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Saturday, October 26, 2002

More Answers, Maybe, from WA

Tony Adragna
A reader comment on The Indepundit's blog directs us to the NW Cable News [free registration required before clicking through to stories]. Some interesting news can be found there.

Seems that FBI agents can find no record of gun sale, and it's not the first time this store has had problems with record keeping:
TACOMA, Wash. - Three days into the search of a Tacoma gun store, federal agents on Saturday were still trying to figure out how a rifle used in the Washington, D.C.-area sniper shootings got into the hands of suspect John Allen Muhammad.

The .223-caliber Bushmaster arrived at Bull's Eye Shooter Supply in June, but no record has been found indicating it was sold, said Richard Van Loan, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent involved in the search. Gun dealers are required to keep such records...

If the store sold Muhammad the rifle, the transaction would have been illegal. Muhammad was barred by federal law from possessing a firearm because of a restraining order brought his then-wife brought against him in March 2000...

The Seattle Times reported on Saturday that ATF agents two years ago could not find sales records for 150 guns at Bull's Eye, which bills itself as "Puget Sound's Largest Firearms Selection."...
The story also reveals how Muhammad came into a little money earlier this year:
In late 1999 -- before the protective order was issued—Muhammad passed a background check and bought a similar rifle at Welcher's Gun Shop, also in Tacoma.

Muhammad sold that weapon back to Welcher's in May, said John Welcher, the shop's owner. Welcher said Muhammad bought the weapon for $800 and sold it back for $500.
That might not seem a lot of money, but take it from someone who's spent a little time bumming around on the streets — $500 can be made to go a long way... and, depending on the denominations, it can be made to look like a lot more than what's really there.

How 'bout some other "suspicious activity"? Seems my speculation that Muhammad could have been committing some other crimes may be on target — it's not a great stretch to go from shoplifting to armed robbery considering that a murder mighta been committed by the same individual in the intervening period.

There's also a really juicy ort
Family members of Keenya Cook say Isa Nichols once helped set Williams up with the FBI. Just after Williams' divorce proceedings, he was accused of stealing his children. It is reported that Isa Nichols talked with Williams and convinced him to meet with her somewhere. When they met, that's when FBI agents moved.
So, the FBI had contact with Muhammad over "stealing his children". That tells me two things: (1) it explains how the FBI knew to head out to Washington once they got hold of Muhammad's name, and (2) it points to a motivation for Muhammad's rage against the government [or rage in general] — a motivation other than sympathy with al Qaeda, or Islamic extremism in general...

Addendum: Jim Henley says it was about the money from the get-go. I agree in part. Where I'm stuck is on the reported "it's not just about the money" verbiage. I think that what initially set Muhammad off was some rage over having felt a "victim". He starts living an unconventional existence, and he needs money but he's not working, so he turns to illicit methods of getting money...

Speculative? Yes, but it makes more sense than the al Qaeda linkage theory...

A Little Man With Much to be Big About...

Tony Adragna
No, I'm not confused. I know that Churchill said of Atlee that he was a "modest man with much to be modest about", and he indubitably meant not a kindness in that sentiment.

What Sen. John McCain said of his colleague Paul Wellstone can be nothing but appreciation and approbation:
What abides are memories of a little man and his wife who made a big difference to Minnesota. That, and many heavy hearts.
I already linked to McCain's Star Tribune piece below, but I thought it worth excerpting some of what this "stand up guy" had to say of another. Read the whole thing, but here's what caught my eye:
[...]he was reared on love of country and faith in its ideal of justice for all. His concern for working families, for human rights, for the well-being of society's most vulnerable, was utterly genuine[...] He was a passionate orator. He was an even more skillful old-school political organizer, working precinct by precinct, even block by block. He could convince average Minnesotans that their participation in politics would make a difference -- and then establish the human network that made the promise come true...

Wellstone did his homework, learned Senate procedures, and became an effective contributor and collaborator. He gained wide respect in return, often as much for his clear sincerity and tenacity as for his positions. It was commonplace for constituents to tell him plainly that they disagreed with him on issues -- but respected him, liked him and would vote for him again...

Many noted changes in his manner and method after years in Washington, but not much changed at the core of the man. He remained an idealist and an optimist. He laughed easily, often at himself and his 5-foot-5 stature. He always remembered to thank the cooks and servers at a banquet, and to greet the guards at office doors. He remembered names with a facility that reminded old-timers of Hubert Humphrey. Indeed, Wellstone had Humphrey's zeal for politics, policy and -- most of all -- people...

"Anti-War Activists Rally in Washington"?

Tony Adragna
The WaPo story starts off, "Demonstrators by the hundreds gathered..." By the "hundreds"? I guess it's news...

What Happened to the "White Van"?

Tony Adragna
This really sucks! Police Checked Suspect's Plates At Least 10 Times:
Authorities in the Washington region spotted the same faded blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice and recorded its New Jersey tags on at least 10 different occasions this month, but saw no reason to link it to the sniper attacks until this week, law enforcement sources said yesterday.
Police said the weather-beaten Chevrolet with whitewall tires didn't attract closer scrutiny because they were mistakenly fixated on other vehicles -- a white van, a box truck, a cream-colored Toyota.

"We were looking for a white van with white people, and we ended up with a blue car with black people,"
said D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, whose department ran the Caprice's tags on Oct. 3, just hours before a fatal shooting in the District that has been tied to the sniper suspects, John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17.
I can't really fault the police here — they were doing what seemed correct at the time. It's damnded frustrating, though... I can hear fists slamming into squadroom walls all over the metro area...

Update: Bill Herbert emailed to say that while he agrees on not faulting law enforcement for focusing on the "whte box truck/van", he thinks "it was a huge mistake to put out the composite, that only served to taint the perspectives of potential witnesses of future acts."

I think so, too — not only because of how it might contaminate witness memories of what they actually saw, but also because a "smart" crook woulda simply changed vehicles so that the data point becomes irrelevant. It was a judgement call, though, and it coulda been the correct call — after all, it was releasing info 'bout the Caprice that did get results.

On "contaminating memories" I was happy to see the task force advise people who might have witnessed something not to discuss details with each other 'til after talking with investigators [When I went through training on how to deal with bank roberies that lesson was beaten into out heads]. But, at the point that advice came out the data had already been in the press, so it was too late.

Bill also takes issue with how some are arguing on the racial profiling issue:
Andrew Sullivan uses this as a failure of racial profiling, but the box truck was based on eyewitness accounts and certainly not any "P.C. biases." It wasn't profiling at all.

Sullivan and other neocons are really homing in on the white person, and discarding the white vehicle, as the reason we didn't catch the guy sooner. That's just nonsense.
I agree with Bill — see his post here, and this one, too...

Everywhere I Look, Paul Wellstone Was Genuine...

Tony Adragna
There's, I guess, a consensus on that, Will. I've already linked Dave Hogberg's sentiment — including an anecdote that's not so "anecdotal". I've read two more moving items this morning — I don't want to post excerpts that don't do justice to the author's feelings/thoughts, so I'm just going to start a list of links:
Joshua Micah Marshall

Mickey Kaus

The Washington Post Editorial Board

E. J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post

The New York Times Editroial Board

Bill Holm in The New York Times

Peggy Noonan in OpinionJournal

Los Angeles Times Editorial Board

US Senator Orrin Hatch

John J. Miller in National Review

John Nichols in The Nation


Mark Shields, David Brooks, and Dan Balz on The Newshour
President George W. Bush

Senators Daschle and Lott

Senator John McCain

Senator Mark Dayton

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell

Governor Jesse Ventura [in my opinion, the most poignant statement I've read, Sec. Powell's "stand up guy" comments coming in second - Tony]
Still More:
Arianna Huffington

Andrew Sullivan
And More:
John McCain in the Star Trubune Newspaper of the Twin Cities
Any readers see something in the press, or on other weblogs, that I might want to or should include, please send me links.

