CNN BREAKING NEWS
Bus Driver Shot, Killed in Aspen Hill, Maryland
Aired October 22, 2002 - 11:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This morning's attack on a bus driver in Silver Spring, Maryland, took place in walking distance -- less than half a mile -- from the very first sniper shooting, back on October 2. And while we still have no confirmation today's attack was committed by the same person or same weapon, police have no choice at this point to act as if it was.
Joining me this hour with their information and insights and all the late-breaking developments are CNN's Bob Franken -- he's at the crime scene in Silver Spring -- CNN's Bill Delaney, at the Bethesda Hospital, where this morning's victim unfortunately passed away. And in New York City, the former NYPD homicide detective, Bo Dietl. A lot of information coming up.
We're also standing by for a news conference here in Montgomery County momentarily. And we'll, of course, have live coverage once that begins.
Let's begin, though, with Bob Franken. He's in the Aspen Hill section of Silver Spring, not very far away from where we are right now.
Bob -- give us the latest.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the latest is that they continue to scour the woods. As you can see, the bus, the forward-most bus up there is the one where the shooting victim was standing on the steps -- we now know that he was the driver of the bus -- when he was gunned down.
And by all indications, the authorities are focusing on the woods right next to the bus, which makes sense.
I should point out, on the other side of the street is an apartment complex. But they have focused their investigation there.
There is a basketball court in that wooded area just up there. It is a basketball court that is attached to this apartment building, and the focus was there. We saw some evidence markers earlier today that were put down by investigators on the little asphalt path that leads away from that basketball court into the woods.
At one point, one of our producers witnessed a plaster cast being put on the ground, the kind that is used to pick up car tracks, footprints -- that kind of thing. If we were to say what it was they found, that would be speculative. But of course, they have been combing the area. They have been looking for any shell casings, looking for the possibility that there might be a note left again. That has become something that is this sort of mysterious communication that has been going on by note and perhaps other ways between the police and the man who represents himself as the sniper.
We have to point out, of course, Wolf -- and I know you will -- that they do not know for a fact that this was the same person who has engaged in the other killings and the other woundings. We do know, as you pointed out, that this is an area that is close by where the other -- where the shooting spree began nearly three weeks ago.
At 6:00 this morning, the shooting -- approximately when it occurred, 6:00 Eastern. Police immediately sealed off traffic in this area and, of course, on the more major arteries. They stopped vehicles of all sorts, searching male occupants, searching the contents of the vehicle, even searching a motorcyclist's backpack, at point that I was happening to witness. These searches were conducted by police officers in black fatigues, carrying automatic weapons, looking like submachine guns, to use a generic term.
However, the person got away. And of course, what has frustrated officers so much in all of these investigations is how methodically and successfully he plans an escape route. Again, this was an area with a web of side streets feeding into major thoroughfares, and he was able to escape quickly into the night, while people were still reacting in shock to the shooting -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bob, as we talk, I want to show our viewers, I believe we have some satellite imagery, some photography showing the general area. And I want to put that up on the screen.
It's heavily wooded around the area where the bus was basically stopped, as this shooting occurred. Talk a little bit about the scene, as we zoom in and take a look from the sky, this general area, the Aspen Hill section of Montgomery County.
FRANKEN: Well, what you see is that wooded area, as you pointed out, that has been pretty much present at virtually all of the shootings, if not all of them. I'm trying to remember. Actually, there may have been a couple where there wasn't a wooded area. But it's been a factor in so many of them.
And of course, this is a part of the country where there is a lot of wooded area. Washington, D.C. sort of prides itself on all of the tree-shaded areas that it has, but they have become now very scary places.
The scene, of course, also shows that there is a phalanx, a huge number of police officers, federal police officers, ATF -- Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- FBI, U.S. Marshals, and Montgomery County Police. Once again, this has returned to the jurisdiction of the Montgomery County Police.
BLITZER: All right, Bob Franken, he's right on the scene for us. Stand by. We'll be getting back to you, of course, as this hour continues, and indeed, as this day continues.
People who heard the morning shooting say it sounded more like a loud bang or an accident than a single pop. It happened just before dawn, unnerving folks who were already on edge, like this 15-year-old girl.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you were going to get on that bus...
NICOLE COLLINS, WITNESS: Yes, that bus, the one...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... this morning.
COLLINS: That bus. And everything is blocked now, and it's crazy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of scary.
COLLINS: I'm not scared at all, because I feel like -- I think that God was with me, because I usually go on that bus. And if I didn't get on that bus today, you know, I think God was with me there today, because that could have been me, me just dead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And we're here in Rockville, Maryland, Montgomery County, Maryland, not far away from Silver Spring. We're awaiting a news conference momentarily right behind me, the Montgomery County Police chief, Charles Moose. We're expecting that he will be walking out and will be going to that news conference, of course, the second it begins.
It has been a very emotional day at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, once again here in Montgomery County. That's where doctors tried in vain to save the bus driver's life.
Our Bill Delaney is standing by at the hospital with the sad news-- Bill.
BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, poignant scenes in the past hour or two, as family have had to come to grips with the loss of a beloved family member.
The 40-year-old bus driver killed by a gunshot or more -- and we don't know whether it was a single gunshot yet -- in Silver Spring earlier this morning.
