Police now believe they have solved the Washington sniper case following a massive manhunt that culminated in the arrests early yesterday of a U.S. Army veteran and a teenage boy. The sniper attacks have left 10 dead in the Washington area this month and terrorized the metropolitan area.
Washington, 25 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Evidence from a liquor-store robbery 1,200 kilometers from the U.S. capital has led to the arrest of two men police believe may be involved in the sniper attacks that have terrorized the Washington area for three weeks.
Ultimately, it was a call from an alert motorist in the middle of the night that led police to a parked car along a highway about 80 kilometers northwest of Washington. There, in the early hours of yesterday morning, police arrested 41-year-old John Muhammad and a 17-year-old boy, John Malvo. The two were sleeping in the vehicle when they were apprehended.
Ten people have been killed and three gravely wounded in the sniper attacks this month. One of the victims was a 13-year-old boy, who was shot as he arrived at school. He is recovering at a Washington hospital.
Police say they consider the two males to be suspects in the case. A rifle recovered from the car was the same weapon used in several of the shootings.
Michael Bouchard, an official of the U.S. federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF, said ballistic tests have linked the gun to at least 11 of the 13 sniper attacks. "The search of the vehicle received today [after the arrest of Muhammad] yielded a weapon, which is a Bushmaster XM-15 .223-caliber rifle, which was sent to the ATF lab in Rockville for analysis. The results of the forensic testing are that the weapon seized from the vehicle occupied by Muhammad has been forensically determined to be the murder weapon," Bouchard said.
The arrests followed a telephone tip to police linking the sniper attacks to a robbery last month at a liquor store some 1,200 kilometers south in the state of Alabama. One person died in that robbery and the killer escaped.
Officials in Alabama say a fingerprint found at the scene of the shooting was left by Malvo, and local police chief John Wilson said a sketch drawn from witness accounts resembles the young man. "I would say there are some very good similarities," Wilson said.
Investigators then traced Malvo to a house in the city of Tacoma in the Pacific northwest, about 4,000 kilometers from Washington, D.C. News reports say both Muhammad and Malvo once lived in the house, and neighbors say they sometimes heard gunshots there. On 23 October, a tree stump at the house that may have been used for target practice was removed by authorities to make ballistics tests.
Police then issued a nationwide bulletin to arrest the two males, giving a description of the car and the number on the vehicle's license plate.
At around 1 a.m. on 24 October, police received a call from a motorist at highway rest stop in the Washington area in the state of Maryland. About two hours later, law-enforcement officials arrested the two suspects as they were sleeping.
Maryland State Police Major Greg Shipley described the arrests this way: "They [officers] approached the car. I don't know the specific tactical maneuvers they used, but they did it very carefully, very quickly, very efficiently, and these two individuals were taken into custody without any problem."
Muhammad is a veteran of the U.S. Army who served in the 1991 Gulf War. His military training was as a machinist, but he did earn a marksmanship award. Little is known about Malvo except that he is a native of the Caribbean island of Jamaica. Some reports say Malvo is Muhammad's stepson.
Neither Muhammad nor the 17-year-old has yet been formally charged with the attacks. They are being held on other charges.