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tv   City in Fear Beltway Snipers  MSNBC  October 13, 2014 12:00am-1:01am PDT

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fire and ambulance. >> somebody has been killed in front of me. >> who kills a man that is mowing his lawn. >> we had no idea what was going to happen. >> when there were three, four, five, it was clear something surreal was happening. >> that message was, you give us ten million, we'll stop killing people. >> there were so many days we felt we just can't solve this. >> it's getting really, really personal now. >> we had multiple shootings and no suspect.
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>> it was amazing how these people had the d.c. metropolitan area in so much fear. >> city in fear. here's john siegenthaler. >> a year after the horror of september 11th, america's capital lived through a different terrorist act. the people around washington, d.c. were gripped in fear in october 2002 as a spree killer emerged from the darkness, killing innocent people. who was the d.c. sniper and how did it change the surrounding communities forever.
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here's the story from the people who were held captive. >> it is a community of almost a million people with very low crime rates, great park system, great quality of life here. >> it's a fantastic place to live, fantastic place to raise children. the people are wonderful. >> montgomery county is a great place. it's a nice place to grow up. i still think of this as my home. >> but on october 2nd, 2002, any sense of peace in this quiet, suburban community is about to change forever. at 6:00 approximately, as commuters make their way through rush-hour traffic, they have no idea that a killer is among them. minutes later, he strikes for the first time.
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>> james d. martin, father and boy scout leader, is walking into a store to pick up groceries for his church's youth group when he's shot in the back. >> it was a very unusual shooting. a lot of people saw him drop. a lot of people saw him fall. >> we went to bed. there was a murder mystery. but we had no idea of what was going to happen next. >> early the next morning, 39-year-old lance gabe gardener, james sonny buchanan reports for work at an auto mall. >> it's 8:00 a.m. and 911
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operator pearl morris is just beginning her shift. >> there had been some talk about some innocent in bethesda involving a lawn mower, that it had exploded or there had been some problem. and the person that was using it was injured. >> what isn't immediately known is that this isn't an accident. it's not shooting. within the hour, james sonny buchanan is dead from a single bullet wound to the back. >> who the hell shoots a guy who is mowing his lawn? anyone could have been doing that. i could have been doing that. >> the police came to my door and i realized as soon as they were at my door and they had his driver's license in their hand. those are scenes you don't forget. probably the hardest thing to do was tell my parents their only son was killed and how he was killed.
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>> as police investigate the crime scene, cab driver shin song pulls into a gas station five miles away. >> time was about 8:30 in the morning. he's my regular customer. for four or five years he come in every morning about 9:00, actually. that day, somehow he came half hour early. i asked him, you're "early today." and he said, i have something to do for my daughter today.
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>> police are all over the place. here we have homicide detectives at the scene of the murder and putting on bullet-proof vests as they walk around the gas station. and i say to myself, what's going on here? but it's at that point they realize perhaps the shooting of the man operating the lawn mower, the shooting of the taxicab driver may be related and may well be some sort of a sniper attack on these two people. >> it was absolutely one of our worst fears that we had now multiple shootings and really no explanation and no suspect. >> wtop radio reporters amy morris and neal augenstein are among the first to hear the shootings. >> i was called back to the radio station. on my way back, i got a call back saying, no, no, no go back to where you were. there's been another shooting. on my way back to the shooting,
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i got a third phone call saying, no, no, no, it was here. it was magnus. that's when i realized it was not going to be a good day. >> nobody at that point was linking any of the shootings. but i just remember hearing the tone of advice from our anchors saying there's been another shooting in montgomery county and another, and you it was clear something was going on. >> maybe 30 minutes, 45 minutes later, we get another call for suicide, possibly somebody shot themselves. of course that turned out to be the woman at leisure world plaza. >> it isn't a suicide. sarah ramos is waiting for work outside a shopping center when she is shot in the head. >> everything was taped off with yellow police tape.