Now, family members have been coming, as I said, in and out of here for an hour or so. We are obviously respecting their privacy and holding back. Hospital officials tell us that the family will not be speaking to us today, and all hospital briefings here have now been canceled.
This 40-year-old bus driver was brought here at 6:40 a.m. this morning, MediVaced here, operated on for hours, but doctors were unable to save his life.
The most heartbreaking scene we've seen so far here, perhaps, an elderly woman, a gray-haired woman who about an hour or so ago, left the hospital and walked around in a parking lot beside me here for some time with other family members and escorted by police. Many here believe -- although we are not certain about this -- that that may have been the victim's mother. She was stooped; she was crying.
It brings home, Wolf, the enormous human dimension of all of this. So many lives changed here, and some of those lives changed by grief -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill Delaney, he's at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, one of the better hospitals in the greater Washington area. Tragically, unfortunately, the bus driver did not survive. And I'm sure heroic efforts were made to try to save his life.
Let's take a little bit further look now at the investigative end of all of this.
Our Justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, she's been on top of every angle of this story from the very beginning. She is joining us now live.
Kelli -- tell us, as we await this news conference here in Montgomery County with Chief Moose and others, what's going on in the investigation.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, as you said, investigators are responding to the latest shooting as if it were connected to the recent sniper attacks. The one law enforcement official that I spoke to said that it certainly has the same M.O. Of course, we have to wait for confirmation from the bullet that has been removed from the body and will be examined by the ATF.
Also, we are told by sources that government lawyers are examining whether or not any federal statute applies here, so that the federal government can become the lead agency in this investigation. Now, that really won't impact at all the way that this investigation is being run, but it will have an impact if the sniper is caught alive and is prosecuted. So, on the prosecution end that's where that would come in and make a difference.
We have some information that we have been reporting, and to bring viewers up-to-date on the note that was found at the last confirmed shooting by the Ponderosa restaurant in Virginia. The note is believed to be legitimately left by the sniper or snipers.
We are told by sources that although the handwriting initially did not look to match the handwriting that was on a tarot card that was left at a previous shooting, there are similar words, similar language that was used that has not been publicly divulged that was in the note, as well as on the tarot card. And so, investigators do believe that that note is a legitimate communication from the sniper.
In that note, the individual who wrote it talked about -- hinted at a demand for money within a certain timeframe; also threatened school children if certain demands were not met within a certain timeframe.
Now, CNN had access to that information yesterday. We were asked by law enforcement officials not to divulge that information, because they were concerned that it would not only jeopardize the investigation, but also perhaps put the community at risk.
And so, as investigators are walking a fine line here in terms of information that's being divulged that the public needs to know, they were also trying to successfully catch the perpetrator or perpetrators. And so, that they are carefully having to weigh what information gets out.
Unfortunately this morning, some news organizations went ahead and released that information, and so we are at least confirming that the information is accurate.
Wolf -- back to you.
BLITZER: Kelli, the last three times that we saw Chief Moose, the Montgomery County police chief, who will be, we believe, momentarily emerging to brief reporters and all of us once again, the last three times he made very terse statements, as if he were directly attempting to speak to the sniper, the killer, in this particular case. Has that been confirmed officially that he is addressing the sniper as opposed to perhaps an intermediary or someone else? The question being: Have they established some sort of dialogue with the sniper?
ARENA: That has not been officially confirmed. Here is what we do know. We do know there was phone number that was included in that note that was left at the last shooting scene. One has to extrapolate from that, and we know that he came out and made a public statement about, we have -- you know, call us at the number that you left.
Yesterday we heard him making a plea for a phone call back from an individual, because that phone call was not clearly transmitted. We are told by sources that they believe that either a tape recorder was being used, or perhaps a voice synthesizer was being used when a phone call came in to police headquarters to a phone number. And we were told there were technical difficulties in understanding exactly what was said. So, we heard that very public plea for a phone call back.
Now, I have to tell you that our sources are not confirming threats, nor has it been officially confirmed that that communication is with the person who is believed to be the sniper, or someone who may be providing information about the recent attacks. That is something that we are working on, but that officials have declined to elaborate on in any way -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Kelli Arena, she's on top of this investigation. Stand by. We'll be getting back to you as well.
And as we await the news conference here in Montgomery County, we're expecting Chief Moose to be emerging momentarily to brief us on the latest developments.
We're going to get some more insight now into this intense police investigation. Joining us is Bo Dietl, a former NYPD homicide detective who has helped solve many crimes. He's in New York.
Bo, thanks once again for joining us.
Well, it looks -- we don't have official confirmation -- it looks like this so-called sniper might have struck again this morning. What do you make of this, if in fact this is the sniper, part of this nearly three-week series of attacks? What do you make of this late, tragic development?
BO DIETL, FORMER NYPD HOMICIDE DETECTIVE: Well, it's back in the same area, Montgomery County. Like I said before, people are a victim of habit. They like the area that they know how to leave and know how to come and go.
And this person who is committing -- this homicidal maniac is what he is. He's doing what he does best. He plots it out, he has his escape route, he fires the one shot and then he runs and he gets in his car or whatever way he exits.
Again, if you remember our show on Sunday, remember how small that rifle was, the AR-15 that I showed you, Wolf, that you can take that down to about 28 inches. So, in other words, people there could look for someone carrying a plastic garbage bag. You've got to look for something small. Don't think that this rifle is going to be a long rifle. This is going to be a short rifle. It could be up to 28 inches long.
