Sunday, December 14, 2003

Shooter keeps evading law


As investigation continues, police hope gunman calls

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - The best hope for catching the I-270 shooter may be the suspect himself.

An uneasy quiet prevails along a nine-mile, semi-rural stretch of south Interstate 270, where police think 15 shootings - one fatal, the rest striking vehicles and buildings, including a school - are related.

TIP LINE
Anyone with information helpful to the shooting investigation should call (614) 462-4646. Reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of those responsible for the shooting death of Gail Knisley stands at $30,000.
TIMELINE
Details about some of the 15 shootings under investigation:
May 10: A 37-year-old woman runs out of gas around 4 a.m. in the westbound lanes of I-270 east of I-71. After walking for help, she returns to find the car's windshield shot out and the hood damaged.
Aug. 31: A 41-year-old woman from Akron finds a bullet hole in the back of her horse trailer hours after driving on eastbound I-270.
Oct. 10: A woman driving north on U.S. 23 north of I-270 had a flat tire. She didn't know the tire had been shot until she took the flat to be repaired.
Oct. 11: A 36-year-old man was driving along I-270 when a bullet struck the rear side panel of his car.
Nov. 11: A bullet breaks a window at 1:35 a.m. at Hamilton Central Elementary in Obetz, about 3/4 of a mile from the freeway.
Nov. 17: A United Parcel Service truck was eastbound on I-270 around 11 a.m. between Parsons Avenue and U.S. 23 when the driver reported hearing a noise. A bullet hole was found in the door behind the driver's seat.
Nov. 21: Edward Cable, 53, a retired prison guard from Lucasville, reports bullet fired into his minivan about 7:40 p.m. on U.S. 23 south of Rathmell, 1.5 miles from I-270.
Nov. 25: Gail Knisley, 62, of Washington Court House, is killed about 10 a.m. on I-270 near I-71 when a bullet rips through the driver's door of the Pontiac Grand Am driven by a friend.
Nov. 30-Dec. 1: Emma Fader reported that between 11 p.m. Nov. 30 and 3:30 p.m Dec. 1 someone shot the front of her house near I-270.
The Associated Press
Extra police patrols and motorists in the area about 90 miles north of Cincinnati scan the terrain for anything suspicious, along with surveillance cameras that were installed last week. Police are saying little as they plow through nearly 2,000 leads called in to their tip line - and the shooter has so far ignored officers' attempts to reach out to him.

Crime investigation experts say the shooter's own actions will most likely lead to any break in the case.

For the stalemate to end, "he's going to have to brag, get caught in the act or have a patrolman on routine patrol or someone else notice him because of the way he's acting," said Brent E. Turvey, a forensic scientist and criminal profiler who lives in Oregon.

The shooter might feel the investigative heat is too intense, and he will "lay low," some experts say. But Ken Cooper, a New York State tactical handgun and law-enforcement trainer, thinks that's unlikely.

"He did take a human life and that didn't stop him," Cooper said. "I think we're dealing with a lower-level person who's got a taste of blood and liked it - which is scary. Like a shark in water, he took a bite and said, 'This is good.' He's going to keep doing it until he is stopped."

The case that has captured headlines and experts' attention nationwide started to come into focus Nov. 25, after an I-270 passenger, Gail Knisley, 62, of Washington Court House, was shot to death. Investigators began to link a string of property-damage shootings that preceded her death; they have avoided using the popular term "sniper." Cooper thinks he knows why.

"The word 'sniper' connotes a man with a scoped gun," shooting people with precise, expert marksmanship, Cooper said. "To give someone the credit of being a sniper when he's out randomly shooting cars is a reach. I think he's one low-level knucklehead committing random acts of violence. Unfortunately, he's hurting people - and scaring the hell out of everyone else."

Normally, Columbus' "South Outerbelt" carries 71,000 vehicles a day - about as many as the Forest Park area of Cincinnati's Interstate 275.

While police aren't rerouting traffic, some motorists are avoiding what they call "the danger zone" via CB radios.

A 32-year-old single father of three, Paul Murray II, said it's hard for him to stay away from I-270. An alternate route would add 30 minutes to his commute.

"I drive on that road twice a day, every day, to and from work - and I'm nervous every time I go through there," Murray said as he stopped his sedan Wednesday at a gas station near the South Outerbelt.

While driving toward his Circleville home south of Columbus, Murray said, he watched cars pull up beside his - and he caught himself thinking: " 'What do I do if they pull a gun on me? Do I slam on my brakes, steer away, or what?'

"It's awful you have to think like that, but you do," he said.

Ballistic tests show that the same gun was used in six of the suspected 15 shootings, including the Nov. 25 fatality and one that struck a house near I-270 on Nov. 30. No shootings after that date are considered related, investigators said last week.

The Franklin County Sheriff's Office, which heads a multi-agency task force on the shootings, has refused to release the caliber or type of weapon.

That's a mistake, said Turvey, the Oregon forensic scientist.

Revealing the caliber would help the public provide "competent tips" and narrow down the pool of possible suspects, he said. "Otherwise, you get calls from every nut with a phone -and that bogs down your investigation."

Franklin County Chief Deputy Steve Martin said his office will consider revealing the caliber "at some other point in time, but we're not going to do it now."

Martin said his office has consulted with authorities from Washington, D.C., and other communities that faced serial highway shootings - and that influenced his office's decision to withhold a description of the possible suspect's vehicle last week.

"We didn't want the community to get tunnel vision," he said.

That's what happened in the D.C.-area sniper case. Authorities told people to be on the lookout for a white panel van - a description that turned out to be fabricated by a witness who seemed credible. Beltway suspects Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad actually were driving a Chevrolet Caprice.

While two of the 15 possibly-related shootings may have happened in May and August, the 13 others have occurred since Oct. 10, four days before Muhammad's trial began. "Maybe the trial spurred somebody on," said Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist and University of Baltimore professor.

There's also a danger that publicity about the shootings may have emboldened the shooter, or could spur copycats.

"There's an extremely complex communication strategy that law enforcement must pursue,'' Ross said. "And the public, through the media, is very curious to know what's going on, whether it be because of fear or a sense of voyeurism."

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com




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