Public Reporting Far More Gunshots

Monday, December 22, 2003
Misti Crane and Geoff Dutton
I-270 shootings

Mired in an investigation of 18 shootings in southern Franklin County, the sheriff’s office so far this month has fielded 149 reports of shots being fired — 59 percent more than in all of last December.

Authorities began to link shootings — and the public began to take notice — after the death of Gail Knisley, 62, of Washington Court House, who was shot while riding in a car on the south Outerbelt on Nov. 25.

But the number of reported shots appears to have been up even before the shootings became a daily fixture in the local and national news. In November, there were 126 reports, compared with 87 during that month last year, a 45 percent increase.

So far, however, the flurry of reports and the more than 2,548 calls to the sheriff’s office tip line as of yesterday haven’t been enough to lead police to the serial shooter.

In his daily briefing yesterday, Chief Deputy Steve Martin encouraged people to continue to call with any tips and asked the shooter or shooters to call authorities.

Anyone with an emergency to report should call 911, not the tip line. Martin said several people have called the line with "emergency-type" information.

Officials are poring through "stacks" of information collected Saturday by about 60 state, local and federal officers who talked to residents of six neighborhoods near the shootings, he said. He did not say if there were any strong leads, saying only that the information was still being processed.

Task force investigators have refused to discuss the caliber of the bullets they have matched or speculate on the type of weapon being used.

Dwight Van Horn, an investigator and firearms examiner who retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after 27 years, had a possible explanation.

Officials probably aren’t publicly identifying the gun because, in all likelihood, they don’t know with certainty what it is, he said.

Ballistics testing can prove bullets came from the same gun — as they have seven times in the south Outerbelt shootings — but still not pinpoint the type of weapon.

For example, the size of the slug fired by a 9 mm, .38 special and a .357 Magnum are "almost identical," he said. And a 9 mm handgun and rifle fire the same bullets.

Markings on a lead slug from the barrel typically allow investigators to narrow it down to a range of weapons, but not a specific make or even caliber.

Once a gun is recovered, it can be linked definitively to slugs recovered from crime scenes based on those barrel markings, even after the mangled pieces of lead have been dug out of a wall, car or body.

Anyone with information about the series of shootings is asked to call the tip line at 614-462-4646 or write to the task force at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, P.O. Box 360562, Columbus 43236-0562.