QP Saturday

Will Vehrs
Wet grounds cancelled today's soccer game for my "Heat," but skies are clearing so there will probably be a big crowd for today, tonight, and tomorrow's Fearfest. I'm "over" my whimsical desire to be a performer and I'm anxious to resume Punditwatch, a much more genteel and safe pursuit. At the Fearfest, I've been kicked, slapped, head-butted, screamed at, accosted, and insulted. I've lost my voice, bruised my hands, and jammed my fingers.

What a week of news it has been.

The siege at the Moscow theater and its aftermath may turn out to have the most long-term consequences of all events of the past week. Of course, it got the least coverage. It may take a while for public reaction in Russia to become apparent. What that will mean for Putin is unclear.

It was this simple comment about the late Senator Paul Wellstone from David Brooks on last night's News Hour that I found the most moving:

The Senate is sort of a group of chain stores, people who fit a formula. And he fit no formula -- 5'5", no hair on top, his hair was often disheveled, was voted the worst dressed Senator quite a lot.

But he had the convictions

Mark Shields was also eloquent:

Paul Wellstone was not a perfect man. He was a public man. And as a public man, he was that rarest of exceptions. He was a man of enormous passion; at a time when politicians are advised by the shrewdest strategists to be cool, detached, dispassionate, and all the rest of it -- he was hot and passionate.

Brooks also pointed out something impressive and unique about Wellstone:

He was also a person who believed in ideas. And I think that's one of the reasons he was so popular across the aisle. He would go to panel discussions, which is not something most Senators do, but he would go to the Brookings Institution and you could see him on a panel talking about ideas.

And he always thought that he could persuade you. He didn't have any disdain for conservatives, didn't think any less of them. If he could talk long enough, he was going to win you over

Convictions and ideas. What a concept.

On the sniper front, Tony, you've done a good job in analyzing the now published notes to the task force and linking to that aspect of the story. I'm fascinated by the local Richmond folks who are coming out of the woodwork to report their encounters with the snipers. Most bizarre was the fellow on local tv who reported seeing them in a locker room at the Ashland YMCA. For some reason, he got bad vibes when he saw them, so he left the Y and promptly forgot all about it until he returned yesterday. Then, in the shower, it suddenly all came back to him. He dressed and shared his memory with the front desk clerk who also suddenly recovered her memory and was horrified.

This guy seems like a perfect candidate for an interview with Connie Chung.

Incredibly, Donahue admitted his wrong-headedness and bias on MSNBC last night, but now has apparently jumped on the bandwagon that the media overcovered the story when they should have been spending more time on the evils of the Bush Administration.


On CNBC's "Wall Street Journal Editorial Board" last night, Paul Gigot acknowledged that Democrats had the momentum in Senate races. He predicted that the Senate would retain the status quo--50-49-1.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Some Answers from the "Sniper" Investigation

Tony Adragna
Well, my educated guess was perfectly logical, but wrong. WaPo has a copy of the letter that was left in Ashland. The letter lists attempts to "start negotiations", and the call to the Catholic priest is there as item four.

It's also clear why Chief Moose was miffed at leaks about the Tarot card...

And the $10MM credit card scenario also turns out to be accurate, only it looks different than how I pegged it, or maybe not...

Update: OK, so I've had a bit if a chance to think about the letter, and I agree with Jim that it was most probably written by Malvo. I'm not thinking that simply because of the grammer, but because of some phraseology that struck me as foreign idiom — WaPo's analysis looks at the phrases "Mr. Police" and "Mr. Policeman", the latter sounding very "Rastaman".[and the phrase "took of calls for a hoax" would've been written by an American english speaker as "took the call [for/as]..."]

The Post also says that "Experts said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, indicates that the suspected snipers may not have been as clever as originally thought" — we already knew that. And, "Some [experts] also said that the demand for money likely was a real motive" — I'm leaning that way, too.

Was it irrational to think they could get away with it:
"The implausibility of the idea that they are just going to get $10 million and that they will get carte blanche at any ATM around the world, is significant," he said. "As a forensic psychiatrist, I would carefully probe the level of rationality behind all of this planning ... The cunning attributed to these people was substantially overstated."
As I said earlier, these guys were doing things so dumb that the only way they coulda thought they would get away was if they... well... weren't thinking.

Errata: Unqualified Offerings has, as usual, some good links & analysis. Jim makes a good case that the letter wasn't written by the same hand as what wrote out Muhammad's name change application [ online at The Smoking Gun] As a former bank teller I spent alotta time looking at handwritten numbers, and I'm confident based on the differences I saw that it isn't the same hand...

Can Tragedy Be More Tragic

Tony Adragna
Just heard that Marcia Wellstone, daughter of Paul Wellstone who was on the flight, was married with children...

Tributes to Senator Paul Wellstone

Will Vehrs
I am deeply saddened by the death of Senator Wellstone, a man of uncommon passion.

On The News Hour tonight, Shields and Brooks were joined by Don Balz of the Washington Post in assessing Senator Wellstone. As always, I thought the words of David Brooks, someone who likely opposed much of what Wellstone stood for, were particularly eloquent. The transcript should be here soon. [Note:here's the transcript]

University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato issued a special edition of the Crystal Ball as a tribute to a former academic colleague and likely ideological soulmate. Sabato made his initial splash in Virginia by his association with Henry Howell, a fiery populist very similar in style to Wellstone.

I doubt if there will another like Paul Wellstone. They don't make them like that anymore.

Headed South on Pennsylvania Avenue

Tony Adragna
Decided to walk past The White House when I left the office this afternoon — I just feel like doing that sometimes. Noticed that the National Ensign was at half-staff, as was the one flying at the Treasury. Was wondering whether that was of respect for Sen. Wellstone, so I aksed a Uniformed Sercret Service officer, who was posted outside Treasury. "No" he said, "It's for the Virginia State trooper" who died in the line of duty the other night responding to reported gunfire.

"What happened to Wellstone" he asked. He hadn't heard, so I told him what little I knew. He thanked me, but he deserves my thanks for doing his job.

Visited Senator Paul Wellstone's senate website — not much info there, 'cept a short statement from his staff. That's understandable — I'm sure they've got other things on their minds right now. I did notce that the page uses Site Meter, so I looked at the referral page out of curiosity. Found a "Top Stories" item at the local CBS affiliate's website. Looks like he was on his way to a funeral when the plane crashed this morning — sometime before when the announcement was made at 11:30 AM.

As well as the sentiments of fellow Minnesotans quoted in the above story, kind words were spoken in other locales:
President Bush was meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex., when he learned of the crash. At a news conference soon afterward, he told reporters, "Paul Wellstone was a man of deep convictions, a plain-spoken fellow, who did his best for his state and for his country. May the good Lord bless those who grieve."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who was in Minnesota, said, "All of us who knew Paul Wellstone . . . are devastated today. Paul Wellstone had a passion for the good things for people and he expressed it brilliantly."
You could disagree with Wellstone's politics, but you could never doubt the depth of his conviction — that always came through with passion whether he was speaking from the floor of the Senate, questioning a panel of witnesses, or on the stump.

QP friend Dave Hogberg says, "The United States has lost a very good man today. God bless you, Senator. Our hearts and prayers go out to you and your family." That's how I feel, Dave...

Muahammad's Suspicious Activity

I've seem some links to a Bellingham Herald story pointing to suspicious activity and attempt to warn authorities. Granted, the activity is suspicious, and should have been investigated. But, does it point to terrorism. Maybe, but just as likely not.

Where did he get all that money? Well folks, there's lots of ways to get illicit money — Osama's favourite charities aren't the only source. Muhammad could have been committing burglaries, dealing drugs, running scams, etc. — we don't know where that money came from.

