KC police add 7 new cases to probe of highway shootings

04/09/2014 12:07 PM

08/06/2014 10:51 AM

Kansas City police are investigating about 20 shootings that could be part of a pattern of recent highway and roadway shootings.

The number likely will fluctuate daily, police said, as detectives continue to learn of new cases, review them for similarities and decide which ones should be pursued further or ruled out.

About seven new cases were added Wednesday to a possible pattern of 13 shootings since March 8 that police analysts identified over the weekend.

Also Wednesday, investigators said they were looking into another incident, the shooting of a Leawood house, as possibly being part of the pattern.

Leawood homeowners reported finding a bullet hole in their house March 28 not far from where someone shot at a motorist March 29 on Interstate 435 near State Line Road in a separate incident. The homeowners weren’t home at the time, so they don’t know exactly when it occurred but believe it was between March 25 and 28.

The timing and vicinity lead police to include it in their investigation of the 13 roadway shootings, police said.

“We can’t say for certain if it’s related to anything else, but we’re not ruling anything out” just because it’s not a car, said Capt. Tye Grant, the Police Department’s top spokesman.

The house shooting was one of the new details discussed at Wednesday’s briefing, attended by Police Chief Darryl Forté, his analysts and detectives, federal agents and highway troopers. Forté has called for daily briefings on the investigation and said he provides updates to Mayor Sly James daily and police board members regularly.

As soon as police detected the pattern, Forté asked for help from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Specially trained ATF dogs were out again Wednesday looking for shell casings at various shooting scenes, including Bruce R. Watkins Drive and 75th Street, where a victim not counted among the 13 was shot at Friday night.

Police on Wednesday also discussed how to control misinformation circulating about the string of shootings, which is drawing national media attention.

Police have said they linked several of the 13 shootings to one another, but they won’t reveal how or how many, because they think it would be detrimental to the investigation. They are also employing various strategies to prevent future shootings and arrest the shooter or shooters, but they don’t want to divulge those details.

“There are a lot of things I’d like to talk about,” Forté said. “But it wouldn’t be prudent.”

The shootings started to occur sporadically in early March but accelerated last week with shootings reported every day from Wednesday through Sunday. No new shootings have been linked to the pattern since Sunday, Grant said.

Analysts are looking into reports of gunshots on roadways prior to March 8 to see if additional shootings fit the possible pattern. Detectives are prioritizing new reports generated by analysts or other agencies into stacks of shootings that likely are related and ones that are less likely.

Police also beefed up patrols in the areas where shootings occurred.

More than 30 tips had been called in to the TIPS Hotline by Wednesday afternoon, authorities said.

Eleven of the originally recognized 13 shootings occurred on highways. Ten of those occurred in Kansas City, with others in Leawood, Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit.

All of the shootings have occurred near highway ramps or road splits, where the shooter could veer off in a different direction from the victim after firing shots. But police said they are open to the possibility that the shooter could be on the ground hiding, although they have no evidence to support that.

“We are confident that some have occurred from vehicles,” Forté said. “In other cases, we don’t know.”

The shootings have wounded three people — two in the leg and one in the arm.

“We have been extremely lucky that no one has been seriously hurt,” Grant said. “These acts have real consequences. People could die, and the person doing this could go to prison for the rest of their life. It is not a game.”

Police have recovered at least six bullets from vehicles and one from a victim’s arm. The bullets appear to come from a handgun.

Detectives recovered an eighth bullet from another similar case that wasn’t counted in the original 13 reports.

In that case, a Johnson County woman was driving on Bruce R. Watkins Drive near 75th Street about 7:45 p.m. Friday when she heard a loud bang. She thought at first a rock had been kicked into her car by another vehicle, but she could not see any other vehicles close to her. The next night, her husband spotted a bullet hole on the passenger side of her car near the trunk.

“In my case, I really don’t think the gunfire was coming from a vehicle,” she said.

She drove to a police station Sunday to report it. Police initially didn’t take her report very seriously, she said. But when she called the TIPS Hotline on Monday after hearing about the other cases, a detective called her right back, she said.

She said she plans to avoid highways when possible until police make an arrest.

A 66-year-old Kansas City, Kan., man who was shot at Saturday afternoon said he also plans to stick to streets and now carries a gun.

In his case, he was eastbound on Interstate 670 downtown just west of the Interstate 35 exit when he heard a loud noise that he immediately recognized as gunfire. He noticed two cars nearby, one of them white.

Two other victims also saw white cars near them when they were targeted.

The 66-year-old couldn’t safely pull over until he exited the highway. That’s when he saw the hole in his rear driver-side door.

“It’s just somebody crazy,” he said. “They’re either on drugs or lacking attention. I don’t know.”

Another man shot at Saturday said a car with three to four occupants nearly barreled into him from an entrance ramp onto Interstate 49 near Red Bridge Road. He slammed on his brakes to avoid a collision, he said.

The occupants waved their middle fingers at him and “I saluted back,” he said. An occupant then pointed a gun at him. The man said he showed the occupants that he, too, had a gun.

The occupants braked and positioned themselves on the rear passenger side of his car. He took the ramp to Interstate 435, and the other men followed. At Bannister Road, after the other men exited, one of them fired a round at the victim.

Although the incident involved some “road rage,” the victim said he thinks the incident fits the pattern of the other shootings.

“These guys were up to no good,” he said. “They just took me completely by surprise when they nearly hit me. I think they were trying to cause an incident.

“One of the guys was looking at me like, ‘I got you,’ ” he said.

The Star isn’t naming the victims for their protection.

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