Inside the mind of the ‘Beltway Sniper’

By Jaclyn Freese
October 24, 2002

images courtesy of and Montgomery County, Md. Police Department; complied by Rich Magda/editor in chief

The “Beltway Sniper” is an unusual case of a criminal mind, according to local authorities and faculty.

The sniper, who as of Tuesday, Oct. 22, has shot 13 people, killing 10 of them. All of the shootings have occurred in Washington D.C. and suburbs of Maryland and Virginia.

The sniper appears to be picking his victims at random, which is unusual for a serial killer.

“Usually, serial murderers have a certain victim in mind,” Kevin Steele, deputy district attorney of the trials division of Montgomery County, Pa., said. “These shootings appear to be completely at random.” Steele will be teaching criminal law next semester.

Police districts have special departments to profile criminals. Behavioral units, as they are called, attempt to piece together the mind and background of the perpetrator.

“The FBI certainly has their hands full with this person,” Steele said. “Serial killers are a lot easier to profile if they have a motive and the sniper seems to have no clear motive. It is evident, however, that the sniper knows the area very well because the shootings have been confined to a particular region.”

The sniper has taunted area residents by leaving behind evidence at the scenes of the shootings. In the shooting on Saturday, Oct. 19, the sniper left behind a lengthy message at the Ponderosa steakhouse, where a man was critically wounded. The message warned area residents, “Your children are not safe anywhere, at any time.”

Other evidence that has been left behind is a tarot death card and a message saying, “Dear Policeman, I am God” at the shooting at a Bowie, Md. school on Monday, Oct. 7, which wounded a 13-year-old boy.

“The sniper has left evidence, so he or she probably wants notoriety for his or her crimes,” Dr. Kathleen McKinley, sociology department chair, said. “These killers have socio-path aspects in them and expect impunity.”

Residents of the region remain fearful and alert. Many are scared to walk down the street, go to the grocery store and even pump gas in their cars because many of the shootings have occurred in public places.

“Montgomery County is 20 minutes away from where I live,” Michelle Murray, sophomore, said. “I figure if the sniper was willing to drive 50 miles away from D.C. to shoot, he or she could drive 20 minutes to Baltimore. Honestly, I am not all that worried, but I talk to my mom everyday and she is very worried.”

“While everyday life has not changed dramatically, police are everywhere,” sophomore Morgan Manago, who went home to Washington, D.C. over the Columbus weekend break, said.

Danielle Dorsey, a freshman, learned of something particularly eerie when she went to her father’s house in Washington D.C. over the weekend break.

“My sister was at the Home Depot two hours prior to when that woman was shot there on Monday night,” Dorsey said. “At first, I was not scared when I went home, but after I found out about my sister, I was very scared.”

Dorsey’s fear may be put to an end in the near future. The FBI has put together a composite sketch of a truck that was seen at many of the shootings as well as a description and partial license plate number of a white van with ladders on the top of it that was around the killings. They have also profiled the killer as a white male, aged 15-30, who probably lives in the D.C. area with a military background.

The sniper has apparently left police with a phone number to call and a ransom of “several million dollars” to comply with, according to an anonymous law enforcement source.

“Hopefully this person is caught soon,” Dorsey said. “It is a very scary time.”

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Jaclyn Freese

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