Unit 7 Journal 1: Sniper Ranking Exercise
Learning Objectives and Outcomes
This activity explores the Course Learning Objective “Find various forms
of evidence, including items from the ITT Tech Virtual Library, that
address two opposing views on an issue and demonstrate an understanding
of the issue in a debate, including facts and data points.” Upon
successful completion, you will have evaluated and ranked an array of
resources to be used as evidence in making a case, with an emphasis on
Read the following article about the sniper case that paralyzed the Washington, DC, metropolitan area
until it was solved:
Schaffer, M. (2002, October 28). The Getaway Gunman.
U.S. News and World Report
. Retrieved from
Periodicals> LexisNexis Academic.
Then, based on your reading, rank the resources used to solve the case. Look at the following list, and rank each type of evidence for its applicability to the sniper case, with the most important and valuable ranked as number one. With the list, you should include a short paragraph explaining your top three
choices in terms of value to the investigation.
Other people’s experience
Submit your answers and explanatory paragraph to your instructor as a graded journal assignment.
ITT Tech Virtual Library
Type your assignment, double-spaced, and submit it to your instructor as a Journal assignment for this unit. Complete the assignment as homework.
GRADED ASSIGNMENTS: Unit 7
The getaway gunman
Police have too little information to go on–and too much
The man on a cellphone was frantic. “I just saw a van circling a school, going toward
Courthouse Road,” he said. “He’s between the 7-Eleven and the Wawa. A big, black guy is driving.” At the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Department in Virginia, the dispatcher responded patiently: “I’ve got a deputy down the street. I’ll send him over.”
Was it the van that everyone in Washington, D.C., was looking for? Of course it wasn’t, but then what were the odds that this tip–of the 12,000 calls logged in a day–would be the critical one?
In this maddening case, police have both too little to go on–and too much. Calls have flooded special tip lines, staffed by up to 75 FBI call-takers, with new leads, sightings of white vans, and grand theories born of too many TV crime shows.
And still: There is no news, not even a rough description of the killer whose single-shot attacks have terrorized the nation’s capital for more than two weeks. He’s shot, he’s killed, and despite the best efforts of at least 12 law enforcement agencies, he’s escaped undetected. And so far, anxious residents must keep waiting for a break–any break–in a series of sniper attacks that at week’s end had killed nine and wounded two in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
And they must also keep wondering: Why can’t anyone catch this guy?
But before second-guessing the police, it’s fair to ask: Why can’t anyone identify this gunman?
The killings have taken place not on the spooky margins of society but at the gas pumps and mall parking lots that form the heart of suburbia’s everyday life–and yet nobody can describe the shooter or catch a license plate number. Experts say that’s no surprise. Iowa State University psychologist Gary Wells notes that in experiments, witnesses provided wildly different accounts of crimes fabricated before their eyes. A sniper attack makes it even trickier. Wells estimates that seven seconds elapse between the shot and the moment a witness realizes what
has happened. “If the shooter’s vehicle is going just 30 miles per hour, it’s 100 yards away by that time. They look toward the shot, but he’s gone. And at 100 yards, you cannot read a stationary license plate in good lighting.”
Yet last week, after the latest brazen murder, police thought they’d gotten a break: A witness said the gunman who killed 47-year-old FBI employee Linda Franklin in a Home Depot parking lot had fired an AK-74 assault rifle before fleeing in a cream-colored van. Police reportedly also had been given a description of a dark- or olive-skinned gunman. But by week’s end, even those small clues were dismissed. Police couldn’t even release a composite drawing. And the accounts of the van and the gun? “Not credible,” said Fairfax County, Va., Police Chief Tom
Manger. Turns out the witness made it up. He has been charged.
What you see. As police discredited that eyewitness account, they acknowledged that the news media frenzy surrounding the case may lead other people to lie to gain a moment in the spotlight, or simply to play mental tricks on themselves. “The effects of expectation,” notes the University of California-Irvine’s Elizabeth Loftus, also pollute witnesses. “You now have people holding very strong expectations that there’s a white van,” says Loftus. After a shooting, “they’ll be looking for it, whether they see it or not.” Despite issuing official sketches of a white van and a white box truck, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose declared that people should
watch for all vehicles: “What we’re trying to say is, `Please keep an open mind.’ “
GRADED ASSIGNMENTS: Unit 7
Meantime, the rest of the sniper-hunting team keeps pushing a rock up a mountain of clues.
Investigators, who can’t know which tip of the thousands they receive is the magic one, end up chasing as many as they can. At the Rockville, Md., command center–a bustle of crackling police radios, ringing phones, and half-empty coffee cups–teams of state and local cops and federal agents tracked a running list of leads and suspects projected on a huge screen. Around the area, cadres of police academy cadets scoured shooting sites for bullet fragments and spent cartridges. Traffic cops pulled over scores of white vans. Investigators followed tips to would-be
suspects’ houses–and arrested several for possessing guns illegally–but hadn’t found their man.
Absent much hard evidence, investigators are left to speculate. But spinning theories can leave one dizzy: For example, the shooter has so far avoided the congested District of Columbia; his only D.C. shooting was a half block from the Maryland border. What that means, though, is anyone’s guess. The Home Depot shooting demonstrates that he knows the congested area near Falls Church, Va. “He lives there or works there and is familiar with the side streets,” says
Candice DeLong, who profiled criminals for the FBI for 15 years. Of course, his initial shooting spree in Montgomery County, Md., might indicate he lives there. “Often, the first events are close to where serial murderers live,” she says. Likewise, the killer shoots mostly in the early mornings and in the evenings, taking weekends off. “Maybe he’s a weekend dad or has a job on weekends,” says DeLong. “A reasonable person could also deduce that he is killing on his way to work and on his way home,” she says.
Other theories sound unlikely or farfetched–which hasn’t stopped investigators from following up on them. Are the shootings the work of foreign terrorists? Probably not, but U.S. officials
planned to question al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, about them. Is the shooter a disgruntled employee? The sniper’s first bullet struck the window of a Michaels crafts store; two other shootings took place in malls that housed one of the chain’s stores. Perhaps it’s all a coincidence, but police have asked the chain’s Texas headquarters for assistance. A store spokesman denied a connection.
A nobody? Some cops scoff at psychological conjecturing, but profilers say a composite sketch of the sniper’s mind might help some people identify a killer in their midst. The bottom line: Look for an angry nobody. “They are grievance collectors,” says San Francisco State University criminologist Mike Rustigan. He might have been rejected by the police or the military. “The message he is sending is, `I’m the best sniper there ever was, and you misjudged me,’ ” says
DeLong. Attention has also focused on America’s sniper subculture. “There are a bunch of places that train civilians,” says Dan Erber, a former police sniper who now trains police and military. Recreational snipers say the scrutiny is unfair.
Good theories, all. But the sad truth, says Joseph Borrelli, the retired New York cop who led the hunt for “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz, is it may take another murder–and a clear-sighted witness–for the killer to be caught. “Each time he commits an act, the chances of him making a mistake increase,” says Borrelli. “But then you have more dead bodies.”