What about the trip to Jamaica? OK, consider that alternatives — it could've been some kind of "land sale" scam he was working with a local partner — his "agent".

Or, Muhammad could've just been feeding his friends in Bellingham a load of crap to cover for some other illicit, but non-terrorism, source of funding...

Sure, investigators should spend some time looking to see if there's a link to al Qaeda — or any other groups that might be involved in this tpye of activity. All I'm saying is that while those of us who think there's no link oughtn't close our minds to the possibility, so too should those pushing a link be open to the possibility that there's no link...

Sen. Paul Wellstone Dies in Plane Crash

Just saw the news item [my clock says 2:25 PM].

Not much detail. How old are the Wellstone sons? The death of a single family member is hard enought to take, but to lose both parents and a sibling all at once: My heart & prayers go out to them at an especially difficult time.

Update: WaPo reproduced a Congression Quarterly political bio of Wellstone. Wanna know how strongly he held onto his "unreconstructed" liberalism? The following graf oughta do it:
[...]Wellstone rarely backs away from a fight. The champion 126-pound wrestler at the University of North Carolina has frequently tangled (only verbally) with Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, the 250-pound former wrestling professional.
I'm still looking for more of a "personal" bio...

The Postmortem of "Sniper" Coverage Begins

Tony Adragna
I read "Three Key Calls and a Fingerprint" between the newsrack and the station platform, Will [yes, I'm still wastin 35¢ on the paper — gotta have something to do on the train]. It ties together all of the various accounts on how they tracked these guys down, and reveals that the task force knew a lot more and much earlier than appeared in contemporaneous reporting — that's a Good Thing!

You wrote "arrogance", Will, but I think that's only half of it. Certainly Muhammad exhibited contemptuous pride, but also a lack of rational thinking — more emotion & randomness than ideology & planning. Terrorist? Of a sort, yes — the Ted Kaczinsky/Eirc Rudolph/David Berkowitz sort. Notwithstanding Fred Barnes boxing More-tawn's ears last night, I'm still of a mind that it's less terrorism than some would like to stretch the case to fit.

Some outright stupidity, too. For instance, look at how law enforcement came to suspect that it was somebody who belonged to a parish in Ashland, VA. Q.What's the linkage between the suspects and the parish? A.A phone call! Q.From where was that call made? Educated Guess The pay phone. There's a good explainer item on exactly how easy it has become to trace a phone call since the days when mechanical switches were the norm [I remember a PBS special some years ago that dealt with this issue vis a vis tracing hackers].

Once you've got the number you can find the phone's location, and you can also find out who was called from that phone — often more important than simply knowing the location. This isn't an arcane bit of technical info only known to law enforcement & the phone company — it's common knowledge to anybody who has ever watched an episode of "Law & Order" ("Detective Briscoe" is always pulling "the luds"[scroll down to "Investigative Tips"])

I think these guys were stupid enough to have tried using that phone again, and had it not been for the "white truck/van" miscue prompting an earlier arrest of the wrong people they might have been caught then. Sound implausble that they'd be that dumb? Not as implausible as catching them sleeping in a car at an I-70 rest stop.

But I wanted to talk about reportage, and so I turn to Marjorie Williams:
[...]over the past week our public reactions to the killings -- the media coverage, the poses of the authorities charged with ensuring our safety, the language in which we talked about the mystery man or men who held us in suspense -- crossed an invisible but palpable line into social hysteria. The sniper was "holding the region hostage." An AP report had us "paralyzed by fear." Parents faced "an agonizing choice" about whether to send their children to school.

I am talking here about something more subtle than the simple ubiquity of the coverage. The best example was our response to the snipers' threat, last weekend, to continue to target children. When they wrote this threat ("Your children are not safe anywhere at any time") at the end of a letter left at the scene of Saturday's shooting, we reacted with a dreadful lack of perspective....

It seemed obvious that the snipers' threat against children was mostly an ominous afterthought (after all, it was contained in a "P.S."), thrown in to reinforce the fear that we had so vividly shown them they had the power to induce...

To say that we surrendered too completely to the idea of the killer's omnipotence may carry the scent of Monday-morning quarterbacking. But it is worth looking closely at our reaction, because it exemplifies a creeping self-pity in our public life. Better to have dealt with and acted on our fears as the individual emotions they were, while at least trying to maintain a public attitude of greater stoicism...
Read the whole thing. I especially like her closing:
Once upon a time, we responded to disaster with the understanding that fear was infectious, that "fear itself" could undermine us in times of danger. Courage, after all, is not the absence of fear but the capacity to move forward in spite of it. One of the ways we feed this capacity is by modeling it in the public square. And one of the ways we strangle it is by insisting, over and over, that our vulnerability is the most important thing about us.
The reference to Roosevelt is apt. And the criticism holds for everybody — the press, the public, and public officials — but I think it especially applies to the press: The mainstream press is, after all, still the source that informs most people.

And the confusing reports — like what you note below, Will — causes me concern mostly not for what info the media seems unable to get right(I think they fairly accurately reported "sourced" info that's mostly been correct). Rather, it's all of the speculative stuff we've seen — understandable in the context of how much law enforcement has been holding close (supra "Good Thing"), but often counter-informative.

I've tried to shed some light on how some of the investigative scenarios might've developed, but I still don't have an opinion on which version is the real thing. I suppose we'll find out in due course — some of what led law enforcement down the path to Muhammad & Malvo might still need to be held close 'til after the case has been presented.

I must admit, though, that the media isn't all that bad — MSNBC's Weblog Central was kind enough to notice a bit of QP linkage at Unqualified Offerings [thanks as always, Jim], and linked to us with approbation.

I'm still waiting for a link from Kurtz — now that would be a good thing...

C-SPAN viewage last night included a few minutes of yesterday's MO U.S. senate race debate. I caught the Libertarian candidate's response to a foreign policy question — I'm defintely not an adherrent to isolationist views, but she did argue cogently on how our military presence in some places might contribute to ill sentiment toward us. Gutsy words in an era when anybody who dares state such a case is shouted down for making the "it's our fault" argument.

On the international fromt, while we still seem to have some problems with France & Russia at the UN Security Council, there is some encouraging news...

BTW: I'm getting a little frustrated with Blogger. Been trying to post this item since 1:00 PM... guess I shouldn't oughta complain since I'm not paying...

Alabama Confusion

Will Vehrs
In today's "Two Minute Drill," I referred to the Montgomery, Alabama crimes allegedly tied to the Beltway Killer spree. As I wrote, I was relying, I think, on my memory of this FoxNews story:

Police Chief John Wilson said Thursday the officer chased after a teenager suspected of killing a liquor store clerk Sept. 21 but couldn't quite get close enough.

Wilson said the man who fled had "some very good similarities" to John Lee Malvo, a 17-year-old ..

Today, however, FoxNews is reporting something that seemingly contradicts, but certainly confuses, that earlier account:

Prosecutors in Alabama plan to charge Beltway Sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo with capital murder, and they intend to ask for the death penalty.

Muhammad, 41, and his 17-year-old sidekick will be charged with killing a woman in a Montgomery, Ala., liquor store on Sept. 21, Police Chief John Wilson said Friday.

An officer who saw the shooting suspect "made no hesitation whatsoever" when presented with a photo of Muhammad as part of a photo lineup, Wilson said. Authorities had said earlier that Malvo's fingerprints were found at the scene.

Did the Montgomery, Alabama police who responded see one or both suspects? The account of what happened in Montgomery, AL needs to be clarified.

