heard a shot

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

-Abraham Lincoln

Dean Meyers’ head exploded with enough force to fracture his skull in fourteen places and stream four quarts of his blood onto the rain-soaked concrete that glared the harsh reflection of the artificial gas-station lights reaching into the night of October 9th. It was two-days after Iran Brown had been shot outside his middle school, and six-days since the first morning of four killings.

Hundreds of bullets had been aimed at Meyers in what had seemed to him like another life, serving in the jungles of Vietnam as a volunteer infantryman in the US Army. Only one had managed to hit him, striking his left arm and earning him a Medal of Commendation. This bullet, however, was fired out of a Bushmaster rifle by a Sniper who’d already recorded a half-dozen kills in less than a week.

An attendant inside the gas station thought he’d just heard a tire explode, someone else dialed 911. Meyers was dead before what remained of his head slapped against the concrete curb.

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About thirty-six hours later, five miles away from where Caroline Seawell had been shot loading her minivan, Kenneth Bridges stopped at a gas station along I-95. It seemed like a safe place since fifty-yards away a Virginia State Trooper was stopped, lights flashing, at a fender-bender.

The bullet ripped into his left lung, aorta, and pulmonary artery before being stopped by his sternum. The State Trooper who stopped fifty-yard away ran to his body and began CPR, but by the time the ambulance arrived Bridges’ pulse was already gone. His family in Philadelphia heard about another sniper death on the news, began to worry, and then had their fears confirmed when a family friend recognized Bridges’ car on the news.

The response to these shootings combined with ongoing efforts to form a dragnet that was utterly unprecedented in American law-enforcement history.

The Virginia State Police closed down I-95, the main artery of the eastern seaboard that usually is four to six lanes wide, to only a single lane so they could inspect every single vehicle which traveled along that highway. The resulting traffic jam snaked south across Virginia and north into Maryland for miles and miles. Dozens of other law enforcement officers were staked out on the numerous overpasses that span I-95, inspecting the traffic passing beneath them and hoping their flak jackets and firearms would keep them safe.

These actions joined the initial law enforcement response that followed the morning of the first killing, when Maryland State Police were joined by the Secret Service and FBI in pulling over dozens and dozens of white box trucks in the first twenty-four hours after that rush-hour slaughter.

There is no official count of how many white box trucks were pulled over during the weeks of the attacks, the number is likely high into the hundreds. Law enforcement officers were pulling white box trucks over because from eye-witness accounts that was erroneously determined by Montgomery County police to be the model of vehicle that the gunfire was coming from.

Later it would become known that the vehicle that was responsible for the shootings, a dark blue Chevy Caprice, was briefly pulled over by police the night of the first killings for running two stop signs.

But nothing about it seemed overly suspicious, and it was dismissed with a warning by the officer who’d pulled it over.

All told, this same car would be stopped by police nearly a dozen times before the string of clues the investigation was following finally came to be tied to the Caprice. Of all the thousands of goose chases that federal, state, and local law enforcement officials – stretched well-beyond any previous crisis – were sent on from tips that were phoned in, only one eventually pointed them in the correct direction.

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In the preceding three-weeks thousands of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers had been working the case, all pulling over white box trucks because that’s what they assumed their target was driving.

But they were making another crucial error. They’d only been pulling over white males, this because the combined expertise of the FBI and other outside experts all argued that these had to be the machinations of a serial killer, and serial killers are predominately white males.

Chief Moose, the head of Montgomery County Police, had even gone so far as to order that only white males were to be pulled over by his officers, since Moose, himself an African-American, didn’t want to perpetuate racial stereotyping nor inflame racial tensions. It would be one of the most moronic and influential decisions made in the investigation of the case.

When the correct make and model of the Sniper’s vehicle was finally reported by CNN at 10:02pm on October 23rd, in less than four hours the vehicle would be spotted at an interstate truck rest-stop that was soon surrounded by policemen who cordoned the area off and then arrested the men inside the car in the early-morning hours. Had the case gone unsolved for two more weeks there’s no telling how the upcoming election would’ve been affected.

With parents unwilling to let their children play outside, gas stations stringing up tarps, and everyone buying lighter loads of groceries that could be tossed into the backseat instead of placed slowly in the trunk after they scurried as fast as they could to their cars – its almost unimaginable that anyone would be willing to stand, ducks in a row, in a line outside their polling place.

It didn’t come to that. Members of the ATF who were working the investigation were eventually able to tie the clues they’d collected together with one of the thousands of informants who’d called in say he thought he knew who the Sniper might be. When the culprits were caught it became clear that a large portion of the manhunt, easily the largest in American history, had been a thorough waste of time.

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