The important thing here again is that at 6:00 in the morning, there's a lot of joggers around there at that time in the morning. I know for a fact, some of my friends that live there, they jog at 6:00 in the morning. Someone had to see something this morning. Please report it to the police. Even if you don't think that it is evidence, please report it. Someone in a car, someone that was walking fast with a bag -- it could be anybody.
But the eyes and ears of all of the population in these communities is going to be how we're going to break this case, because it's obvious this homicidal maniac is not going to stop. He's going to keep on going.
And what's very disturbing is what we just heard about children could be affected again. I mean, we have to band together. The police are trying their hardest.
He hits at 6:00 in the morning, Wolf, when he knows that these detectives that are working 18 hours a day are probably trying to catch a couple of hours of sleep from 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 in the morning, catching a couple of hours, and now he strikes at 6:00 in the morning, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. DIETL: This is a real psychopath murderer, and he's a coward also. He wants to shoot from 100 yards away where he can't even face the victim. He can't come face-to-face with them, and he's a damn psychopath coward. And we're dealing...
BLITZER: All right.
DIETL: We need everybody together, Wolf, to find this person and give the evidence to the police.
BLITZER: Well, I've got to tell you, Bo, here in this Montgomery County area where I am, right now, everyone is together. They're all working very, very hard. They're trying to do their best under enormously complex and difficult circumstances.
What do you make of this apparent dialogue that has now begun between, we believe, the sniper and the police if in fact that's what Chief Moose is doing when he's sending out these cryptic messages through us, the news media, to the sniper?
DIETL: You know, it makes me not want to believe that these letters have credibility, or that this whole dialogue has credibility. But you know, you're talking about 13 shootings; now we have 10 dead, 13 shootings. Why didn't this homicidal maniac call upon wanting money earlier? Why did he wait for 10 and 13?
You know, that's the thing that bothers me. You know, you have a lot of copycats, and you also have a lot of people who want to insert them into this investigation.
But they said the evidence does line up with that original tarot card. And again, I said, remember the tarot card said, "I am God?" That kind of takes you away from any kind of Muslim fundamentalist. To say the word "'God," if you're a Muslim fundamentalist, their god is Allah, and that's what you would hear. But to use the word "God" is a sacrilegious thing for a fundamentalist like that. So, it kinds of takes me away from that area.
Again, what we have here is we have communication. We have to try and utilize every avenue. They're going to make a mistake. I say 'they,' because I still feel as though one person cannot be doing this all himself.
BLITZER: All right...
DIETL: And I hope that they make a mistake, and we capture him.
BLITZER: All of us, of course, hope that.
Bo, we have an e-mail -- a few e-mails. Mike in Greenville, South Carolina, he wants to ask you this question. Let me read it, as we await this news conference, you're looking at a live picture right behind me in Montgomery County. "Why is everyone talking about the sniper making a getaway after his shootings? Maybe he stays where he is. Is it possible that he hides in the woods and is able to evade investigators until they leave?" What do you say to Mike in Greenville?
DIETL: Well, you know, Mike, I would hope upon that shooting, within two minutes, the police arrive there, and you know, they would cordon off an area, and they call over to other radio cars around area. They know the area pretty well. And you normally would surround that area and then close in. When you close the intersection and all of that.
We're hoping -- and I'm sure that they hit that woods pretty, pretty precisely, because they're looking for evidence. Hey, in fact, I always thought possibly he's hiding the rifle where he does the shooting. Maybe he's digging a hole in the ground and putting the rifle there.
I am sure that the detectives and the crime scene unit that arrived there are aware of this, and they're searching as diligently as they can. And I have to apologize from some of the other shows, saying that the police, you know, were inept. I don't think they are inept at all. I think we're dealing with a smart homicidal murderer here, and we have to give them support -- the police. And the way we support the police is by giving them any information.
The person doesn't just evaporate in the air. The person has to go home, and we think, and I think that he lives in that area. And someone at 6:00 in the morning, there wasn't a lot of people walking around. Someone had to see something. Please get on that hot line and that tip line and give your tips.
BLITZER: All right. Bo, the news conference here in Rockville, Maryland, Montgomery County, it's about to begin. We've been alerted that the police chief, other county authorities, will be walking out. You're looking at a picture of the door they'll be emerging within the next few seconds, we are told. They'll be walking to the microphones and briefing us on the latest developments in this sniper attack.
Once again, earlier this morning, another shooting. No official confirmation that this is part of the sniper attacks, though local, state as well as federal law enforcement authorities are working under that assumption. They're clearly going through all of the motions that they've gone through so many times over these past 20 days, nearly three weeks, as this sniper attack has plagued the entire greater Washington area and indeed beyond.
Now, as we await the news conference, Bo, do you anticipate that we will be getting any substantive information on this investigation right now? Or is the police chief likely simply to try to communicate once again with the sniper, which is, of course, what he's done three times yesterday and the day before, three consecutive appearances before the news media?
DIETL: Well, you know, as far as it went yesterday, we felt as though there was some communication being made with that letter, with the evidence showing that it has some similarities and some identifiable markings on it from the tarot card. We have to take every avenue. I don't believe that these sniper attacks, the murder attacks, have to do with money. I just can't believe that this person is going along killing 10, shooting 13, and now all of a sudden, it's coming out that he wants money.