Two Minute Drill

Will Vehrs
An Election at Last? UVA Professor Larry Sabato is out with his next-to-last update of the fall election Crystal Ball. He sees the apprehension of the two sniper suspects as offering an opportunity for media and the voters to finally focus:

There are two political consequences: first, the real campaign will be incredibly concentrated—one week in length—and will begin after the Sunday news cycles drain the remaining adrenaline from the sniper story. Second, Democrats may finally have their break. They can use the week to focus on their issues and perhaps even get the voters and the media to pay attention.

Sabato still sees the House remaining under Republican control and the Senate too close to call. He's showing a range of +1 Republican to +2 Democrats as possible Senate outcomes, He's running out of time to call the tough races.

One of Sabato's calls confused me. In his latest update, he notes:

CB changes prediction for: MO (D Favored to D Solid)

Turn to the Missouri Senate page, however, and it's still "hazy, too close to call." I wouldn't be surprised by a Carnahan win, but I hardly think she's solid right now.

Kerry is Potentially Formidable I didn't mean to disparage Senator John Kerry (D, MA) yesterday when I commented on Al Hunt's overwhelmingly positive column about him in the WSJ. Kerry could be a strong challenger to President Bush. My beef was with pundits, like Hunt, who write early puff pieces on various candidates to curry favor and set up future "win-win" columns: "I saw this early" or "He/she squandered a great opportunity." Pundits do it for Republicans and Democrats alike.

Beltway Killer Postscript I Obviously, I'm relieved that the killers were caught and I'm happy for Chief Moose. It's somewhat disconcerting, however, that the killers essentially gave themselves up with their phone calls and recklessness near the end. A less arrogant, more controlled criminal(s) might have been able to inflict even more damage. I feared that calculating and controlled killer and that's why I was skeptical up to the end that these two were the major perpetrators.

It looks as if the Ashland, VA shooting behind the Ponderosa was some kind of turning point, with the long note, phone calls to priests and the task force, and the seemingly uncharacteristic recklessness of being out and about in public. The Richmond Times-Dispatch interviewed someone with an interesting story:

Gerald Derricott, an employee at the Wendy's next door to the Ponderosa, said he was outside when Saturday night's shooting occurred.

"It was a big gun, but sounded like it had a silencer or like it had been shot from inside a car," said Derricott, an avid deer hunter.

He said he saw a blue Chevrolet Caprice that was parked parallel to the Ponderosa on the back lot of Wendy's. A few minutes later, he said, a burgundy car pulled alongside the Chevrolet. He saw a man get out of the burgundy car and joined the person already in the Chevy.

A few minutes after the shooting, but before police sealed off roads, the Chevrolet pulled slowly from the lot

I'm really skeptical of Derricott saying now that the sound he heard was "like it had been shot from inside a car." I wonder if he made that same statement to police at the time or if he is influenced now by knowledge that the Chevrolet Caprice was modified to allow shooting from the trunk. His sighting of another vehicle, however, if credible, is troubling. Did this vehicle pull up before or after the shooting? The story is not clear. We're left to wonder, did the snipers have an accomplice? Was this accomplice a knowing or inadvertent participant? The original description of the Caprice, before it was found, was "blue and burgandy."

Postscript II There is already a lot of talk about the death penalty, especially in relation to the 17 year old Malvo. I'm inclined to suspect that Malvo was under the influence of Muhammed and thus might be spared the death penalty by mitigating circumstances and/or cooperation with the police. The killing in Montgomery, AL, gives me pause, however. It was so senseless and cold-blooded--and Muhammad does not appear to have been at the immediate scene. My working theory is that if the Alabama killer was Malvo, perhaps Muhammad "initiated" him before the spree by insisting that he kill someone to prove his worthiness. That's an argument for Malvo being under the influence of Muhammad, but the police chased Malvo before losing him in the darkness. He could have given himself up and given up Muhammad. He didn't--and 10 more people would die. I'd support the death penalty for Malvo in Alabama if the evidence for his guilt is clear and he is convicted.

I have to support the death penalty for Muhammad, if convicted. I know there are a lot of problems with the death penalty and there exists a lot of principled opposition to it. Society, however, must draw the line at some heinous, depraved crimes where guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt. McVeigh was well over that line. Muhammad has also crossed it.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

"Electronically" Tracking

Tony Adragna
Okay, so now I'm hearing that instructions were to wire funds to a bank In Jamaica. Chief Moose said it cant be done. Wassup with that...

Aha... the police were stalling so that they could track down the owner of that account, whose name must've been gotten from officials in Jamaica [over the last ten years there's been increasing cooperation on anti-money laundering agreements, so it shoulda been a fairly easy task] Apparently, or so I'm hearing, the account belonged to Muhammad, and that was known when Chief Moose made the Tuesday night "communication" where he said "it can't be done..." That seems to be the lead the task force was working that put them on the trail to Tacoma, WA on Wednesday morning.

I've been pushing my own opinion that the task force was ken to much more, and did much better, than clueless reportage might leave us believing. Looks like much more was known than I mighta been willing to assume...

Alternatively, there's a story that the task force traced Malvo to Tacoma, and found out 'bout Muhammd once they got there...

... Hey, I don't write the news... I'm just trying to put it together...

Links Confirmed

Tony Adragna
Watching the press briefing right now. The ATF has "forensically" linked 12 of the shootings to the gun found in the car. The other three shootings are still being worked as linked through other evidence.

Correction: The "12" above should be "11". We do know how to count here at QP, but sometimes the fingers aren't cooperative...

Linked (cont.)

Tony Adragna
Your condition has been half met, Will — it's The Gun:
A law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a gun found in the suspects' car is a ballistic match for the .223-caliber rounds used in the killings.
Stay tuned for a briefing from Chief Moose sometime soon... like within minutes.

Did Chief Moose deliberately time last night's briefing so that Muhammd & Malvo would be asleep when word was put out on the car? Hey, if these guys had been awake and listening to a radio, then we'd be singing a different tune right now.

BTW: I've now heard it was a "bipod", not a "tripod". Bipod makes more sense — that's exactly what a real trained sniper would use to steady the weapon. If I hadn't been so dead-to-the-world [still haven't been to bed] I mighta picked up on that error, as irrelevant as it is.

And the fingerprint from Alabama is being reported as Malvo's. I was assuming that they might've matched it to Muhammad via his service record. Q. What would they have compared that print to for a match on Malvo? Does the INS collect fingerprints on every person immigrating to the U.S.? That's my guess for the answer...

Addendum: via Gelnn, Michelle Malkin has the answer on Malvo's prints. I was close — the INS did have his prints, but it was because he had been in custody for being in the U.S. illegally... and still is...

Tony's Gut Tops Will's Hunches

Will Vehrs
Tony, your gut is looking pretty good, so to speak, as we learn that a rifle, scope, and tripod were discovered in the now infamous Chevy Caprice Sniper Motel. I won't let go, however, until that rifle is test-fired and we've gone a week or so without another shooting.

Just read the Wall Street Journal over a Wendy's single and an apple, my lunch for the day. Al Hunt has gone ga-ga over Senator John Kerry (D, MA) in a column entitled, "A War Hero Moves to the Front of the Pack." Here's what passes for balance in this breathless canonization: "His command of the issues may trump some Kerry problems: an aloof persona ... an outspoken spouse, an 18-year Senate record with few notable achievements, support for unpopular positions, like opposing the death penalty, and the charge that he's a Massachusetts liberal. (It's easy to envision the Karl Rove-orchestrated attacking ads questions the values of a Bay State left winger.)" Nothing like citing opposition from Karl Rove as a monstrous positive.

Here are some of the wonders of Kerry: "The six-foot-four inch, lean, lantern-jawed 58 year-old law-maker looks like a president. And no one in the field is better at fund-raising." His trip to Michigan to campaign for Democrats "was a huge success." Auto union opposition because of Kerry's environmental pronouncements? Piffle ... "In events with auto workers, the issue was never raised." That kingmaker of Southern Democrats, Senator Fritz Hollings, "seems solidly in his corner."

