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

"We Were Winging It"

On October 11, thousands of tips flooded an FBI hotline. On October 14, the sniper fatally gunned down FBI analyst Linda Franklin around 9 pm as she and her husband were loading their car at a Home Depot in Falls Church.

Bruce Guth, then homicide supervisor for Fairfax County: "There were so many leads coming into Montgomery, they didn't have enough people, so they wanted a Northern Virginia task force to run down leads. I became the supervisor. A day or two later, Linda Franklin gets shot. Everybody was pretty sure Fairfax County would get hit sooner or later. We had a plan about who was going to do what. It was a pretty complex operation, in retrospect. We were winging it."

Patty Craley, programmer analyst and mother of two, McLean: "I was manager of a girls' soccer team, the McLean Rockets. There was concern about having outdoor practices. We started having indoor practices as a result. What was problematic was that every other competitive team in the area was doing the same. Therefore, there was limited practice space and time for all teams. Some parents took their kids out of school.

"How did it affect me? Life is short. Get to your bucket list. I am sure the person who was killed at the Home Depot thought she was coming home."

April Carroll was an agent on the case for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Photograph bby Christopher Lane.

April Carroll, co-case agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives: "My husband and I are ATF agents, and we'd just moved from Seattle to Vienna. I had three elementary-school-age boys. In the past, we could always separate work from family, but this affected every minute of every day. We'd run through parking lots. I'd try not to get gas when I was with family. Once while I was pumping gas, I said to my boys, 'You have to get down on the floorboards.' "

On October 19, Jeffrey Hopper was shot as he and his wife walked toward their Cadillac in the parking lot of a Ponderosa Steakhouse in Ashland at about 8 pm. He survived.

Nancy Demme, then Montgomery County Police spokesperson: "When Jeffrey Hopper got shot at the Ponderosa, [the snipers] left a letter on a tree. We took that letter so there would be no leak. Because Richmond closed its schools and we didn't, there began to be all this suspicion in the media: There must be something in the letter. It did leak that there was a letter. The media really wanted the content, and they wanted it bad.

"At 6 am, I got a call from one of my sisters in Bethesda: 'If Shannon [Demme's niece] was your daughter, would you let her go to school?' I went to the chief after talking to my sister: 'I know we said we are not going to put this information out, but the public believes, because of what the media are doing, that we are withholding information that would keep their children safe."

The Cops, the FBI—and Tension

Law-enforcement agencies were having discussions about whether to try to communicate with the sniper. At the time, they believed it was one person.

Gary Noesner, then chief of the FBI's crisis-negotiation unit: "There was a point where the snipers kept leaving notes for law enforcement to find: 'We want you to say that you caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.' It was my view and that of the negotiations team that we needed to respond. I thought the killings had continued in part due to the fact that we weren't doing what the snipers asked. The FBI profilers felt that by responding we would further empower them. My view was that failure to respond would prompt them to engage in more violence. It seemed to me they felt pretty empowered as it was.

"The negotiations team agreed that some type of response was needed. Chief Moose and the ATF commander also agreed. There was a meeting where I made an argument for our recommendation. Gary Bald, the FBI on-scene commander, wasn't there. He later overruled our recommendation without talking to me. He supported the profilers who opposed any response.

"I have found that law-enforcement officials often have an inflated belief in what profilers can provide. Too often this is based on TV depictions rather than a track record of what profilers can do. Profiling is an important tool, not the be-all and end-all."

Gary Bald, FBI agent: "I don't remember Gary's role in this or whether I had tension with him."

Gary Noesner: "It was our unanimous belief we should make a comment. I believe our failure to respond to the snipers' demand resulted in the final victim being murdered the following night. A note was found at this scene that said something like 'You didn't do what we told you to do.' I was furious at Gary Bald's disregard for the negotiation team's advice."

April Carroll, ATF agent: "Traditionally, serial-homicide investigations fall under the FBI, but considering the violence associated with firearms-related homicides, we got involved. The suspects were smart. Even they knew that by bringing in multiple agency jurisdictions, that would cause chaos. They knew that the more people they brought to the table, the more likely it was to cause difficulties."

Every morning there was a conference call for all the police chiefs from Baltimore to Richmond. Moose would kick it off, and Bald would do an operational briefing.

Charles Ramsey was DC police chief in 2002. Photograph of Ramsey by Christopher Lane.

Charles Ramsey, then DC police chief: "One of the most difficult things in any investigation—and this covered different states—is keeping people in the loop. Even the chiefs who didn't have a homicide wanted to know. There was a smaller group who had had a murder. There was a larger group who wanted to be informed. There was definitely tension."

There was a push by politicians for the FBI to take over the investigation from Montgomery County. Criticism was rife over the fact that Moose was handling a case that extended beyond his county.

Gary Bald: "The reality was Charles Moose was in charge, and that was the way it needed to be. If you are the sniper and the FBI steps to the podium, what do you think the reaction might be? It would be 'I'll show them.' For me to take over the case, I would have had to have a good reason. I have so much respect for Charles, and he deserves 100 percent of the credit for a model—albeit with flaws—of how to leverage the expertise of many police departments and resolve it in 23 days. Basically, Charles convinced chiefs to join up and let our task force become the responder even though the shooting was not in Montgomery County. It cut out so much time to get past egos."


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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