We have to cooperate any way we can to get some kind of communication with this psychopath. If it has to be communicating with cryptic signals, then Chief Moose has to do that, and I agree wholeheartedly. Of course, we don't have anything else, so you've got to follow-up on it.
And we're hoping -- we're hoping and praying that this psychopath makes a mistake, this coward makes a mistake, and then we're able to capture him. But we have to go along with any avenue that we have, and that's part of an investigation.
BLITZER: All right, Bo, stand by, because we're going to come back to you as we await the start of this news conference here in Montgomery County. It's been, as I said, 20 days since the sniper first struck, and the longer he remains on the loose, the more fear he instills in adults and kids alike in this area, and indeed I'm sure elsewhere around the country as well.
David Kaplan is the president of the American Counseling Association. He is joining me now to talk about what we're calling the "fear factor," how we can cope with this crisis.
Mr. Kaplan, thanks for joining us. And if I interrupt you in the middle of a sentence, as we discuss what's going on, you'll understand that we have to go to this news conference here in Montgomery County.
DAVID KAPLAN, AMER. COUNSELING ASSN.: Sure.
BLITZER: But what do people do? Because they're obviously frightened, they're frightened to go to a gas station, they're frightened to go to a shopping center. How do people cope with these kinds of enormous tensions that they're undergoing right now?
KAPLAN: Well, the two words that we're talking about are "safety" and "routine." That people need to get into a routine that they feel safe, and both of those issues really help.
BLITZER: Well, when you say that -- routine and safety -- what advice do you have, for example, for parents who are trying to cope with their kids? There's a Code Blue lockdown in Montgomery County and elsewhere. Schools are not letting the kids go out on the playgrounds, they're not letting the kids play football or soccer or the cheerleaders aren't going out. What do you say to the kids?
KAPLAN: Well, you talk about a plan that where they're going to be safe, and you just make sure that they understand that you have set up a circumstance where they're going to be as safe as possible, and that they're going to be protected.
BLITZER: And what about the adults who are nervous? Should they seek counseling? As you know, there are all sorts of hot lines here for people who are very, very jittery.
KAPLAN: Absolutely. And it's very important for the parents to model being calm and relaxed, and approaching this in a calm and rational way. There are -- there's information out there. We have partners -- the American Counseling Association has partnered with workplaceblues.com to present all kinds of information for how parents can cope, and things that they can do with their kids.
It's also available at our Web site at www.counseling.org.
BLITZER: Have you ever experienced anything like this in your professional career, Mr. Kaplan?
KAPLAN: Well, I was actually growing up in New York City when the Son of Sam was around, and so experienced the Son of Sam.
BLITZER: But that, you know, occurred over a much longer period. We're now at three weeks here in the Washington area, and the Son of Sam, as I remember that whole murder trail that went on at least for a year, didn't it?
KAPLAN: Yes, and that was very different, because Son of Sam was targeting a very specific type of individual with very specific characteristics. So you knew that if you didn't have blond hair and you weren't a woman, you probably wouldn't be targeted. This is very different where it's random targeting, and that makes it much more stressful.
BLITZER: We have an e-mail for you, David. Let me see if you can handle this in your professional capacity as a psychologist.
Andy from San Diego is writing this. He's asking: "It's about time that you and the press stop treating this person as a hero. He or she needs to be told what they are, a coward. We, the public, all know that this person is watching the news and is getting a sense of exultation from all of the coverage you are giving them."
Can you help us go into the mind of this killer or killers?
KAPLAN: Well, actually, my focus is more, and the American Counseling Association's focus is more on helping people cope with the stress of the killer. I'm not a forensic expert and cannot get into the mind of the individual. But we'd really like to help individuals cope with the stress that comes from that.
BLITZER: As this situation continues, will it get worse for everyone who lives in this area? Or will people simply get adjusted to a new reality and cope with it in that way?
KAPLAN: Well, I have been very impressed with how people in the D.C. area have been coping with this, and their amount of resiliency. And I think they're actually, in general -- there are people who are having a lot of trouble with this, but in general that they're doing very well.
And again, if people can get into a routine that they feel from a probability sense is as safe as possible, that things can be OK.
BLITZER: And do you think -- do you advise people who are very nervous simply to turn off the radio, turn off the television, stop reading newspapers, and just try to ignore the whole situation, or to deal with it head-on?
KAPLAN: Well, I wouldn't use the word "ignore," but that especially applies to children. We greatly encourage parents to turn off the TV, don't let your children watch the news and watch these stories time after time after time. Children are not able to separate the events from reality. And so, they can be very much traumatized by watching this over and over again.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to take a quick break. We're going to be standing by for this news conference.
David -- actually, stand by, David, because I want you to be a part of this roundtable discussion. We have some others who are joining us as well, and in addition to Bo Dietl, who is still with us in New York, the former New York City police detective who has been involved in a lot of homicide investigations. Casey Jordan, our CNN criminologist who is joining us once again, and Eric Haney, CNN ballistics expert, a former founding member of the Delta Force. He is joining us from Atlanta.
Casey, when you see this latest twist in this sad, sad story, what goes through your mind?
