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Terror in October: A Look Back at the DC Sniper Attacks
Comments () | Published September 26, 2012

Gary Bald, FBI special agent in charge of federal investigation: "There was no consensus on talking about the white van. I wasn't sold on going out with that information. The reality was it was the only consistent fact we had, that witnesses saw a white van. When you are faced with people dying, it's hard to say, 'No, let's wait until we are sure we know there's a white van involved.' "

Around 2:30 pm on October 4, Caroline Seawell, 43, pulled her minivan into the Spotsylvania Mall, about halfway between DC and Richmond. She parked in front of a Michaels arts-and-crafts store. (An hour before James Martin was killed on October 2, a bullet had gone through the windows of a Michaels in Aspen Hill.) Seawall was shot but lived. The investigation, once centered in Montgomery County, now moved to Virginia.

Charles Moose, former Montgomery County police chief:"I put together a task force [of multiple police and federal law-enforcement agencies] because I wasn't convinced that as individual departments we were going to be as efficient. The foundation of community policing has to be police working with other police agencies."

A Child Is Targeted

The terror was heightened when Iran Brown, 13, was shot as he walked into Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie at 8:09 am on Monday, October 7. It was the eighth shooting.

Iran Brown, victim, now 23: "I remember every detail, down to what I ate for breakfast: chocolate-chip waffles. My aunt drove me to school, and it was very early because she had to go to work. I was the first to arrive.

"I got hit right under my left chest. I fell to the ground. A teacher came out to help me. I had my hand over the wound, but it wasn't like in the movies with blood gushing out. I explained that I'd been shot and needed help, but it didn't seem to register in her brain.

"My aunt heard the shot and reversed the car when she saw me on the ground. I got up on my own and walked to the car. Of course, I'm panicking and praying. Reality is kicking in. My aunt was a nurse, so she knew more than the average person. She rushed me to a clinic.

"I had been watching the news. I was aware of what was happening. I had asked our PE teacher why we were going outside if the sniper was in the area."

Dr. Martin Eichelberger helped treat Iran Brown at Children’s National Medical Center. Photograph by Christopher Lane.

Dr. Martin Eichelberger, then chief of trauma and burn services at Children's National Medical Center: "The boy's aunt had the knowledge to get him someplace right away. He was shot just underneath his breastbone, and it angled up to the left to the region of the scapula. It pretty much hit the liver, spleen, pancreas, diaphragm, and lung. Luckily, it didn't hit his heart."

Dr. Kurt Newman, surgeon at Children's National Medical Center: "I was driving to the hospital, and that was just a really scary time. Chief Moose had come out on Friday afternoon saying that at least children hadn't been involved yet. I heard a report on the radio that there was another shooting. When I got to work, I went straight to the operating room. It was clear the boy was on his way or may have arrived."

Dr. Eichelberger: "We had an outstanding surgical team coordinated by Dr. Newman, who was working with the police. Everybody in law enforcement wanted to get into that operating room. Our job was not to be distracted by all the things going on. The problem is you don't know who shot him, and there has to be a way to track the bullets. At the beginning, the issue was let's save the boy's life."

Dr. Newman: I had a sense from having been through this in other situations that there was going to be a lot of focus on the legal aspects. We needed to follow some protocol. So I kept an eye on that, and Dr. Eichelberger concentrated on the surgery.

"If Iran survived, he would have been a potential witness, so there were security issues. For example, we changed his name so he was anonymous. You had to have explicit permission to go near his room. This was such a dangerous time. We thought the people who had done this knew he was a potential living witness.

"We needed to establish a chain of evidence so that if Dr. Eichelberger took the bullet fragment out and handed it off to somebody in a container, it had to be initialed and clear there was a chain of custody."

Iran Brown: "I was in the hospital for one month. I was in a coma for one week. I had to learn to walk again. I had tubes in my stomach, my nostrils, my throat.

"Let me make one thing clear—once you have been shot, you will never be 100 percent. But I'm just as healthy as the next person. Of course, I get shortness of breath faster than I did. I believe I only have a partial pancreas.

"People ask me about it almost every day. They just saw me on TV—they don't know I had to go through a lot of therapy and try to be a regular kid. But what happened is not what defines me. Being shot by the sniper is not half of what I've been through."

When Chief Moose began the news conference about Iran Brown's shooting, his voice quivered:

"Today it went down to the children. Someone is so mean-spirited that they shot a child. . . . Now we're stepping over the line, because our children don't deserve this." Moose faltered and shed a tear. "So, parents, please do your job tonight. Engage your children. Be there for them. We're going to need it. . . . Shooting a kid, I guess it's getting to be really, really personal now."

—from "Sniper: Inside the Hunt for the Killers Who Terrorized the Nation" by Sari Horwitz and Michael E. Ruane

Charles Moose: "I don't know if I could say [Iran Brown's shooting] was a breaking point, but it really demonstrated the evil. None of the victims did anything to deserve their fate, but certainly a child didn't.

"When I was in law enforcement, I really cared about what I was doing. It didn't mean I cared less about any other victim or any situation I was involved in, but during that time it was very emotional. The people on the task force worked as diligently and urgently as they could. There were certainly portions of the investigation that were technically turning points, but I don't think Iran's shooting was anything that caused people to start to care. They already cared."


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  • Shirley Titus Klepac

    I lived this..It was terrifying..We were afraid to walk out our doors..

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Posted at 01:50 PM/ET, 09/26/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Articles