Suspect in Columbus Highway Shootings Described as Armed, Possibly Suicidal


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A suspect in two dozen highway shootings remained at large Tuesday, described by police as armed with a semiautomatic and having a history of mental problems.

Investigators into the sniper attacks that killed a woman and unnerved motorists for the past 10 months searched for Charles A. McCoy Jr., 28, who lives with his mother in the targeted area around the city's outerbelt.

Authorities identified McCoy as a suspect Monday and released his picture, vehicle description and license plate. Other details emerged from a missing person's report and bulletin to other police departments

The bulletin said McCoy was believed to have a semiautomatic pistol and ammunition, said Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly.

"McCoy has had mental health issues in the past and is currently not on medication," the notification read. "He is believed to have suicidal or homicidal tendencies."

The gunfire around Interstate 270 and two nearby highways pierced homes and a school, dented school buses, flattened tires and shattered windshields. Vans, delivery trucks, a horse trailer, tractor-trailers and cars were hit.

The shootings forced commuters to take back roads, schools to cancel classes or hold recess indoors. Police increased patrols and offered a $60,000 reward. The state installed cameras on poles along the highway.

The only person struck, Gail Knisley, 62, of Washington Court House in central Ohio, was killed on her way to a doctor's appointment Nov. 25.

Lab tests showed that bullets from nine of the shootings -- including Knisley's death -- were fired from the same gun.

Franklin County Chief Deputy Steve Martin would not say what evidence led authorities to McCoy.

However, newspaper and television reports Tuesday said McCoy's family gave investigators at least one of his guns. The Columbus Dispatch, citing unnamed sources, said McCoy's father, Charles A. McCoy Sr., turned over a 9 mm Beretta gun that was ballistically matched to some of the bullet fragments recovered in the shootings.

Martin said authorities believe McCoy had bought another gun.

An arrest warrant charges McCoy with felonious assault in a shooting with a 9 mm handgun that damaged a house Dec. 15. No one was injured.

McCoy's parents could not be reached Tuesday. No one answered the door at his home. A hand-written sign on the door at his father's house said, "We do not want to speak to the media."

In a missing person's report filed Monday, McCoy's mother, Ardith, said her son was upset over a possible move.

She said he withdrew $600 from a bank account and left home Friday for a GameWorks, a restaurant and bar that features video games, at a nearby mall. The store's general manager said he did not know McCoy.

The sheriff's office was looking for a four-door, dark green 1999 Geo Metro with a black hood. The Ohio license tag is CGV7387.

The description of the car and McCoy were similar to what witnesses told investigators they saw in the three most recent shootings.

Neighbors on McCoy's street of tidy vinyl-sided homes didn't know much about the suspect or his mother, said Nicole Sewald, 28, who lives across the street. Her 8-year-old son attends Hamilton Central Elementary School, where one of the sniper's bullets struck a window in November.

The McCoys moved there about a year ago, did some repairs and put the house back up for sale.

"They pretty much stayed in their house when they were home except when he was working in the yard," Sewald said.

Keith Lahr, 38, has lived across the street from McCoy's house since it was built about six years ago. He said he told his 17-year-old daughter to avoid I-270 when going to visit her grandparents in nearby Grove City.

"Here we should be scared going down our street," Lahr said.

Residents and commuters near the highway expressed relief that a suspect was known, if not in custody.

"I kind of figured the guy was local, " Ed Urban, 57, said as he pumped gas at a station near McCoy's home. "I'm probably less worried now, knowing the guy is on the run."

Don Colvin, 39, who drives in the area as part of his job with A.D.T. Security Systems, said he would keep watching overpasses -- the site of several of the shootings -- until there's an arrest.

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