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Published: Saturday, 12/20/2003

School buses added to highway-shooting list

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Authorities yesterday added the shootings of two school buses this week to the list of “related” shootings on or near the south outer belt, raising the total to 18 as the reward for the gunman s capture climbed to $40,000.

“Because of the lack of ballistic evidence as well as precise information as to the exact date and time that the buses were hit, investigators cannot be positive of this linkage,” said Chief Deputy Steve Martin of the Franklin County sheriff s department.

Ballistic tests have linked seven shootings, including the Nov. 25 death of Gail Knisley, to the same weapon. Eleven others are “related” by the area of the shootings, said investigators, who pinpointed dents on the rear right sides of the buses as bullet marks. They didn t find any bullets.

Chief Deputy Martin said the two South-Western City School District buses were added to the list of related shootings because they were close to a house at 901 Brown Rd. that was hit by two gunshots at about 12:30 a.m. on Monday.

Two days later, authorities announced that a bullet recovered from the second-floor bath tub was linked to the same weapon used to kill Mrs. Knisley along I-270. The house is the northernmost of the 18 shootings and is close to I-70 and I-71.

Two children between the ages of 10 and 14 were on a bus about a block away when the driver heard a noise that could have been a gunshot at 4:24 p.m. Tuesday or Wednesday.

Another bus was struck at about 7 a.m. Wednesday near I-270 south, but there were no children aboard.

Chief Deputy Martin said authorities will add shootings to the related list only if they are in the same area as a shooting linked to the weapon used to kill Mrs. Knisley. Chief Deputy Martin is the spokesman for the task force of federal, state, and Columbus area law enforcement agencies searching for the gunman or gunmen that many residents refer to as the “I-270 sniper.”

Charles Hall, 74, said he was watching television Sunday night on his enclosed porch when he heard the gunshots that hit the white house next door at 901 Brown Rd. He said he looked out the window to see the taillights of a vehicle speeding away and checked his TV to pinpoint that it was midnight. He said he didn t get a look at the vehicle s make or color.

He said a detective told him that the gunshots - which didn t strike anyone in the house - were probably from a vehicle traveling along Brown Road.

“I m beginning to think the guy is from around here if they shot at a school bus at 4:24 in the afternoon. He would be returning to the scene of the Sunday night crime,” he said.

“I think he s crazy. It may be two or three teenagers going around having fun. But then again, who knows? They re not killing people. If they wanted to kill people, they could be killing people,” said Mr. Hall, a retired transit authority bus driver.

Chief Deputy Martin said the number of leads phoned into the sheriff s department tip line totaled 2,350 as of yesterday. He said some “persons of interest” have not been eliminated as suspects.

Yesterday, area businesses increased the reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the person or persons behind the shootings to $40,000. The reward was set at $10,000 on Dec. 1, increased to $20,000 on Dec. 7, and then to $30,000 on Dec. 12.

The number of tips stood at 150 on Nov. 28 and totaled 1,950 on Dec. 12. Since then, an additional 400 calls have been received.

Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center for Violence at Northeastern University in Boston, said the $40,000 reward may be burying investigators in tips.

“Raising the amount of the reward keeps the case high-profile. But it s already high-profile. The problem with a reward is it brings every pathological liar out of the woodwork. The task force may get so many tips that they won t know how to manage them,” said Mr. Levin, author of The Will to Kill: Making Sense of Senseless Murder.



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