CASEY JORDAN, CNN CRIMINOLOGIST: Well, I think the most significant thing that we're seeing is the location. That really -- I have to say, based on all of the events over the weekend, I can't tell you that I was surprised this morning to get a phone call and find out that there was another shooting. I was, however, highly interested in the fact that it was in Montgomery County. I say back in Montgomery County, but that's under the assumption that this is indeed the work of the sniper we have been seeking for the past three weeks.
Let's go with that assumption. There are psychological explanations for why this person could be back in Montgomery County. Some obvious things are that if the person is from this area -- which is what most people guessed, based on the initial shooting spree that happened in the area -- this is his or their comfort zone. They live or work in the area, they know they're way around.
But another concept which also occurs...
BLITZER: All right...
JORDAN: Go ahead. You got a news conference coming up. Sure.
BLITZER: Well, we've got a police officer who has emerged at the microphone, as our viewers will see.
Let's see what he's saying.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not approach him. There are no side bar today. None. So when we come out, we want everybody on the other side of these poles. You will not be allowed to photograph anything, anywhere past these poles. So, who's on the other side of these poles? You, you, you, move over that way. That's it. End of story.
BLITZER: All right, we're getting some instructions to the news media. We're getting some instructions to the news media from a police officer here in Montgomery County, right behind us. We're awaiting the emergence of the police chief, Charles Moose, and others, presumably the county executive, Doug Duncan, will be emerging as well.
Once they do, we'll, of course, have that news conference live.
False alarm for you. Casey, as we were talking about, you were not surprised that if, in fact, this is the work of this Washington- area sniper -- and once again, there is no official confirmation that it is -- that he or she or they may have returned to the scene where it started 20 days ago in the Aspen Hill area around -- in Montgomery County just outside of Washington.
JORDAN: The reason I would not be surprised to find this latest shooting linked to the sniper we've been seeking is, of course, not only that the shootings began there, but this is the seat of the investigation. The face that we all associate with this investigation is, of course, Chief Moose. And I personally commend him on the fantastic job that he and all of the people, all of the investigators have done. But we keep seeing that Montgomery County connection.
And since it was Chief Moose who, yesterday, used the media as a pipeline to the shooter, trying to communicate, pleading with him to try to contact them again, that they do want to speak, they are interested, they do want to get it right. The fact that if this is again the same shooter, that shooter left the area, returned to the scene of Montgomery County. We don't even know if Chief Moose was there this morning. It's almost in my estimation that he's either thumbing his nose or trying to show who is in control yet again.
BLITZER: Let's bring in Eric Haney, CNN firearms analyst, a founding member of the Delta Force.
What's your interpretation, your assessment of this latest development?
ERIC HANEY, CNN FIREARMS ANALYST: The shooter's in an area that he's highly familiar with. He's quite intimate with all of the little side streets, the ins and outs. Think of this: He knew exactly that those buses staged there at that time of the morning. He knew where the little park was. He had a plan of where he was going to drop his vehicle off. He knew how long it was going to take him to walk into position and get back to his vehicle once he fired the shot, and exactly how he was going to make his egress out of that area unobtrusively, with no one being able to tell us anything so far, and no other witnesses.
BLITZER: All right.
HANEY: Highly familiar.
BLITZER: Eric, stand by. We see Chief Moose walking out right now. He's coming to the microphones. Let's watch and listen.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
CHIEF CHARLES MOOSE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE: At approximately 6:00 a.m. in the 14000 block of Grand Pre Road near Connecticut Avenue, across from Northgate Park, there was a shooting. A man was shot as he was standing on the top step of a Ride On bus.
The bus was stopped at a layover, where they arrive early and stage to clean out the bus, fill out appropriate paperwork and determine the next route location. The person shot was the driver of the ride-on bus. He was transported to Suburban Hospital, where he was deceased as a result of his wounds in this shooting.
Certainly, law enforcement medical task force responded. Appropriate measures were implemented. The crime scene was searched. At this point, we have no vehicle lookout to share. We have no person lookout to share.
Because Mr. Conrad Johnson, the county employee, I'd like to ask the county executive to make some comments, and certainly we're all saddened, as we are with any loss of life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, thank you. This is a terrible loss of life today for one of our county employees, a 10-year employee with the ride-on bus service we provide in the county. I want to extend my sympathies. We deeply mourn the loss of this gentleman. I was at the hospital meeting his family, extending my sympathies to the family.
And it's very close to home, but with any of these murders that we have seen, any loss of life is a real tragedy for this entire community. I would ask that the community keep the victims' family in their thoughts and prayers, as they have for all of the victims and their families in the past few weeks and respect this family as they go about their grieving process.
MOOSE: The law enforcement community is looking at this situation certainly very similar to other situations that we've been dealing with as a region. Evidence, ballistics will be gathered, will be determined if this situation is linked. We will have that work done, and when it is complete, then that will be shared.
We remain concerned about the safety of all the people in our region. We realize that the person, or the people, involved in this have shown a clear willingness and ability to kill people of all ages, all races, all genders, all professions, different times, different days and different locations.
We certainly encourage everyone to remain cautious, vigilant about their activities, to remain observant. Anything out of place, anyone driving away from an area erratically, anyone behaving strangely or in a way that maybe is not themselves, but we also want us to remain resolved, to remain focused and very resilient.
