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Widespread Trail of Clues Led to Sniper Arrests - 2002-10-24

The hunt for the elusive sniper terrorizing the Washington-area took authorities from one side of the country to the other as investigators followed connections from the Washington D.C. suburbs to the southern U.S. state of Alabama and then to the western state of Washington.

The dramatic announcement of the arrest followed weeks of what appeared to be a hopeless investigation into the sniper killings that have terrorized the Washington area.

Maryland State policeman Greg Shipley said a tactical response team made up of local, state and federal officials took two men into custody early Thursday.

"These are specially-trained law enforcement officers who know how to react in tactical situations like this in order to ensure as much safety as possible. They simply - they approached the car, I don't know the specific tactical maneuvers they used. But they did it very carefully, very quickly, very efficiently, and these two individuals were taken into custody without any problem."

Police found John Allen Muhammad, 42 and John Lee Malvo, 42, sleeping in a car at a highway rest-stop. Authorities had been called to the scene by two witnesses after a nationwide alert had been issued for the car.

Authorities say the key break in the case came in a phone call to the sniper task force tip-line, suggesting investigators check out a September liquor store robbery in the southern U.S. city of Montgomery, Alabama. One person was shot dead and another seriously wounded in the incident, which until then was unconnected to the Washington sniper attacks.

"This Sunday night, our investigators received a call from the task force, stating that they had received some information from an unknown caller, referencing our shooting and our robbery and our murder here," said John Wilson, Montgomery, Alabama city police chief. "And that began our involvement at that point."

Chief Wilson did not give details of the Alabama evidence. But reports say investigators checking the Alabama tip found Mr. Malvo's fingerprint, which linked him to the home in Tacoma, Washington where he and Mr. Muhammad had been living.

On Wednesday, authorities descended on a home in Tacoma, Washington, where they gathered clues, including bullet fragments recovered from a tree stump outside of the house.

Shortly after, police issued the nationwide all points bulletin with precise details about the car that the suspects were captured in early Thursday. Police in Alabama have also issued an artist's drawing of the suspect in that shooting. Analysts have noted the similarity between that picture and one of the two suspects arrested Thursday.