Ballistics match rifle to sniper attacks
ROCKVILLE, Maryland (CNN) -- Ballistic tests on the rifle found in the car of the men authorities believe were involved in the Washington-area sniper attacks matched the weapon to the bullets in all but three of the 14 shootings, law enforcement officials said Thursday evening.
The rifle "has been forensically determined to be the murder weapon," Michael Bouchard of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms told a news conference in Montgomery County, Maryland.
"We have the weapon. It is off the street," said Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, whose department spearheaded the sniper task force.
The two men arrested in connection with the sniper attacks that killed 10 people and wounded three in a three-week period starting October 2 made their initial appearances in Baltimore federal court Thursday afternoon. (The victims)
The suspects are John Allen Muhammad, 41, an Army veteran of the Persian Gulf War who qualified as an expert marksman in the service, and 17-year-old John Lee Malvo, a Jamaican citizen.
The two suspects were taken into custody while they slept early Thursday morning when members of the sniper task force, in Kevlar combat gear and supported by helicopter cover, swarmed a Maryland highway rest stop in the pre-dawn darkness. Law enforcement sources said the arrests were made without incident under federal warrants. (Gallery)
Their apprehension capped an intense investigation that crossed state lines and time zones. (How the case was cracked)
Because he is a juvenile, Malvo appeared in a closed hearing Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before Judge James Bredar. The arrest warrant against Malvo named him as a material witness in the sniper case. (Profile)
In a separate appearance before federal Magistrate Beth Gesner, a handcuffed Muhammad entered the court wearing a green prison uniform and white sneakers, escorted by a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent.
Muhammad replied, "Yes, Ma'am," in a soft voice when Gesner asked him if he understood his rights and the charges against him. (Profile)
The charges include possessing a gun described as a .223-caliber firearm as well as harassing and stalking his ex-wife and children, the judge said. He was prohibited from owning a gun or approaching his ex-wife by the restraining order she obtained in 2000.
No charges in connection with the shootings have been filed against Muhammad or Malvo. Moose said prosecutors from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia would meet Friday to discuss possible charges.
In a development late Thursday, the FBI said it wants to question Nathaniel Osbourne, who once lived at 1400 Sheridan St. in Camden, New Jersey, the address listed on Muhammad's car registration, CNN has learned.
The location houses a Jamaican restaurant called "All Nations Cuisine" on the ground floor and an office and a small studio apartment on the second floor.
The building's owner, Mike Clarke, said Osbourne was a friend of Muhammad's and rented the apartment for about five months earlier this year. Clarke said Osbourne left because he could not pay the rent, and Clarke has no idea where he is.
Clarke said Muhammad, whom he knew as "John," never lived at the address, but that he did see him at the restaurant a few times in August, occasionally with Malvo.
President Bush applauded the law enforcement officials who helped capture the sniper suspects.
"The hunt for a merciless killer has been difficult -- and America greatly appreciates all the good men and women who fight crime and uphold justice across this great country," he said.
A Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle, a scope, a tripod and a "sniper platform" were recovered from the suspects' 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, sources said. All the victims -- 10 dead, three wounded since October 2 -- were hit by a single .223-caliber bullet. (The weapon)
A senior law enforcement described the Caprice as a "killing machine," with two holes in the trunk, one for the rifle, the other for the scope.
That way, shots could be fired without opening the trunk, the source said. The back seat could fold down, enabling a potential shooter to stretch out in the back without stepping foot outside, the source said. (Full story)
Muhammad's warrant was issued on a firearms violation involving a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle, one that he displayed at the home of a friend in Tacoma, Washington, where he once lived.
The complaint also alleged Muhammad had possession of an AR-15 assault rifle, a gun scope and a book on making sound suppressors. He was quoted by the friend as saying, "Can you imagine the damage you could do if you could shoot with a silencer?"
The Bushmaster is the civilian version of the Colt-manufactured M-16 used by the U.S. military.
