Police said Wednesday that witnesses were not able to provide enough of a description to develop a helpful composite sketch of the man they said on Monday night got out of a white van, aimed, fired a rifle, got back in and left, killing 47-year-old Linda Gail Franklin, an FBI Intelligence Analyst from Arlington at a Home Depot near Falls Church.
Montgomery County police Capt. Nancy Demme confirmed earlier reports that witnesses saw the shooter actually fire the round that killed Franklin, the mother of two adult children, as she loaded bags from the Home Depot into her red convertible with her husband.
“There are a couple of people who believe they saw a man shoot, unfortunately distance and darkness and perhaps adrenaline have made them unable to give a clear composite that we can disseminate,” Demme said.
She said police were told by one witness that an AK-74 rifle was used in the shooting. The AK-74 can fire a .223-caliber bullet like the ones that have been conclusively linked nine deaths and two critical woundings at the hands of the sniper.
The AK-74 is a rifle developed in the Soviet Union and went into service in 1974, hence its number. It looks similar to the better known AK-47, which is also a Soviet weapon used in many Middle Eastern countries.
Jim Crandall, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said a semi-automatic version of an AK-74 that was in the United States before the ban on importation would be legal to own, barring any state or local laws prohibiting it.
He said the “ban” on the weapon was really a ban on it’s importation.
Demme said people have different perceptions of what they have seen and stressed that the police are going to continue to investigate the type of weapon used, although they are paying close attention to the witness’ reports.
“The witness firmly believes this is the weapon,” Demme said. “But we have to keep in mind that weapons are interchangeable, like vehicles.”
The same weapon has been used thus far in every one of the known crimes committed by the killer.
Demme said some witness reports describing the shooter’s looks were inconsistent. Some people reported seeing a Middle-Eastern looking male; some said he was white. Some witnesses said they saw one man; some claim to have seen two.
“The only common denominator thus far is male,” Demme said. “We don’t have a refined description to go by.”
She stressed that witnesses in the future should try to make note of the shooter’s permanent traits, such as height, build and complexion, in addition to characteristics that could be changed, such as hair length or clothing.
She encouraged citizens to keep a pen and paper handy and write their thoughts down soon after witnessing a shooting. Personal safety should be everyone’s first concern, however, Demme said.
In addition to the $500,000 reward being offered through the Montgomery County Task Force for information leading to the shooter’s arrest, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors is offering $25,000.
The tip-line run by the FBI is 1-888-324-9800. Prince William County Crime Solvers is (703) 670-3700. Manassas City Crime Solvers is (703) 330-0330. Spotsylvania County Crime Solvers is (540) 582-5822. To report suspicious white vans, dial #77, which will connect to a local state police barracks non-emergency line.
Staff writer Daniel Drew can be reached at (703) 878-8065.