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and people who live and work in the area of leisure world were horrified. a lot of older people live in that community, a lot of senior citizens. and they kept asking me, what's going on? what happened? what did she do? >> it was frantic. because we knew there were three. could there be four? and everybody started looking over their shoulder saying, what's next? who's next? >> as a seasoned law enforcement officer, 32 years on this department and in this area, i've never seen anything of this nature. it was a lot like getting punched in the jaw. >> what started out as a beautiful fall morning had quickly turned into a blood bath. three victims had been killed within a five-mile radius by an unknown gunman. as police scramble to find out what's happening, it only gets worse. >> a woman was vacuuming her
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>> a wife and mother is vacuuming her van at a gas station when she becomes the killer's latest victim. >> our time right now is 10:29. we're looking at live pictures of chopper 4. a shell gasoline station where 22 minutes ago a person was shot and killed, the fifth person to be shot and killed over the last 15 hours or so in what is an amazing, terrifying spree of fatal shootings in montgomery county. >> montgomery county has so few murders every year that if there's a murder you think, okay, well, that's out of the ordinary. if there's two you say that's a little bit extraordinary. then when there were three and four and five, it wasn't clear why somebody was taking shots from across the parking lot at strangers.
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>> fear begins to ripple through the community. no one knows what's going on. only one week into her tenure as director of media services for the montgomery county police department, captain nancy demy reports a killer is on the loose. >> look around. look around. if you see something suspicious, strange or whatever, if it makes you uncomfortable, we want to know. >> i was hesitant to use the word sniper. one of the media did use it and i said, well, i'm not using that term yet because i didn't want to cause more fear or more panic in the public. >> people began to really sense that something really terrible was going on right in our midst, something that we had not known before in this community. >> i remember thinking if these things continue to happen in the manner that they continue to be happening with no suspect information, no lookout for anybody, we might be trying to catch, then we're in big
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trouble. >> it was a surreal experience and it was a frustrating experience because you fully expected this to end that day. you fully expected that the police would get their man or men or whomever and it would end that night. >> but by nightfall, the police are still desperate for information, and montgomery county is galvanized by fear. coming up -- >> we don't have really any suspects. we don't know what we're dealing with. >> in the course of one day, five people have been shot, but the killing spree has only begun.
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now, breaking news from wtop. five people shot and killed one by one within a one-mile radius
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in the span of 16 hours. if you do see police in action, just give them plenty of room to operate and try not to get in their way. >> october 3rd, 2002 a sniper is terrorizing the suburbs of washington, d.c., apparently shooting innocent victims as they go about their lives. after a day of tragedy in which five people were shot, everyone had hoped the carnage was over. but at 9:20 p.m., a 72-year-old pascal sharlow waits to across the street at a busy intersection, he is shot in the chest and dies within minutes. >> the very first day when all the shootings occurred, within a few hours, you thought, yeah, it was very random. some person is having some sort of mental breakdown. but as it went along and you saw it was more calculated and planned and they were consciously moving around the area, that was even scarier.
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>> charles moose, now retired, was the montgomery county police chief at the time. >> so many times a heinous crime takes place and you're dealing with the aftermath, the cleanup of the investigation. now we've got this ongoing crime. we don't really have any evidence. we don't really have any suspects. we don't really know what we're dealing with. nobody's studied a case like this, so we don't really know what to do. >> we were searching for some idea of who this person was. it was obvious we were dealing with a predator. these were broad daylight killings. >> tipsters jam police hotlines. leads come in from all over the city. >> we had a helicopter in the air to cover the story. so we were looking out for a white box truck which they
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believe was driving from the scene from the from leisure world. that's the first we knew of had white box truck. >> then we started getting calls that never stopped. and it was kind of hysteria on the citizen's part. every white box they saw, whether it was moving, parked or otherwise, it could have been sitting in somebody's driveway. they would call in and say, my neighbor has a white box truck, you need to check him out. >> i do home improvement, so i have a box truck. i had been at one of the gas stations an hour before one of the shootings in my truck that i drive. and at the time somebody had reported my truck as being near the scene of the crime. and police officers did take me into custody and question me and try to determine if i was the sniper. >> the fear. people were afraid whenever a white truck, a white van,
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anything that would go by, people would duck. it was amazing how people had so much fear. >> there was a frenzy in the newsroom. we were monitoring police transmissions all the time because we didn't see a pattern here. we figured, well, they're focusing pretty much on montgomery county in maryland. we don't have to worry about virginia. as soon as we get that theory, boom, they hit in virginia. >> this just in to the wtop newsroom. >> there has been another shooting today, this time in fredericksburg, virginia. >> october 4th, 2:30 p.m., caroline seawell is loading her mini van outside a virginia suburb when a bullet strikes her in the back. unlike the other shooting victims, she is the first to survive.