Muhammad qualified as an expert marksman with the M-16 during his service in the Army, the highest of three levels of expertise in weapons for the typical soldier. That means he had to hit 36 out of 40 targets at a range of about 50 to 300 meters.
Military officials also said Muhammad was not trained as a sniper; nor was he in Special Forces. He served in combat support missions as a mechanic or water truck driver.
He was honorably discharged from the Army in 1994. But in 1982, while a member of the Louisiana National Guard, he received a summary court-martial for willfully disobeying an order and striking a noncommissioned officer.
The biggest break in the case came when the sniper himself called the task force hot line last Thursday, boasting about killing before and telling them to take a look at an unsolved killing in Montgomery, Alabama, law enforcement sources told CNN. (Full story)
Authorities said Thursday they matched Malvo's fingerprint with one lifted from the September 21 shooting at a liquor store in Montgomery.
The city's police chief, John Wilson, told a news conference Thursday there also were "some very good similarities" between Malvo and a composite sketch of the attacker in the shooting. (Full story)
Wilson said, however, the weapon used in the Montgomery shooting was not the same as the one used in the shootings in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Muhammad and Malvo were interrogated at a jail in Montgomery County, Maryland, where the string of deadly shootings began three weeks ago, and where the most recent victim linked to the sniper was killed Tuesday. (Trail of the sniper)
Truck driver Ron Lantz first spotted the suspects' Chevrolet Caprice before dawn at a rest stop. After calling 911, he blocked the exit with his truck.
The rest area is along a seven-mile stretch of Interstate 70 near Myersville, Maryland, that had been shut down in a dragnet launched just a few hours earlier by sniper task force leader Moose.
"We didn't actually see any police officers for a while, until they actually stormed the parking lot where the vehicle was," said rest stop attendant Larry Blank. "There were helicopters, police cars everywhere."
Lantz says he's no hero and will share any reward money he receives with victims of the sniper attacks. (Full story)
"This is such a shock," Sheila Tezando, Muhammad's sister-in-law, told CNN. She said there was nothing in their demeanor that would lead her to believe that they were capable of any violent act. (Muhammad profile) (Malvo profile)
•Malvo was in INS custody in Bellingham, Washington, on December 19, 2001, after his mother was involved in some sort of incident. He was later released and was scheduled for a hearing on November 20.
•A State Department official said Thursday the department has no record of having issued an immigrant or a non-immigrant U.S. visa to a John Malvo from Jamaica.
•A source said the U.S. Marshals Service was able to connect Muhammad with the car and license plate through information filed by officers from an October 8 traffic stop in Baltimore, Maryland. Muhammad was sleeping in his car at the time. The officers were concerned that his driver's license was from Washington state and the vehicle tag was from New Jersey.
•The letter believed to have been left by the sniper near the scene of a shooting Saturday night at a Ponderosa restaurant in Ashland, Virginia, appeared to include Jamaican colloquialisms, sources said. Drawn on the page of the letter were five stars, and some investigators thought that was a reference to a Jamaican band. The letter contained the phrase "word is bond," which appears in the lyrics of one of the band's songs. Moose echoed those words during a recent news conference.
•Authorities searched a duplex in Tacoma, Washington, on Wednesday and left with a tree trunk apparently used for target practice. Sources said Muhammad once served at Fort Lewis, not far from the duplex. (Full story)
•The FBI denied earlier reports that it conducted searches related to the sniper investigation in Marion, Alabama. Local police had said the search centered on a site called "Ground Zero USA" which specializes in special weapons and tactical training. "We have not searched Ground Zero," said Tim Munson, the special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Mobile, Alabama. "We have no interest."
•Just hours before the suspects' pre-dawn arrest Thursday, Moose held a news conference and issued a cryptic message to the sniper: "You have indicated that you want us to do and say certain things. You asked us to say, 'We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.' We understand that hearing us say this is important to you." As it turns out, there is a story behind that somewhat bizarre "duck in a noose" phrase. (What it meant)
-- CNN correspondents Jeanne Meserve, Kelli Arena, Gary Tuchman and Barbara Starr, and Producer Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.