As Americans, we've proven to be resilient time and time again, as people try to threaten our way of life, try to threaten our freedom as individuals, and our freedom as a nation.
Certainly, a very difficult plea, with all the violence among us. But, again, we must practice our individual freedoms and remain resilient as a nation.
I'd like to join Mr. Duncan in asking everyone in our community to put the thoughts of Mr. Johnson and his family, all of our victims, in their minds, and that we do everything in our power to give them their privacy in their moment of loss.
We will try to take a few questions, but, again, I would hope that we do it in an orderly and respectful fashion.
QUESTION: Why don't you tell us about the communications with whoever it was. Has there been another message? Do you have another message now from this person?
MOOSE: With regards to communication sir, anything that is relevant to the case, it would be inappropriate to talk about, and at this point, I do not have any requests for you as the media to take forth any message.
QUESTION: Chief Moose, was there some confusion this morning about the location of the shooting? Did this complicate and slow the police and medical response to the scene?
MOOSE: I am not aware of anything that prohibited the response of police and medical to the scene. I was very proud of the response. Everyone did the kind of things that we talked about, that we briefed them on with regards to our response.
QUESTION: Any relevant information from witnesses that you might be able to share with us?
MOOSE: Sir, it's been our practice to not disclose anything from any witnesses. We certainly continue to work with those individuals, and I was trying to be clear in saying that we have no person lookout to share, and no vehicle lookout to share from regards to getting it out in the community.
QUESTION: ... published reports or deny them, just help us out here, can you confirm some published reports that say you have, in one of your notes picked up at the time at Ponderosa steakhouse, that this gentleman, or whoever, is specifically targeting school children? Or threatening to target school children?
QUESTION: Demanding a lot of money, or threatening violence against school children?
QUESTION: Can you confirm it, or enlighten us?
MOOSE: Sir, I tried to be real clear that we feel like all of the people in the Washington metropolitan region are advised to be under heightened alert, that this person or people involved in this have shown ability and a willingness to kill people of all ages, all races, all genders, at different times of day, different days of the week and different professions. So I think that that has been real clear.
QUESTION: There were school children specifically mentioned in the letter? That's was the question, sir. That's what we want to know.
QUESTION: Do you believe you're dealing with a traditional -- quote/unquote -- "serial killer," or do you think this is some kind of gross extortion? Is this a different type of serial killing than you've seen here before?
MOOSE: Sir, we're doing everything in our power to protect people, to get the evidence that we need to get this person or these people off the street. How this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the textbooks or novels in the future is irrelevant at this point.
QUESTION: Chief, Richmond-area school officials have shut their schools. They have stated, reportedly, that they were warned that there had been specific threats against children, and that's why they took the action they took.
If there were something in the note left by, presumably, the sniper last Saturday, that specifically warned any portion of the population, would you pass along that warning? So, for example, if parents wanted to make their own decision, that if he targeted children, their kids wouldn't leave the house, they would have that option?
MOOSE: Sir, I think your question and the persistent questions is about any evidence we may or may not have. It would be inappropriate to talk about that.
Anything that we have with regards to safety of community members, we do not feel like this is the forum to have those discussions. We have and will continue to have those discussions with the proper audiences to provide them the information that they need to make decisions, but this is not the forum to answer your question or the previous question about any specifics of evidence that we may or may not have.
Sir, again, we're doing everything in our power to keep people safe, collect evidence, use different strategies to get this person or these people off the street, get them arrested and indicted.
Sir, anything about the evolving investigation would be inappropriate for me to answer in this forum.
QUESTION: ... parents would want to know if children are being threatened, that they would want to know if there was such a threat, parents would want to know?
MOOSE: Sir, I think we've had the discussion in this forum, not only this morning, but in the past, that as a law enforcement official, if there were specific things that I knew that people needed to know to keep themselves or their loved ones safe, then I think we've been very clear that that would be provided.
QUESTION: You'd pass along a specific threat, in other words?
MOOSE: Again, ma'am, any specifics of the investigation would be inappropriate. At this point, we will continue some work, and at some point, that is information that we feel is releasable, then we will provide that.
QUESTION: Describe the situation we're in now? Considering clearly you're trying to communicate with someone, and you may have gotten a response this morning in the form of a shooting. How would you describe the situation you're in right now?
MOOSE: I would describe the situation that the task force is working very hard, remains very diligent, and we're doing the best that we can.
QUESTION: Are you more sensitive, a more dangerous situation now? Can you characterize it?
MOOSE: Any other questions?
QUESTION: Could we revisit the question of jurisdiction, which has been raised and answered in the past. But now we've had several shootings down in Virginia, some of them at quite a distance, related to the sniper, and maybe your agents to answer the question whether this geographic sprawl is so big at this point, that it makes sense to either make this a federal investigation or relocate the central task force to a more central location?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question that you asked has been coming up periodically since we started this investigation. The circumstances have not changed. This continues to be a joint investigation by a large number of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. It's a situation where each of the agencies is bringing their particular areas of expertise to bear on this case. Your questions, I think, are more appropriately directed towards the prosecutive stage rather than the investigative stage, and I can tell you that the cooperation that we have is unprecedented in this case, and we feel very comfortable that the platform that we've developed and the cooperation that we've received from the other jurisdictions is exactly what we need to be able to pursue this case successfully.
