they’re men or women, clearly frustrated by this experience.
GWEN IFILL: Why did the police decide to release details of that postscript only that very chilling postscript about the children and nothing else not even a handwriting sample?
SARI HORWITZ: That’s a good question. We wonder about that. One theory might be that in this letter as in the tarot card the writer said I am God, do not release to this the press. Perhaps the police were trying to establish some kind of rapport and credibility, establish credibility with the sniper and so they didn’t release it. There were a lot of questions asked to Moose at one of first press conferences yesterday about a report in some newspapers that school children were at risk and sort of demands that they clarify this. That many may have put pressure on Chief Moose along with a lot of discussions with other chiefs around the region to release information so that parents would know what was in this note specifically about children.
GWEN IFILL: Now you mentioned the tarot card. That was a tarot card that was found with the note that read I am God outside of school where the 13-year-old was shot last week. Is there a definitive link as far as you can tell between these letters and that card?
SARI HORWITZ: Investigators have told us they believe the same person left both of these messages. There apparently are phrases. We know “I am God” and police don’t release this to the press that are the same in both of them but investigators who I have spoken to see very confident that these two come from the same person.
GWEN IFILL: It seems to us and as we speak to you tonight we’re waiting to hear from Chief Moose again do we think that so much of the information now hinges on this two-way communication between the Chief and the cameras and the sniper in the letters he is leaving?
SARI HORWITZ: It’s hard to know. There are all kinds of clues we’re being given. Hard to know. We hear the chief has actually not talked to this person personally. But there’s some sort of line set up he can call into. We just don’t know how much communication is taking place at this point.
GWEN IFILL: Sari you have covered a lot of big investigations. Does this investigation that involves over 1,000 federal agents and multi jurisdictions, counties all around the Washington area, how is this investigation working? Is it working well I guess?
SARI HORWITZ: Well, that’s a controversy controversial point. Many people have said it’s not well organized that each jurisdiction only knows what their jurisdiction is working on. But they don’t have the bigger picture — a lot of complaints about the fact that there are so many police departments involved shall the ATF and the FBI, Customs, various agencies, unwieldy investigation.
GWEN IFILL: The President said today that he, that the United States is giving – is lending as much effort as it can to help local law enforcement get to the bottom of this. Is there any discontent that the federal government is not giving all it could?
SARI HORWITZ: No. What I hear is people are pretty with all the resources and the help they are getting from everybody. The real question – the problem I’m hearing about is more than it’s disjoint and disorganized and not everybody is talking to each other. On the other hand, we do know the chiefs of every jurisdiction and the key point people are talking to each other on a conference call every day sometimes more than once a day and there are several meetings going on.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. Sari Horwitz thank you very much for joining us.
SARI HORWITZ: Thank you.