What ever happened to Senator John Edwards, the last darling of the pundits?

Entirely unrelated, here's a quote from Jonah Goldberg that I Ioved: "I rarely come to the defense of the television news business (although CNN's decision to sign me up as a commentator was brilliance on stilts)."

It's Gelling Clear (cont.)

Tony Adragna
Search of the suspect car has been productive:
Sources report police have recovered a bag from the car containing a rifle that fires .223 caliber bullets....

According to some reports, police found a scope and a tripod in the car as well.
On the condition, again, that the reports are accurate, I'm satisfied that the correct people are in custody. We'll know more after ballistics testing...

Gotta Go With My Gut

Tony Adragna
I didn't stay awake with a purpose last night, Will. I told you I've had that kinda anxious feeling — like something was breaking soon — and I simply couldn't sleep.

I think they've got 'em — read this excerpt:
The caller said to look at an incident in "Montgomery," a law enforcement source told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Investigators checking the tip matched it with the Sept. 21 robbery in Montgomery, Ala., where, according to the source, they found a fingerprint from one of the men arrested Thursday.

Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright said the person who called the tip line apparently claimed responsibility for both the sniper shootings and the liquor store robbery.
If the source is correct — sources were fairly accurate during the wee hours — and added to all the other little orts out there, then I do believe that the mounties have got their man.

[The only really fauly bit reportage this AM was when MSNBC's map graphic had the locale pinned as Myersville, VA for about the first hour — not only the wrong state, but also nowhere near a junction with I70]

We'll know more when Chief Moose holds his press briefing — sometime around noon, I think — but as of right now I'm echoing Jim's sentiment: "We are tantalizingly close to being able to move into the postmortem phase of sniperblogging." His "noose" idea has certain appeal to this death penalty opponent [me], too...

Addendum: Just a little oddity in my print media reading this morning — I threw away my usual 35¢ on WaPo at the station entrance this morning and found the front page full of... well... old news...

Breaking News

Will Vehrs
CNN is reporting that the two men taken into custody this morning are definitely suspects. I hope they are right and that my skepticism--and hunch that the killer is incredibly clever--is totally wrong.

Two Minute Drill

Will Vehrs
QP Never Sleeps! Kudos to Tony, who stayed up all night tracking developments in the Beltway Killer case.

Duck in a Noose While I believe the arrest of two men in Maryland is a positive development in the case, I am concerned that it just might be an outrageously brazen taunting of police:

Moose said Muhammad had been linked to the case in a telephone communication last week from a man who police believe is the sniper, but he emphasized that Muhammad may not be directly involved in the shootings.

Would the sniper give himself up that easily? Would he give up someone who could finger him?

The words that the sniper allegedly wanted police to recite are chilling in that regard:

'We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.'

Good research by someone at the WP or the police department:

The duck reference apparently is drawn from a folk tale in which a boastful rabbit tries to catch a duck in a noose. The duck appears to be caught but flies off, dragging the rabbit along with him. The rabbit then tumbles into a tree stump, where he is stranded.

Isn't it ironic that the FBI and ATF carted off a stump in Tacoma, Washington? What I'm saying is that the killer may be pulling off the ultimate humiliation of police and ultimate symbol of his power to terrorize: giving up a plausible suspect(s) while remaining at large, free to continue his murderous spree at just the right moment to inflict maximum psychological damage.

Reactions Tim Dunlop wrote to tell me that he disagreed with my piece about school security. I think he was going to respond, but was overtaken by events. I hope he does respond. Meanwhile, Instapundit seems to support my approach, adding that bowhunters should be deployed in wooded areas vulnerable to becoming a sniper's nest.

Leave it to the Professionals Virginia Governor Mark Warner is getting high marks for not taking a high profile in the sniper case:

While he has stayed in regular contact with Virginia State Police and other officials, Warner is keeping out of the spotlight.

Warner has done "a responsible job in how he's handled things so far," said a political analyst at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, near two of the sniper shootings.

"It doesn't help politicians to second-guess law enforcement," said Stephen Farnsworth, an associate professor of political science. "The police officers' time is best spent concentrating on making an arrest and not having to respond to elected officials."

This could be construed as a slap at Warner's Maryland colleague, Governor Parris Glendenning, the man ready to call out the National Guard to patrol polling places on election day. Cast absentee ballots now if you're in the Maryland Guard ....

Take This Job and Shove It II The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has now shut down all DMV offices that were slated to close on November 15th because employees were using accumulated leave and not showing up for work. There was also concern that complaining customers, combined with edgy employees about to be laid-off, might not be a good combination.

Mark Dahley commented on this in The Refuge. I was reporting the news yesterday, not really taking a position. I would say that this situation is a management failure. A professionally run organization would want to go out on a high note and management should be able to convince employees of this. I think DMV employees might have hurt themselves. If I'm a DMV employee who is looking for a job, a prospective employer might not be too impressed with my behavior in joining an informal "job action" and shutting down a business office. Better that the employees had stuck it out with their heads held high and cashed out their leave on November 15th.

Visit Carter's Grove While You Still Can I went to college in Williamsburg, VA, and one of my favorite spots was and is Carter's Grove:

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation will shut down its 750-acre Carter's Grove property for two years to figure out what needs to be fixed or renovated - and to save money.

The attraction, on the grounds of a former plantation along the James River eight miles east of Williamsburg, includes Carter's Grove mansion, the reconstructed slave quarter, Wolstenhome Towne and the Winthrop Rockefeller Archaeology Museum

You can still visit Carter's Grove until January 1st. I know I'm going.

Breaking News: Sources Say At Least 2 In Custody

Tony Adragna
At about 3:15 AM, on Interstate 70 at Middletown, MD [Update: Now the reporting is saying Myersville, MD, which is just up the road from Middletown], state police swooped down on a car that seems to fit the description and, hopefully, the people we're looking for are now under arrest.

Stay tuned for more details — Maryland State Police are planning a briefing sometime in the next 45 minutes to an hour...

Update 4:45 AM: Sources say police have been looking for Muhammad for a couple of days. They keyed in on Muhammad from a tip called in by somebody who had heard Muhammad, well, basically boasting, and mentioning things that hadn't been in the press 'bout the killings. It's also being reported that the car now in custody does have the NJ plates that police have been on the lookout for.

It's Gelling Clear

Tony Adragna
What's my "tummy" telling me right now? Will, my tummy's feeling very funny...

FOX has been reporting 'bout a stolen credit card — I wish I had known that when I was trying to offer some explanation of what the police coudn't do "electronically". Actually, I've made wire transfers to credit cards before. You just have to wire it to the issueing bank with instructions "for further credit" to the card account.

$10MM is a whole-buncha-lotta money, though — that would be an over-payment so large above any kinda credit lmit I've ever heard of, and I don't think any credit card payment processing system would accept such a payment even with somebody overriding the system. Typically overpayments over a certain dollar amount will simply reject, then somebody has to decide whether to make a partial credit and return the remainder, or return the whole thing.

Law enforcement has also been apparently working a lead on the Tacoma, WA front since at least Tuesday night — at least that's the way I read the fact that FBI agents out there began an actual search, after coordinating with local law enforcement, at 10:30 Wednesday morning.

John Muhammad & step-son Lee Malvo also have [I've heard] connections in DC [or the metro area], and I also heard somebody on FOX [though it may have been misspeak] say that the credit card was used recently in Takoma Park...

Hopefully there's still much we don't know that Chief Moose does know. I feel better 'bout saying the police are "closer than not" to closing this case...