QUESTION: What is the level of coordination between this operation and the Richmond task force, as it's been referred to down there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The level of cooperation is 100 percent. We are in regular contact with each of the other jurisdictions that have had events or incidents in their jurisdictions. I don't want to get into a discussion as to the manner in which we're coordinating these cases. I don't think that's appropriate in this forum, but I will you that there is no disadvantage that we are facing as a result of the way that this investigation's being conducted, and if there were -- excuse me -- if there were a change and a federalization, as the lady asked in her question, it would make absolutely no difference in the manner in which the investigation is being conducted.
QUESTION: Have you been...
MOOSE: Excuse me, sir. We're over here.
The question was something that went out to the state police. And, again, I said that there is no vehicle lookout that we're asking the press to publish to the community, and there is person lookout that we're asking the press to publish to the community.
QUESTION: ... French sniper who defected from the French army.
MOOSE: Sir, I apologize. I really don't know anything with reference to your question.
QUESTION: ... ask, call again, call again? Is a communication going on with the person that you asked to call again, because he was not audible?
MOOSE: Sir, with regards to any of that portion of the investigation, it would be inappropriate to talk about that this morning. And I have not come here with any requests from you as the media to carry forth any message this morning.
QUESTION: You're not saying that you won't do that again? You're just saying that today, at this press conference, you're -- you haven't made a tactful decision that that's not the way to communicate, is what I'm asking? You could come tomorrow and say, we need more communication?
MOOSE: Yes, and I remain appreciative that people in the media have allowed us to do that. That has been very helpful.
QUESTION: ... broadcast right now in the newspapers providing specific threats, specifically maybe at children's schools. Is any of it inaccurate?
MOOSE: Sir, again, I was trying to say that this is the wrong forum to have any further discussions with regards to your question. It's very inappropriate.
QUESTION: What's the right forum?
QUESTION: You said person or people involved. Earlier today, just now. you said persons or people involved. Are we now saying that there's evidence of more than one person?
MOOSE: You know, for the last several, I'll just say, days -- maybe they're all running together -- I tried to say the people -- the person or the people involved. That has not changed. That is not different. I'm sorry you didn't hear it earlier, but it has always been the person or the people involved. That has not changed today. That has not changed from yesterday, or the day before. I tried to say that every time. Sorry you missed it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Question, sir?
QUESTION: ... come out and talked about progress, optimism, you talked about working new leads. Can you say today that you're still working new leads in this case, or are you just chasing this person you don't know a whole about?
MOOSE: Sir, anything about the exact efforts of the task force would be inappropriate, but the men and women involved in this continue to work very hard. We've been joined by agencies throughout the region, and certainly now many agencies throughout the state of Virginia. So the talent, the energy, the commitment remain at a very high level. People are working hard. People are doing things that keep me very optimistic, and that we are moving ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. Duncan, will you take a question, please?
QUESTION: Is there new or useful information coming in to all these people who are working on it?
MOOSE: Excuse me just a second. Sir, we continue to work the investigation, and to talk about any specifics about what the people are doing would be inappropriate.
QUESTION: Chief Moose, can I ask a question of county executive Duncan, please?
QUESTION: Mr. Duncan, would you step up please? Thank you. You'll have to get a little closer to the mike.
MOOSE: We can all hear you.
QUESTION: OK, my question is this -- Chief Moose has said quite clearly today and previous to this, that don't even go there, suggesting that if something specific could be told to the public, to better protect the public, that the public would be told from this podium. Virginia education officials have stated to print an electronic media there that they closed the schools, something you didn't do here, because they were warned by a threat. They may not be telling the truth, but that's what they state. You have not shut the schools here, other Maryland and D.C. jurisdictions haven't. Why not?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have the utmost confidence in the investigative team that is conducting the work that's being done here, and as the chief said, this is not the proper forum to discuss that.
QUESTION: You understand, parents are watching, and they would be perplexed if they've heard and probably have, reports that schools were closed not just as a knee-jerk reaction, but as a specific response to a reported threat... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are concerned about the safety of every individual in this region stretching from Richmond all the way up here.
As the chief has said, the shooter has not placed any favoritism on any particular group or groups of people or any age, or any job classification or anything like that. We're concerned about the risk of every individual that we have here.
MOOSE: And, sir, I just might add on there, and I hope you understand, that when this situation occurs in a community, creates a lot of emotions, a lot of reactions, different people should be given the liberty to make different decisions to deal with the situation as they feel is best for their community and their situation.
So I would encourage you not to read anything into different communities do different things. That is very appropriate. We just have had the misfortune of some ways being the first community, and so where we are as a community, where someone else is as a community, that will continue to be different.
But, again, don't misread anything into different reactions from different communities.
QUESTION: ... the information they need to make a reasonable decision about the safety of their children? Can you assure us of that?
MOOSE: Sir, we have not been able to assure that anyone, any age any gender, any race, we've not been able to assure anyone of their safety with regards to this situation.
QUESTION: Do you have a policy of not -- in the future, will you give out any warnings, if a particular group is targeted, specifically?
MOOSE: Sir, we will do what we feel is the best in the forum that we feel is the proper forum.
QUESTION: The schools down in Ashland were warned. Why not do that in other places? That's what we don't understand.
MOOSE: Well, sir, that may be a question for the community of Ashland.
