FBI links shots fired at Pentagon and Marine museum
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 10:49 PM
Two shootings that targeted U.S. military buildings in Northern Virginia have been conclusively linked to the same weapon, and law enforcement officials think a third attack on a Marine Corps recruiting office this week could be part of the same unexplained spree.
Law enforcement officials announced Tuesday that ballistics tests linked bullets found at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle on Oct. 17 with evidence found at the Pentagon two days later. Both buildings are within range of busy interstate highways and are about 30 miles apart.
Law enforcement officials declined to discuss the type of weapon used in the shootings or the caliber of ammunition, but they have said previously that they believe the rounds were fired using a high-velocity rifle.
The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force has taken the lead in the investigation. Agents are working to do ballistics testing on material found at the scene of a shooting at a Marine Corps recruiting office in a Chantilly shopping center late Monday or early Tuesday. A Marine Corps recruiter found two bullet holes in the office's windows at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, although a Marine Corps official said the office has been closed for renovations.
Police say they are unsure what is motivating the shootings, and they are reluctant to speculate.
"We are working with local law enforcement to determine anything we can to provide us any clues," said Lindsay Godwin, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington field office. "I don't think at this point in time we are prepared to say this is a serial of any kind. But the targets are all blatantly military."
Although the Terrorism Task Force is leading the investigation, officials described that as a precaution because of the military targets. It is unclear whether the shootings are acts of terrorism.
The unknown shooter - or shooters - have targeted buildings late at night or early in the morning, when the buildings were either unoccupied or there was little chance of people being around. Police said that the attacks essentially amount to vandalism but that they are troubling and mysterious.
"So far, no one has been injured, so we don't have a reason to believe that they're trying to hurt someone, whoever this is," said Chris Layman, a spokesman for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency. "But it is a cause for concern that someone would be doing this."
Steven Weber, a political science professor at the University of California who has studied terrorist behavior, said investigators must consider a wide range of possibilities.
"It could be someone who holds a grudge against the military. It could be someone who believes by targeting military facilities they will get a lot of attention. It could be someone suffering from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] who believes someone in one of those buildings is responsible," Weber said. "Or it could be none of those things."
Spokesmen for the Marine Corps and the defense secretary's office declined to comment on the shootings Tuesday, referring calls to law enforcement officials.
The first shooting targeted the National Museum of the Marine Corps on Oct. 17. A cleaning crew discovered bullet holes in upper-level windows at the museum, whose design was inspired by the Iwo Jima Memorial and which can be seen rising above the trees along Interstate 95 near Quantico Marine Base.
Prince William County police searched Interstate 95 looking for clues last week and think that the shots probably were fired from the direction of the highway. Prince William Deputy Police Chief Barry Barnard said Tuesday that it was too early to speculate about a motive for the shots.
"At this stage, we don't know what anyone's intentions are, but we're certainly taking it seriously," Barnard said.
Two days after the shooting in Triangle, audible shots were reported at the Pentagon about 4:30 a.m., emanating from the direction of the south parking lot, which lines Interstate 395.
Two windows at the Pentagon were hit, and authorities analyzed bullet fragments taken from those windows. The damaged windows led to rooms that were unoccupied and are under renovation.
Fairfax County police said Tuesday that they were called to 13881 MetroTech Drive at 8:30 a.m. to investigate a vandalism at the Marine Corps recruiting office. Lucy Caldwell, a police spokeswoman, said an employee discovered two bullet holes in a window and one in an adjacent business.
"The target in the shooting appears to have been unoccupied buildings," Caldwell said.
Marine Sgt. Athanasios Genos, marketing and public affairs chief for the Frederick recruiting station, said the Chantilly location is a substation that has been closed for renovations and was unoccupied. Genos said a recruiter stopped by the office Tuesday and found the bullet holes.
"The office is down for renovations, and no one is working there right now," Genos said. "It is a recruiting station, but it's not currently being used due to internal renovations. I don't know if someone would know that from the outside."
Staff writer Jerry Markon and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.