Wednesday, October 23, 2002


Tony Adragna
Well, Will, yesterday's killing has been "officially" linked — Chief Moose made the announcement in an afternoon briefing. They had to cancel an evening brifing because:
"Unfortunately, we've had a development in the case that we need to really focus on right now and we are not going to be holding a press conference. If there are developments that occur in the next few hours or overnight that we can call you together again for, we will," police Capt. Nancy Demme told reporters gathered in Rockville tonight.
Yeah, I'm watching that "development" on the tele. Actually, when I head "Tacoma" I thought I was hearing "Takoma" — as in Takoma Park [straddling the northwest border of DC]. "Unfortunately" I misheard, but let's hope the search in WA turns up something useful.

Thanks for the heads-up on Glendening possibly calling out the National Guard on election day, Will. 'Twasn't so long ago that I wasn't so cynical...

I appreciate you position on "school closings." Yesterday I noted that there are six schools in the area of yesterday's shooting — Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan refused to close the schools, and wouldn't bow to pressure from parents. Good on him! [BTW, I still wish heda ran for governor] Even the schools in Aspen Hill were open on Tuesday, though attendence was reported at 10%.

Tim Dunlop asks whether the shooter really wants the money. He answers:
I doubt it. So why ask for it? To see if he can get the police to give it to him. Apparently the note said that all this was "about more than killing people", which I don't doubt. It is about something like excercising power and control. Shooting people definitely lets you do that, but so does making ridiculous financial requests connected to complicated instructions about delivery. My guess is that it is ultimately the killing rather than the money that this guy will find the most satisfying.
Makes sense to me. I still don't feel comfortable endorsing any "theories" 'bout who the shooter is or whether there are any linkages to terrorism [though I'm still leaning away from "terrorism"], but the point is moot to Tim's question in either case, and I think he's got the correct answer.

Nothing from Jim Henley since this morning — he needs a deserved break from the story. I keep meaning to ask him how goes it with "Unqualified Boy", but then I tell myself: Self, with Jim around that young man has got to be better prepared than most. I did email Jim on the "physignomy" thing this morning, and I need to print a correction:
Correction: Earlier today this writer published an item containing the following verbiage: "It's called the Mk 1 Mod 0 Visual Input System". That entry has been edited to change "Visual" to "Optical", as the latter is more techno sounding. In the interest of editorial integrity the author must also make the following admission: It's actually "Mod 1." The writer had been using a "Mod 2" system for awhile, but technical difficulties [Okay, so it was operator error — I kept losing the damnable little things] forced a return to the older, but more reliable, system.
There, now I can go to bed with my conscience clear.

Breaking News ... and Another Thing

Will Vehrs
I tuned in to CNN tonight at 8 to see a Connie Chung piece on killer John List, a man who was apprehended in my neighborhood after years on the lam. Instead, Connie was covering breaking news--an FBI search of a duplex in Tacoma, Washington. The search is related to the Beltway killer investigation.

Connie Chung was positively awful anchoring this breaking news. I have never seen a worse on-air performance, even given the uncertainties and difficulties inherent in live broadcasting.

It was pretty obvious from the outset that a previous occupant's activities in one half of the duplex was probably the subject of the search, but Connie concentrated on interminable, insomnia-inducing interviews of neighbors, avoiding this key point and asking the most banal questions possible. I never thought Larry King would seem to be a journalistic giant, but he sure appeared that way when he took over at 9PM.

I find it interesting that the Tacoma neighborhood is heavily populated with military people. Was the last resident of that duplex associated with the military? Does anyone know where he moved?

Another Thing: Further to my post below, Maryland Governor Glendenning's idea of calling out the National Guard on election day is a truly terrible idea. If there is one place where Americans must be brave, it is at the ballot box. How about making those irritating party workers who hand out leaflets in front of polling places walk the perimeter instead?

Living in Fear

Will Vehrs
The Beltway Killer has changed life more profoundly for Central Virginia children and their parents than Osama bin Laden and the War on Terror could have envisioned.

There are no Bellicose Woman Brigades or "Hawks" rising up to battle this killer the way such individuals and groups rose up to stand tall against shadowy foes in foreign lands. We're not so bellicose or committed to "normal lives" when our children are threatened where we live.

Today Central Virginia students returned to school after two days off because of threats ostensibly made by the Beltway Killer. They returned to schools in "lockdown" and "Code Blue." They returned unable to go outside for recess on a beautiful day. They returned unable to practice football outside or enjoy the freedom of cross country running.

On my way home from work today, the insipid NPR Pledge Drive caused me to switch over to AM Talk Radio: WRVA and The Allen Price Show. A succession of callers reported on conditions at Richmond, VA-area schools. Some praised the high level of security--cars blocking sight lines on "open campuses," shades drawn in classrooms, heavy police presence, children shuttled outside to buses or cars while surrounded by teachers--while others were quick to note kids walking unguarded to school trailers, or mass dismissal of students to buses. Several callers indignantly recounted how they had called school superintendents and principals to complain about what they saw as security breaches.

I feel for school administrators. They have had tough calls to make and are under tremendous pressure from parents worried about their children's safety. I would not have closed the schools. I would not have put the schools in lockdown. I would have been fired.

A killer operating over a 100 mile stretch has shot 13 people. One was a student at a school in Maryland, a student who thankfully has survived this viscious crime. The killer has a pattern of setting up from a distance, often in a tree line, firing one shot at a person who is alone or with only one person near. The killer has issued a warning that children are not safe, regardless of where they are. There is no indication that the killer will deviate from his sniper-like attacks, unless police are not telling us everything.

What would I do? Assign a police cruiser to each school and give that officer school staff or volunteers in sufficient numbers to constantly walk the 1-300 meter boundry between the school and all wooded or other areas where someone could set up and fire a shot before and during school. I would react to the threat, not change everything about the school experience.

I fear that the way we have reacted to this threat--a very limited threat, in many statistical ways--will come back to haunt us as cretins and creeps of all kinds see the power of random violence and chilling threats.

Full Disclosure: I have a child who attends a local elementary school. Under the conditions I outlined, I would have no fear of my child walking to and from school under supervision or going outside for recess. My child's school is completely surrounded by tree lines with roads and trails offering easy acess and egress. Four individuals and a police officer could monitor the perimeter. I would personally volunteer for perimeter duty one day a week, utilizing my vacation days.

The Shooter Isn't the only Letter Writer

Tony Adragna
WaPo readers offer their own criticisms, and one of them raises a question I too would like answered:
How many more innocent victims will have to be murdered before The Post calls for the FBI to take the lead in the hunt for the sniper?
The FBI has taken some well deserved hits (including some rounds I've lobbed) over their bungling of "foreign intelligence" investigations. But, this current case is of a type that the FBI has historically had, with exception, great success. The exception that comes to mind is the Unabomber case — how long did it take to catch Kaczynski? [What about the Centennial Olympic Park bombing? Off on the wrong foot going after Richard Jewell — if not for the fact that they ruined the guy's life the way they handled the investigation, it would be a forgiveable error based on what investigators thought they knew. OK, they haven't caught Eric Robert Rudolph — Yet!]

On the other hand, The One of Unqualified Offerings takes issue with the FBI's performance to date:
Unqualified Offerings knows what you are thinking! Jim, if there's investigative incompetence, the FBI must be involved somehow! You are a terrible cynic, loyal reader. That notion is absolutely...correct:
But, Jim did have nice things to say 'bout the QP staff [note to Jim: It's called the Mk 1 Mod 0 [Optical] Input System — everybody's got one, but too many haven't a clue what to do with the data after it's input]. Jim also points to news [that I missed] of a "new letter" connected to yesterday's shooting.

Tim Dunlop's The Road to Surfdom has been keeping track by the "day" — today is "Day 19". This story isn't all he's covering, though...