QUESTION: That would be a question for you, wouldn't it?
MOOSE: Maybe I didn't understand the question.
Ma'am, I think that, you know, we will not discuss evidence in this matter, and certainly our thoughts go out to Mr. Johnson and his family.
Sir, I tried to respond to the earlier question that I remain pleased with the performance of the men and women of Montgomery's County police Department, people in the task force, with regard to any strategies that we used as inappropriate to be reported. We're trying to do everything in our power to gain some advantage, but if we just discuss all of our strategies, all of our tactics, put them constantly in the media, we don't feel like that gives us any better advantage to bring this situation to closure.
QUESTION: What was the impact yesterday of the arrest in Richmond on the status of this investigation?
MOOSE: Ma'am, as we discussed yesterday, I would just have to defer any questions about questions about the activity in Henrico County ti that police department.
QUESTION: Has bus service been disrupted at all, because of the shootings, and are there any plans to change bus service in any way, or schedules, or things like that?
MOOSE: Not to my knowledge, there's not been any plans to change. Certainly with having a couple of buses involved in the crime scene, I can't say that there was absolutely no disruption in bus services, but it was very minimal.
QUESTION: Chief Moose, do you have concerns about the fact that because the arrest, or the taking into custody of the two men yesterday, the very public seizure of the van, because the killer or killers could have seen all of that actually occurring, the SWAT team swooping down, that that may have disrupted communications, that that may have somehow violated the trust you were trying to build with him? Do you have concerns about that?
MOOSE: It is inappropriate for me to speculate.
QUESTION: After 09/11, Montgomery County got several million dollars, part of which was to outfit their ride-on buses with surveillance cameras. Were the cameras on in this bus, and did they capture anything that might be of use?
MOOSE: Sir, again, you know, you're asking a question with regards to evidence, and it's inappropriate for me to discuss any evidence that we may or may not have in this case.
QUESTION: Are people in as much danger today as they were on October 2, more danger -- what is the status of the threat that people are facing today versus from...
MOOSE: A very difficult question, sir. We have not found the person or the people involved in this. We've not arrested them. We don't have an indictment. So I think any interpretation of that, I'll leave that to you.
QUESTION: Chief Moose, I wanted to follow up on an earlier question about response. At about 20 or 25 minutes after the shooting this morning, members of the media were able to walk right up next to that bus. No perimeters had been established. In your mind, is that an adequate response?
MOOSE: Maybe, if you could help me understand, an adequate response by who?
QUESTION: By the police. If you have a crime scene, what you're presuming to be a shooting by a sniper that you've been chasing, 20, 25 minutes after the fact, that there's no crime perimeter set up around the scene of the shooting. Is that good police work? Is that an adequate response? Is that an appropriate response?
MOOSE: Well, ma'am, I'm not going to respond to that question, because maybe you have some information that I don't have. I didn't know that members of the media were at the bus 25 minutes after. So I'll have to see the investigation, talk to the officers.
I do know that we had some concerns, because people felt some real desire to get close to that crime scene as possible, but, again, we've not proven to have enough people to stop all of the people from the media and do what we may need to do to find this person or the people involved in this.
QUESTION: Was the confusion about the address between Bel Prey and Grand Prey (ph), and did it take a little time to straighten that out?
MOOSE: Ma'am, again, you asked that question earlier, and I think I gave a response. So I don't -- I'm not changing my response.
QUESTION: ... can you tell us whether he did?
MOOSE: sir, I've tried to say that it would be inappropriate for me to answer any questions with regard to that.
QUESTION: Were you led to that memo that was found at Ashland by a phone call that came from that phone booth yesterday around Richmond? And if not, sir, what led you to that memo?
MOOSE: Again, I think, sir, it would be inappropriate for me to answer that question. I'm going to, at this point, make the decision that I think the questions are becoming more inappropriate. I'm not going to respond. So our next briefing will be scheduled for noon tomorrow, and...
QUESTION: Can you say something about the victim today? What kind of man we're talking about here, Mr. Johnson. I know you spoke to his family this morning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Johnson's 35 years old, married, father of two, loved basketball, loved his kids, a very large extended family. And he's going to be missed greatly.
I don't have that.
QUESTION: Where does he live?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He lives in this region.
Almost 10 years.
QUESTION: ... ballistic test results came back or other evidence that would confirms the linkage, would you do that before noon tomorrow if you get those results back today?
MOOSE: We will share that when it's appropriate. OK, I think it has been real clear, unfortunately. There's almost been a practice established, because there's been so many. It is real. It did happen. A person is deceased. And if and when the evidence shows conclusive to a link or not a link, or maybe it shows inconclusive, we will share that.
Sir, again, I'm not going to engage in any speculation.
QUESTION: Do you have reports of three shots? Do you have reports that there was three shots this morning?
MOOSE: We're not taking any more questions. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
BLITZER: And so that's it. Chief Charles Moose briefing reporters on the latest very sad developments. The sad word that Conrad Johnson, 35 years old, a bus driver, simply doing his job, around 6:00 a.m. this morning in Montgomery County, Maryland, not very far away from here, doing his job, shot and killed.
No confirmation yet that this is the work of the serial sniper, or snipers, who've been on the loose now for some 20 days in this Washington area. He's described as 35 years old, a good family man, simply doing his job. And he is dead.
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