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police home they can interview seawell for information on the sniper but her condition is too critical. up next -- >> parents, please do your job tonight. be there for them. >> the nightmare escalates as the sniper takes aim at the most innocent of victims.
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in the course of 72 hours, a sniper has killed six people and left one woman critically injured in the washington, d.c. area. as the killer's reign of terror stretches beyond the capital, the question isn't if he'll strike again but when and where. >> you're talking about maryland, virginia, washington, d.c. over 5 million people are -- felt that they were immediate potential victims. so all of a sudden it became painfully clear that this was going to be more than montgomery county could do. so now you start the process, we've got to bring in more help.
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>> in order to combat the chaos, montgomery county police form a task force with the fbi and atf. >> this was probably the biggest task force in this country that was put together in such a short period of time. >> michael bouchard in charge of the atf baltimore is assigned to the case. >> we have a lot of talented people from a number of agencies who put all their differences aside and said we're all here on one team. it doesn't matter what agency we work for. we have a job to do here. it was an incredibly complex to keep track of all the leads, to keep track of who we were looking at. there were well over 100,000 calls made to the tip line, 16,000 viable leads that we had to follow up on. >> the only solid evidence the task force had are bullets and bullet fragments. atf chief ballistics examiner,
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walter dandridge, jr., analyzes them. >> i developed a list of firearms that could have fired those bullets. my initial analysis told me that we were looking for a rifle, fully automatic or semi-automatic rifle. >> what was clear early on was that these were at random. there was no connection between the victims. the only common in these cases was the rifle used to kill them. >> that weekend no other shootings are reported. by monday morning, five days after the nightmare began, the police are optimistic that the worst is behind them. >> you start feeling like,ing on okay, we're getting a handle on things. then, bang, something else happens.
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>> the washington, d.c. suburbs have been rocked again by shootings. a 13-year-old walking into a middle school east of the nation's capital. >> the boy shot is iran brown who suffers multiple internal injuries but miracle rack lousily survives. >> all of a sudden, part of this random mix was children. everybody who had children at that point is beginning to think is my child next? could this happen to my child? >> sheer terrorism. what's more important in the world than our offspring. that's the future. you want to mess with the future? are you nuts. shoot to kill in targeting children in no. no, no, no. >> so, parents, please do your job tonight, engage your children, be there for them.
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we're going to need it. we're going to need you to support them. but stepping over the line, shooting a kid i guess is getting to be really, really personal now. >> it just escalated the terror to the community when you're talking about probably some of their most precious, if not the most precious, things that they have, and that's our children. >> but for the first time the police have more than just bullet fragments, they have a message from the sniper. in the woods across from the school investigators find a tarot card of death with i cryptic message on the back. it reads, for you, mr. police. call me god. do not release to the press. but by late afternoon, the media learns of the startling new evidence and reports it to the public. with their backs to the wall, police call an impromptu press conference where an angry chief moose reports the media are
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hindering the investigation. >> we will do other police work and we will turn this case over to the media and you can solve it. but today the people in my community have asked the police department to work the case. so i beg of the media, let us do our job. >> one of the dilemmas for us really was not being just a conduit for chief moose and a microphone and passing along all his information to the public. our role as journalists is to question the information we're getting and try to probe and get more information than perhaps the police are willing to share. >> i know the reporter who broke the tarot card story. he's an excellent reporter. he checked it. it was a good story. in the course of covering an event like this, i think it's important for the public to know things like that. >> once the communications after the tarot card, every time we went out we had to be careful about what we said, how we said it. yes, you had to speak to three different levels.
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you had to speak to the media, to the public, and to the shooters themselves. and try to understand ahead of time how these things would be interpreted. if you listened to chief moose and the message, i think it would have been clear when he was trying to speak to the shooter. often those press conferences ended with, we will not be able to take any questions at this point. and he said carry the question and carry it directly. >> we have to do and say certain things. you asked us to say, quote, we have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose, end quote. >> quite frankly, we used the media to our advantage also to get our messages out and to correspond with the snipers. coming up -- >> i had my 3-year-old daughter in my hand. and i would get out of my hand and run. >> we're reporting on things on how to walk in a zigzag pattern. how to stand near the gas pump,
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squat, so you're not so much a target. citizens in the d.c. area take drastic measures to stay safe.