I made referencethe other day to the similarity [sorta] of interaction between the shooter & police and "Dirty Harry" plot. I'm not going so far as to say that "Angry Missive Complains of 'Ignored' Calls" is conclusive proof of my theory — I haven't offered a theory. I do, however, repeat my observation on the cluelessness of reporters who continue referring to Chief Moose's replies as "cryptic".

On the we can't do that electronically front, the first thing my mind went to was "funds transfers" — I keep trying to get banking out of my blood, but that body of knowledge informs an opinion that "electronic" is in the context of the money that's being demanded. Notwithstanding that police will look for ways to say "it's impossible" even if "it's possible", in this case it may very well be impossible to follow instructions even if police wanted to. Something I learned from processing wire transfers — and I've done lots of them on behalf of clients — is that alotta places simply aren't linked into the "global banking system".

What's my "tummy" telling me right now? I think Chief Moose is doing much better than he's being given credit, and I've a feeling that police are closer than not to catching the shooter...

Timothy Noah wrote something yesterday that tries to tell us something about the shooter — that he's "at home" both in Maryland and Virginia. This may be an interesting read to anybody not living in the Mid-Atlantic region, but I really didn't get anything out of it. Hell, I know lots of Marylanders who grew up in Virginia & points south — my "William" [he to whom i refer as "The Capitalist Pig"] grew up in North Carolina, and I even know people from Goochland County, VA. In fact, most of the DC "locals" I know — people who've been 'round here for years — are Southerners...

OK, I did get something out of Tim's piece — he gets lost in Virginia...

On Politics

Jack Shafer writes positively 'bout "the gridmasters", and I mostly agree. But, I also agree with our old friend Publius — set aside "new programs", controversial legislation, etc., there are certain things that really need to get done every year. Gridlock is undesireable (unless you're an anti-statist) at the point where Congress can't get done those things necessary to the basic functions of government.[Revising & Extending: before one of my anti-statist friends corrects me, I know that there is a limited definition of "government" and its "basic functions", and, of course, in that context even anti-statists would admit that gridlock is bad]

Two Minute Drill

Will Vehrs
Pledge This Am I the only one who finds NPR's Pledge Week to be absolutely insufferable?

You Knew This Was Coming The pressure police are feeling and the frustration they are enduring in the sniper investigation has spawned the inevitable criticism and backbiting, some of it directed at the media. Watch for this sort of sentiment to escalate unless the sniper is caught soon:

Local law enforcement officials said that concern about leaks to the media has become so great that important information about the sniper investigation is not being shared with the people who need it most: the street detectives working each shooting.

Lost Season I've never been one to place a high priority on high school sports, but it's hard not to sympathize with fall sports teams in this region who have seen their seasons--both practices and games--disrupted by fear of the sniper. Seasons that started with high hopes in August have been deflated in October, exactly the time when hard work begins to pay off.

Indoor Sport Perhaps students trapped inside schools will be more likely to take advantage of on-line programs. UVA Professor Larry Sabato's Youth Leadership Initiative has begun student voting for all 2002 races.

Speaking of Politics Time is running out for an "October Surprise" that might change the whole complexion of the fall campaign. I'm wondering if the Dow's recent rise will continue, perhaps calming economic fears and helping incumbents generally and Republicans in particular. Would capture of the sniper, or an escalation of his terror, have any effect on races beyond the Beltway? An invasion of Iraq would seem unlikely, but some sort of strong diplomatic action on North Korea might be a possibility. Any good speculation out there?

Take This Job and Shove It The first significant fall-out from Virginia Governor Mark Warner's budget cuts has been detected. One of the major cuts Warner directed was at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Twelve local DMV offices around the state are being closed on November 15th, but one office has rebelled:

Told that they were about to lose their jobs, most workers at a busy Department of Motor Vehicles branch in Norfolk have decided to skip coming into the office ever again.

This is really about customer service, according to one DMV employee:

"If we can't give you what you've come to expect, we're not going to give you anything.''

Customers are being advised to check the DMV website for information on whether this renegade office will be open each day.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Now I'm Getting Nervous

Tony Adragna
I'm not at the point of being afraid to go outside, but I have altered by waiting-at-the-bus-stop routine starting yesterday evening — I was expecting something like this. The stand where I usually catch the county bus is a good distance from the actual station (though on the station property), and there's a large field of tall grass right behind the stop. I took an alternate bus that stops closer to the station, and it's a Metro bus — more passengers waiting at the stop.

The change not only reduces my risk of being a victim (I know, the risks are already statistically very low overall) — the shooter tends toward people who are isolated — but also makes me feel better.

Newschannel 8 is reporting that the victim is the bus driver, which I suspected was the case. A Ride-On route map (not exactly sure if it was the 34 route, but the 41 bus follws the same route in that area) shows the location to be a terminal stop on the line — makes sense that he would be standing in the doorway as he was getting off the bus to take a break.

Watching the coverage this morning, I saw a few school buses stuck in traffic. I found a map showing schools in the area — six of them. If this shooting is "linked", and the shooter has made threats against school children, then (in my opinion) it seems that the shooter is not really all that interested in following up that threat (sure, they're not letting kids outside during the school day, but the one shooting at a school happened as the child was dropped of at the beginning of the day).

Definitely stay tuned to the Unqualified Offerings of Jim — good post this morning on "whether the sniper has returned to Montgomery County or whether this morning's shooting in the Aspen Hill region of Silver Spring is what we've come to call around here a 'traditional homicide.'" Good question (as always from Jim) that points up why police have been so cautious of "linking" — WaPo's "CRIME & JUSTICE" section reports on a shooting last night (two victims, one fatality), and three separate fatal shooting on Saturday.

And your comment yesterday, Will — "Children in City of Richmond neighbrhoods are gunned down all the time and no one closes the schools" — highlights the (understandable though it may be) overreaction...

I hope there's something Chief Moose isn't telling us — like maybe he's close to catching this killer...

Update: WaPo reports that the victim has died...

Sniper Speculation

Will Vehrs
Another shooting this morning, this time back in the sniper's original killing field area. Of course, it is too early to tell if this really is the work of the sniper whose last victim was shot in Ashland.

Jim Henley of Unqualified Offerings continues to be a clearinghouse for sniper information and informed speculation. I appreciate his links to Quasipundit and I suspect he'll be on top of this current situation.

Today's Richmond Times-Dispatch seems to confirm that the sniper or someone else made a call to police from the Exxon Station pay phone where the hapless illegal immigrants were nabbed yesterday. It's not exactly clear when the call was made from this phone:

The phone apparently was used earlier yesterday [Monday] by the serial sniper or someone connected to the shootings ... sources told the Times Dispatch.

If the call was made by the sniper early Monday morning, it indicates that he may have stayed in the Richmond area Sunday and Sunday night. If indeed this morning's shooting is connected, he returned to the Beltway area sometime Monday or Monday night. There are many motels near the Exxon station on West Broad Street in Henrico County. This area is 14 miles and approximately 20 driving minutes away from Ashland by the most direct route. It is possible, however, to reach this area from Ashland by several different circuitous routes, some that would make it appear as if the vehicle was coming from the east or the west, instead of the south, where the shooting took place.

What was he doing in Richmond? He may have had commitments for his "real" job. He may have been "hiding out," adding the new wrinkle of phone calls and communication with the police from places where he has no roots and cannot be traced. He may have been moving effortlessly in and around the Richmond area, probing the police presence and seeking new sites for his deadly attacks.

With schools in the region closed because the sniper's note allegedly threatened schools and/or children, I'm apprehensive about the time the sniper may have had to reconnoiter positions and getaway routes. This killer strikes me as an evil genius, someone with both diabolical skill in committing the crimes and in using the psychology of fear. He is becoming increasingly unpredictable. Hopefully, that will be his undoing. The more he changes, the more likely he may be to make a mistake, to fail to consider something as he switches locales or patterns.

