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Authorities Identify a Suspect in 24 Highway Shootings

Arrest warrant is issued for a Columbus man in the sniper attacks, which killed one woman.

March 16, 2004|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — Law enforcement officials in Ohio on Monday identified a 28-year-old man as a suspect in sniper shootings that have terrorized residents in Columbus for the last 11 months.

Officials from the Franklin County Sheriff's Department said they were looking for Charles A. McCoy Jr. of Columbus.

An arrest warrant was issued Monday night charging him with felonious assault.

McCoy is believed to be driving a dark green 1999 Chevrolet Geo Metro, license plate CGV7387, the department said. The four-door sedan has a black hood, authorities said, and matches the description of the car seen by witnesses in recent attacks.

The address traced to the license plate of McCoy's car is approximately half a mile from Interstate 270, where many of the 24 shootings have occurred since the first incident was reported May 10.

Associated Press reported Monday night that a light was on in the split-level house but that the curtains were drawn and no one answered the door.

As people milled about, a woman removed a "for sale" sign that had been posted outside and drove away. The house reportedly had been on the market six months.

Neighbors said they recognized a photo of the suspect but none said they knew him.

Sheriff's officials described McCoy as Caucasian, 5-foot-7, 185 pounds, with brown hair and green eyes.

Chief Deputy Steve Martin would not discuss details of the evidence that led them to McCoy.

However, he told reporters that authorities had determined that McCoy recently purchased a gun.

McCoy is "considered armed and dangerous," Martin said. "The key issue for us is to locate him."

Most of the shootings occurred last fall and were clustered along a stretch of I-270 that cuts through the suburbs of Grove City and Obetz.

One woman, 62-year-old Gail Knisley, was fatally wounded Nov. 25.

Other bullets have shattered windshields, slammed into a school bus and flattened tires.

The most recent incident occurred Feb. 14, when a bullet was fired through the passenger side of a minivan.

Witnesses to that shooting said they saw a clean-cut, dark-haired man in his 30s, wearing a hat and sunglasses, standing on a highway overpass and firing a handgun.

Authorities have not released information about the type of gun that was used in the shootings, saying they don't want detectives or the public to focus their suspicions too narrowly.

Authorities have also contacted investigators involved in the Washington sniper case, as well as the detectives who caught Thomas Lee Dillon, who shot five hunters to death in southeast Ohio in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

For months, local investigators say, they have questioned hundreds of people about the shootings, and consulted daily with the FBI.

FBI officials declined to discuss the case late Monday.

The randomness of the violence has terrified residents, who said they began to make subtle adjustments to their lives.

Now, with a suspect named, they hope their fear of driving on the highways will soon be gone.

"We just want this all to be over," said Jerri Decker, 65, who lives less than a mile from where several of the shootings occurred.

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