Saturday, February 21, 2004

Gunman's notoriety grows with Columbus shootings



By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - Ohio's serial highway shooter, linked to two dozen incidents, remains at large despite what authorities said Friday are nearly 5,000 tips from citizens.

Investigators say they have "covered" 92 percent of those leads.

The shooter has eluded an expanding police dragnet for three months in the shootings that have been traced back to May - a long time for a case of this kind, scholars and law enforcement officials say.

Lt. Rick Fambro said he couldn't recall a similar shooting spree in his 14 years with the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

The longer the gunman remains at large, the more notoriety he is likely to gain, said Jeffrey Ian Ross, a University of Baltimore criminologist who gave frequent interviews during the 2002 shootings around the Washington beltway. In a three-week period then, 10 people were killed and three others critically injured.

In contrast, there has only been one fatality in the Ohio case. Ross called that a signature. "I know of no other sniper that has engaged in highway shootings for such a sustained period - nor somebody who has used a handgun in the commission of these kinds of crimes."

Some witnesses told police they saw the shooter wield a handgun.

Gail Knisley, 62, of Washington Court House, was killed Nov. 25 as she rode in a car along Interstate 270. The other 23 bullets have hit vehicles and buildings.

It's hard to say how many shootings the gunman may have committed, Franklin County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Steve Martin told reporters Friday during a news briefing.

When caught, the shooter or shooters "may confess to the 24 that we currently have listed, or 124," Martin said. Martin is spokesman for a task force of local, state and federal authorities that has been working to catch the gunman since investigators linked Knisley's death to a string of nonfatal highway shootings before and after.

Nine of the shootings, including the most recent one, were matched with ballistic evidence; 15 others were linked with evidence that authorities won't disclose.

Thornsley thinks the shooter will be caught because he's driven to continue taking chances.

"That's what makes it fun for him: getting attention and taking even greater risks - and getting away with it," Thornsley said. "But he's going to make a mistake."

A $60,000 reward is offered. Anyone with information can call the task force's tip line: (614) 462-4646.

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com




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