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once again, john siegenthaler in early october 2002, people are stunned by the news that there is a sniper. he's already shot and killed six people when he targets a teenage boy. with only bullet fragments and a
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mysterious message as evidence, police are desperate to find him before he takes another life. >> now, not only do people think the kids are at risk, people know the kids are at risk. people know children are targets. >> because parents feel like they can protect their kids, walk from school and be okay. we, the police, feel like we can protect people. those who are normally in some sort of protection role can't protect anyone. it is a feeling of helplessness and fear that everyone shared in, including the police. and you didn't feel like you could protect yourself or your loved ones the way you should be able to. >> my mom didn't want to go by any parks or anything like that, so we've been walking down these
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main roads here. >> it's terrible. you walk outside, you've got to look around before you even walk through the parking lot to make sure it's safe to get to your car, the store, wherever you're trying to go. >> a lot of times you look at other people and you find they're looking at you, too. >> this could take weeks. to catch him. and so we can't hide for weeks. >> traumatized by the deaths of so many innocent people in such a short period of time, d.c. area residents turn to the police for answers. >> the person or the people doing this have shown the willingness and the ability to kill people of any age, any gender, any race, any day, any time, anywhere. >> everything you did on a daily basis, doing your normal routine, putting gas in your vehicle, walking across the parking lot, it affected everything. >> we do crazy stuff driving up to stores, making sure we
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dropped off the kids right at the front door. we're reporting on things how not to be a target for a sniper. how to walk in a zigzag pattern. how to stand near the gas pump, maybe squat so you're not so much of a target. >> i had my 3-year-old daughter in my hand. and i would get out of my car and run, feeling if there was somebody out there, a moving target is much harder to hit than if i'm walking or standing still. >> it was turning into a ghost town in the d.c. area. people didn't want to go out shopping. people didn't want to send their kids to school. people lost their jobs because they would not go to work. nobody wanted to be here today and gone today. >> there were, i believe, four or five shootings that were in this particular zip code that we serve. so, we felt like we were right in the middle of it. >> a lot of carriers did not want to go on the street feeling they would be a target. and sometimes they would refuse to go out and would even go home sick.
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we're out in the field. sometimes they're standing still at mailboxes, so you would be an easy target wednesday, october 9th, just after 8:00 p.m., after a light rain falls over virginia, 30 miles from downtown d.c., a shot rings out at another gas station. this time 53-year-old dean harold myers, a vietnam veteran awarded the purple heart, is killed with a single bullet to the head. hoping to trap the killer, police throw a dragnet operation into effect, closing interstate on and off ramps throughout the county. >> one of the problems we faced in our coverage of this was if we reported where road blocks were, the snipers who we thought were probably listening would know that and would go someplace else. so we had to be very general in the information that we provided. eventually, we would tell listeners, there's been a shooting and there's police activity somewhere in northern virginia.
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>> the wall of traffic begins at van buren street. >> it rose to a level of complete panic. the media itself fell victim because they had family, kids, everybody. they lived in this area. some of the media personalities would come up and say, this is what i want to say. this is what i heard. and i just want to know if you think this will trigger a shooting. some are ethical concerns what they would put out and whether it was helping or hurting the situation. >> on october 11th rat 10:00 a.m. a crowd gathers outside a church for the funeral of sonny buchanan. >> i was covering a funeral and thought that would be my sniper story for the day. i was preparing for my next report and heard there had been another shooting. >> this time in fredericksburg,
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virginia, the sniper shoots and kills ken netting h. bridges, beloved and respected businessman and father of six. >> this morning at approximately 9:35 a.m., the sheriff's office responded to the exxon station at route 1 and intersection of i-95 in reference to a black male being shot. rescue squad responded. the victim was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. >> i remember going home, sitting down and sort of just thinking, what if this doesn't ever stop? >> the public was looking to us, asking us, what do we do? and we didn't have the answers for them. >> in terms of the suspect or suspects, we don't have enough information at this point to narrow it down and eliminate anyone. >> there were so many days when we had so little. there was so many days when i
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felt like we just can't solve this that the only thing there was faith and prayer. >> people began to become more aware of each other as opposed to just doing your own thing. praying was important. being who we are despite what was happening, knows non-negotiables helped us. >> many of us operate day to day just on the premise that we're safe, that we can go back and forth to work and things we do and we'll be safe. and this took that away temporarily. anybody from any background, any description, could be the next target. >> october 14th, 9:00 p.m., 12 days into the killing spree, 47-year-old linda franklin, a cancer survivor, is shot and killed as she helps her husband
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load their suv outside a home improvement store. once again, there are no witnesses, no new evidence. but the next morning, police receive an ominous phone call. >> police know this isn't the work of a single sniper. >> these people were fundamentally as brutal as anybody i've ever dealt with. the casual attitude they had about shooting people they didn't even know was just unbelievable to me.
