Eight people have been shot by an unknown assailant in the counties
outside Washington, D.C. We all have questions - here are a few
By Jessica Reaves, TIME.com
If you have no idea what's behind the shootings in suburban
Washington, D.C., you're hardly alone. FBI, CIA and local police
forces are also puzzled - and residents are terrified. While we're
largely in the dark about the shooter's cause, motive or methods, a
few theories have emerged. What do we know so far about the sniper?
Is this an act of terrorism?
Yes - just not the type we've gotten used to thinking about lately.
On the one hand, this killer is terrorizing a community and a nation,
and so he is, by definition a terrorist, but on the other hand these
shootings probably don't originate with al-Qaeda. Foreign terrorists,
as we've come to understand them in the post-9/11 world, are not
prone to calling attention to themselves. They prefer to get in, act,
and get out as silently as possible. This sniper is taunting the
police, surfacing again and again to perform identical crimes. This
kind of violence is more in line with domestic terrorism, a la Eric
Rudolph, the man suspected of bombing several abortion clinics in the
South - and a suspect in the Atlanta Olympic bombing.
Why are police not having any luck finding the shooter(s)?
Unfortunately, the killer's not providing investigators with much
information. Even clues that seem promising haven't really panned
out: while ballistic experts have been able to link the shootings by
analyzing the bullets and casings they've recovered, for example, the
high velocity rounds found in some of the victims can be used in many
different kinds of guns, including hunting rifles and military
weapons. Another bit of evidence surfaced late Tuesday: a tarot card
with the words, "Dear Policeman: I am God" scrawled across it. Did it
actually come from the sniper or from a prankster? That's one more
mystery for investigators to ponder.
Police say that while they're working with extremely paltry evidence,
they have gotten about 1,250 "credible" leads from more than 6,000
phone calls - which means there's probably someone out there with
valuable information. Now the key is finding that person and putting
the pieces together before the next murder. Can they do it? The good
news is there are hundreds of extremely qualified people working this
case. The bad news is that thousands of violent crimes go unsolved
What is "geographic profiling?"
We've been hearing a lot about this forensic technique, in part
because it's one of the only ways officials have to track the sniper.
Geographic profiling is generally used when investigating serial
crimes - rape, murder, robbery - and depends on mapping the location
of each crime in order to determine the most likely point of origin
for the suspect. In other words, if you pinpoint the place each
shooting occurred, you can deduce a "center" for the criminal's
activity, and that often ends up being the perpetrator's home.
Are these shootings totally random?
They certainly appear to be - but they're probably not. Most likely,
there is some pattern at work here, just one that investigators
haven't been able to pinpoint yet. The shooting Monday outside a
Maryland middle school, for example, was a departure from the
previous shootings, in terms of both location and victim type. It
could have been just another piece in a very complex puzzle, or it
might have been the violent crime equivalent of a Bronx cheer in the
direction of police - ("You think you know what I'm going to do next?
Think again."). Either way, the killer seems to be acting in a very
deliberate, controlled manner, and is clever enough not to have been
caught yet - two factors that belie a slipshod, random methodology.
When will the killings stop?
Either when the police find the killer(s) or when the shooter loses
interest - and that, sadly, may not be for quite a while.
to former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, the killer's pattern shows
every indication that he is toying with the police, using the media
for information, challenging assumptions we make about him, and
generally taking great pleasure in outsmarting all of us.
knows he's got our attention, Van Zandt speculates, - he gets all the
confirmation he needs whenever he turns on the television - and hints
like the carefully placed tarot card mean he's playing to the
We don't know anything for sure about the killer's state
of mind, but chances are he's enjoying himself enormously.