Monday, October 21, 2002

A Cunning Killer

Will Vehrs
I was hoping against hope that I was viewing an important development in the sniper case this morning. Instead, I was watching the handiwork of a cunning killer, someone who is toying with exhausted, frustrated police across a wide swath of Maryland and Virginia.

The two men detained this morning in Richmond amidst a media circus are not related to the sniper case, as reported here and here.

I so wanted Richmond-area police to shine in the national spotlight, nabbing the sniper and making him stand trial in Virginia, where capital punishment is a reality. Unfortunately, their detention of two hapless non-English speaking persons makes them look badly overmatched. Their failure to at least address questions of why these two were mistakenly apprehended smacks of cover-up and serious damage control. Perhaps the tip that brought attention to the phone at an Exxon station was a good one and they don't want to reveal anything lest there still be a chance it might bear fruit. Perhaps the two detainees accidentally wandered into a stake-out, being the ultimate "wrong place at the wrong time" story.

Schools in the Richmond are closed again tomorrow, Tuesday. Was there a threat to schoolchildren in the note the sniper left in Ashland? We don't know.

The sniper has allegedly made the phone call requested by Montgomery County, MD Police Chief Moose. He claims it was garbled and Moose wants him to call again. Was it really garbled, or are they bluffing, trying to get him to call again, desperate for anything that might help them find him? Surely the sniper, or a clever hoaxster, is enjoying the spectacle.

The sniper changed his routine in Ashland on Saturday night. I suspect he will strike again, soon, adding another new wrinkle, adding another blind alley for police.

Breaking News Update V

Will Vehrs
NBC 12 is now reporting that the school where Ms. Musselman saw the white van leading her to call 911 was Salem Church Elementary. Salem Church Elementary is in Chesterfield County, easily 20-30 miles from the Exxon station. I find it difficult to believe that the van could have made it from Salem Church to the Exxon in Henrico County in the time given between her call and the apprehension. This was Richmond's "rush hour," although our heavy traffic cannot compare to many areas. Note: A rough map check shows it is 23 miles and approximately 34 minutes of driving time between Salem Church ES and the Exxon station.

Update VI: Sheriff Stuart Cook of Hanover County, the Ashland shooting jurisdiction, has just held a press conference. He confirmed that ballastics evidence tied the Saturday Ashland shooting to previous sniper attacks. He said that at 8:35 AM two males were taken into custody and are being questioned. The two are apparently the man in the white van at the Exxon station and a man at the Citgo station across the street from the Exxon. For those who want to check out a map of the area, it is in zip code 23294--the intersection of Broad Street and Parham Road. It is a Richmond zip code but is located in Henrico County.

A "Cryptic" Message?

Tony Adragna
Well, you seem to have the breaking news covered, Will. So, I'll just take a moment to critique a bit of the reportage. I keep hearing reporters refer to the "call us at the number you left us" language as "unclear" — haven't these folks ever watched a Clint Eastwood movie? Maybe not... too many guns & too much violence...

The note isn't so "unclear" when it's understood that whoever left it — most probably the shooter — wrote something like: If you wanna talk to me, go to [the location of that phone number] and await my call. 'Course, the police can contact the phone company to find the location of that number, but an even easier solution is to just have calls to that number forwarded to their command center, so they don't actually need go looking for the phone.

Hey, this isn't aeronautical engineering — it's straightforward gumshoe thinking...

If these guys they picked up this morning are the shooters, and it's looking like they are [or not, according to your updates, Will], does this mean Vienna's parade is back on?...

Giving Bush a Raspberry

Actually, 'tis not as it might sound. Today William Raspberry tackled the issue of disparity in treatment of drug offenders via Noelle Bush.

But, rather than beating up on Ms. Bush — as some would argue that she should get prison time, like less well connected offenders would — Raspberry argues that all non-violent drugg offenders should get the same treatment as what Ms. Bush is recieving:
The judge who sent her to rehab in the first place found her in contempt of court for the latest offense.

Contempt of court? At a time when America's prisons are bursting with drug offenders who are less well-connected? When crack abusers in particular are languishing under mandatory sentences? I say we ought to make an example of this young woman.

No, I don't mean she should be hauled off in irons to do hard time in some hellhole of a prison. (The judge did send her to jail for 10 days.) I think she should be -- well, sent back to rehab.

My problem with Noelle Bush, I am saying, is not that she should be treated the way so many other drug abusers are treated but that these luckless others should be treated after her example.
I think that liberals who argue non-violent drug offenders ought not get jail time, yet Ms. Bush should in the interest of fairness, have their argument completely backwards. They should be arguing as Raspberry does...

Breaking News Updates

Will Vehrs
I'm updating the white van story as it unfolds, below.

Breaking News

Will Vehrs
I'm watching live local reports on Richmond's NBC affiliate, Channel 12. A white Plymouth Grand Voyager van that was parked at an Exxon gas station telephone has just been towed and apparently at least one person is in custody. The van has temporary Virginia tags.

A local woman, Joan Musselman, saw the van at an elementary school and called 911. She was suspicious because two men were in the van at a school that was closed. She described the men as "Asian" or "Hispanic." A witness near the Exxon station, Keith Underwood, reported seeing a "Hispanic" man, approximately 35 years old, taken into custody.

This location is about 15 miles south southwest of Ashland, scene of the most recent shooting.

More: Apparently, a call to investigators was made earlier from the phone at the Exxon station. Also, a message purportedly from the sniper threatened schoolchildren (a fact witheld when schools in this area were closed today). That might explain the interest in this van being at a school when Ms. Musselman called. Now, police are looking for a female, even though that is not a part of Ms. Musselman's description.

More II: Witnesses report a person at the Citgo station across from the Exxon station being taken into custody; it is now being reported that Chesterfield County police are searching a home in Chesterfield County that is related to the investigation. Chesterfield County, where I live, is well south of the area where the van was impounded--up to 20 or 30 miles.

More III: The Chesterfield County house search is not related to the sniper case and the person(s) in custody.

More IV: It's noon and we're awaiting a 1PM news conference. MSNBC is casting doubt that the sniper is in custody. On Channel 12, the eyewitness to the man being taken into custody--Keith Underwood--is showing Polaroids he took of the incident. He did not mention the Polaroids in his earlier comments. The Polaroids don't reveal much. Underwood seems to enjoy the camera and describes how "exciting" it all was. Everything was "cool" until it got "real" when guns were pulled. He is making the most of his 15 minutes of fame, including mentioning that he will give viewers a "deal" on the Oldsmobiles he sells next door to the Exxon station.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

QP Sunday

Will Vehrs
I don't think I've ever seen a more eerie sight: thousands of cars at a complete standstill, most with their engines and lights off, halted at midnight on a major interchange by a sniper attack four hours earlier.

The latest shooting was five miles south of King's Dominion, at an I-95 exit I frequent for a bite to eat before performing. When the cast of Fearfest learned of the shooting, there was a palpable sense of outrage. We were told that all main roads had been shut down and that leaving the park would be extremely difficult. We were also warned to take off our make-up before getting in our cars.

Surprisingly, I was able to get home by taking a country road to a secondary thoroughfare. I wasn't stopped. I wondered if this was the route the sniper had taken, as it was easily accessible from Ashland, site of the shooting.

It also occurred to me that perhaps the sniper doesn't even use a car. There are motels near several of the crime scenes, including Ashland. A sniper could fire, disassemble his weapon, put it in a gym bag, then walk back to his motel room.

In happier news from earlier in the day, the Heat beat the Kickers, 3-2, running their record to 2-1.

Tony, I am a big fan of Andrew Sullivan and his commentary. I deplore the personal attacks made on him, regardless of the motivation. Sullivan, however, has intertwined his personal life and his agenda with his writings, so he invites the kind of criticism he receives. Unfortunately for his critics, he gives even better than he gets.