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>> five days later, on saturday, october 19th, a restaurant in ashland, virginia, becomes the next crime scene. jeffrey hopper vacationing from florida with his wife is the 12th victim. he's shot in the stomach and survives the attack. police determined that the bullet was fired from a wooded area near the restaurant. as they search for clues they found a plastic bag tacked to a tree. inside is a handwritten message from the killers. >> that message was, you give us ten million, we'll stop killing people. you don't give us ten million, the next one's on you. >> just ahead -- >> the panic began to come back. it was gone. the shootings had moved from montgomery county. now they were back. >> the killings come full circle.
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don't say anything, just listen. we're the people that are causing the killing in your area. >> nine people have been killed, three wounded. based on an anonymous phone call, police now suspect there are at least two snipers involved in a killing spree that has terrorized parts of virginia and maryland for nearly three weeks. in addition to receiving the threatening call from the killers, investigators found a fingerprint at the crime scene, along with a letter demanding $10 million. >> i think they truly believed they could intimidate government into giving them a whole bunch of money. and the fact of the matter is they got awful close. there was conversation about
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let's get the money together and give it to them just so they stop. late october, that was the mind set, let's give them the money and chase them after that. we've got to stop the killings. >> but the killing doesn't stop. on tuesday, october 22nd, tragedy, once again, strikes montgomery county. at 6:00 a.m., a man is shot standing on the steps of a city bus. >> i live a mile away. the alarm clock didn't wake me up but all the helicopters overhead did. it was all over the news that it happened right here across from the post office.
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>> paramedic ty dement is the first to arrive at the scene. he finds conrad johnson still alive but greatly wounded. >> conrad wanted to use my cell phone. because he wanted to call home. and because he was so calm and things seemed to be going so well, i assured him that he would be able to use the phone when he got to the hospital. conrad was never able to make that phone call. and i wish today i would have let him use my cell phone. >> within the hour, news of conrad johnson's death sends a new wave of panic throughout the community. >> some operators, they drove their bus back to the garage. some of them didn't even say, hi, how are you doing? we just hugged each other and
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cried. >> the panic began to come back. it was like, oh, my god, it's been gone. i mean, the shootings were taking place but they had moved from montgomery county. now they were back. >> when police comb a wooded area 50 yards from the bus stop, they find a plastic bag containing another note from the snipers. >> in that note they said, we warned you. you didn't pay any attention to us. now pay the price. >> investigators now fear the killing spree will only escalate. but within hours they get the break they've needed, a phone call to the fbi hotline from robert holmes, a gulf war veteran, living in tacoma, washington. after seeing a tv news report on the type of assault rifle used and a possible profile of the shooters, holmes immediately suspects a former army buddy who shared his fascination with guns and had used a tree stump in his backyard for target practice.
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>> john had attempted to make a silencer and he was test firing it to see if it was quiet or if he could even make one. >> fbi agents remove evidence that will later confirm holmes' suspicion. up next -- >> we were almost holding our breath as we were executing the approach to the vehicle. >> 21 days of terror finally comes to an end.
