Dispatches > The Buzz

Columbus copycat?

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 2003," Dec. 13, 2003

Insanity was a word that echoed frequently throughout the Washington area during last year's sniper spree that claimed 10 lives. It just seemed insane, the way innocents were picked off randomly as they went about their daily lives, or the way millions of people could feel like hostages to a madman with a rifle and a grudge.

If it was insanity, however, then it seems to be contagious.

On Dec. 2, another motorist along Interstate 270 south of Columbus, Ohio, reported to police that her car had been hit by a bullet. That brought to 11 the number cars that have come under fire since the shooting spree began last month. Police determined that the same gun was also used in a shooting at Hamilton Central Elementary School, where students are still under the watchful eyes of sheriff's deputies.

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So far, there has been only one fatality: On Nov. 25, 62-year-old Gail Knisley died after a bullet penetrated the door of the car she was riding in.

But if the Columbus shootings have been less deadly than those in Washington, they've been nearly as disruptive. Businesses along the interstate report that revenues have plummeted. Officials have distributed maps to help teachers get to school without using the interstate. Nearly 20 percent of parents are keeping their children out of school, and those who do attend have to stay indoors for recess.

More than 750 tips have poured into law-enforcement offices, and investigators who worked on the Washington case are lending their expertise in Ohio.

The new wave of shootings coincides with the trial of 18-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, one of the accused Washington snipers. His attorneys, not surprisingly, have pleaded insanity, claiming he was brainwashed and turned into a killing machine by his mentor, John Allen Muhammad. Mr. Muhammad already faces the death penalty in Virginia after being convicted last month.

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