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after three weeks of unsolved shootings in and around the d.c. metropolitan area in which 13 people have been shot, 10 fatally, the police now have three key pieces of evidence. a fingerprint, dna from a plastic bag, and ballistics from tacoma, washington. but even more encouraging to investigators, after analyzing the data, they now have the names of two suspects, john
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allen muhammad and lee malvo. he is a twice divorced gulf war veteran who converted to islam. malvo is an impressionable 17-year-old who, after growing up without a father, has found that relationship with muhammad. >> the information eventually got out over the local media. and the lookout for the vehicle was put out. >> may be driving a chevrolet caprice, blue, burgandy, 1990. and the license plate number nda-21z, nda-21z. >> sometime after midnight on october 24th, a truck driver pulls into a rest stop off the beltway. parked among the 18-wheelers is a blue chevy caprice matching the police description. >> i got a call from one of my sergeants and he told me the
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vehicle had been located. i remember it was a crisp and quiet night as we approached the rest stop. the area was contained. part of the story was there were a lot of truck drivers there. they basically had put their 18-wheelers in a position where if the suspects had decided to try to get out, it was going to be difficult for them. we were almost holding our breath as we were executing the approach to the vehicle. obviously, we were pretty sure we had the right subject at this point. we knew there was a significant possibility of a shootout. >> the two suspects, john allen muhammad and lee malvo were asleep in the vehicle. within minutes, police take them into custody. >> we made a decision not to
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search the car until daylight. upon searching the car we discovered the gun. we were waiting for people from atf to come back and say everything's in order, all of the tests are positive, you've got the right gun, you've got the right people. when the people from atf came into the office with all of the key members from the task force and said everything checks out, we patted each other on the back, we hugged each other. grown men, you know, feeling that moment of relief. and then certainly the really positive piece was knowing that now we could go out and tell the community that the nightmare was over. >> we are gathered to share some information with regards to a sniper situation. >> i was at the press conference where the police stood up and
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said, we've got two suspects in custody. very rarely will you ever go to a press conference where the reporters applaud. and they applauded when the police said that. >> when it was over, when they were finally in custody, a tremendous sense of relief that spread throughout the region. you felt like you had your life back again. it was almost like you were let out of this psychological jail. >> that morning after the arrest, i went directly to my wife's school and sort of walked in. you know, she was surprised to see me. and i just gave her a really big hug. and i just said, we got him. i'm about to tear up right now because i can still remember that was when a lot of the pressure seemed to be gone.
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>> waking up, picking up the newspaper, it was huge, bold print, it's over. and everybody knew what it meant. and i think everybody breathed a collective sigh of relief. >> life got back to normal. and it was waking up the friday morning after we caught them and not hearing the helicopters, not seeing the helicopters. it was the next day driving to conrad johnson's funeral noticing that the leaves had changed color. that fall had gone on all around me and i hadn't noticed at all. >> to visit the schools, to talk to people, to hear stories about children going out for recess and kissing the ground and smelling the flowers and saying that they now had a different perspective of what it feels like to go outside, to breathe, to play, to run.
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you were just hoping that this never changes. >> a year later, malvo and muhammad are tried and convicted in virginia. malvo receives life in prison without parole. muhammad gets the death penalty. >> i've covered a lot of crimes. i've covered serial killers, serial rapists, horrific murders in and around the city of washington, but nothing, nothing equals the terror the snipers brought to our city. >> to honor those killed, in 2004, a memorial was built in montgomery county's brookside gardens. >> these aren't names and pictures. these are people who had loving families, who gave an awful lot to their family, who contributed in so many ways.
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that's why we have done so much for the families to let them know their loved ones will not be forgotten, their contributions will not be forgotten. >> just to watch people celebrate the little things. the fact that you could go about your business. you could go outside. you could stand on the corner and feel comfortable. people actually were celebrating life. and now we are living better lives as a result of those three weeks where we weren't sure what the future may hold.
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that's our report. i'm john siegenthaler. this morning on "meet the press", the ebola outbreak, a second case in the united states as a texas health care worker tests positive for the virus after treating thomas eric duncan, the very first person to die of ebola in the country. the politics of fear. >> we have an ebola outbreak and bad actors who can come across the border. >> are politicians pushing the panic button in a last-minute effort to win in november. and the war against isis. the u.s. talks tough. >> we will follow them to the gate cans of hell. >> but after hundreds of air strikes, the terror group is gaining ground. >> so you are be

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