PHOENIX (KRON/AP) — Fear is growing over a possible serial freeway shooter as investigators look into the shootings of nine vehicles in the Phoenix-area over the past two weeks.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety called the incidents “domestic terrorism crimes” and has enlisted the help of federal and local agencies.
The shootings frayed nerves among drivers last week, when four cars were hit along Phoenix’s main freeway. One bullet shattered a windshield and cut a 13-year-old girl. The others hit a headlight and sides of vehicles.
Police on Tuesday announced that they were investigating five more shootings, including one that shattered the window of an off-duty police sergeant’s vehicle as he drove to work. They did not provide specifics on the other shootings.
“Anytime that you have multiple shootings against American citizens on a highway, that’s terrorism,” Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead said. “They’re trying to frighten or kill somebody.”
His agency brought in the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and local police to help with the investigation.
“Ten days, nine incidents,” Milstead said at a news conference. “This is a real and continuing threat to Arizona motorists.”
Police have been asking for the public’s help in identifying a suspect, including putting messages on freeway billboards urging people to report suspicious activity. They quadrupled the reward Tuesday to $20,000.
Milstead said drivers are fortunate that no one has been killed or seriously hurt, but he noted that if the incidents continue, “it’s just a matter of time before there is a tragedy.”
Police do not know if all nine of the shootings are connected or whether a copycat might be at work, he said.
The shootings began Aug. 29, when two vehicles were struck in a half-hour span on Interstate 10 between 19th and 59th avenues. A third vehicle was hit on the same freeway near 16th Street later that day.
A fourth vehicle was shot Aug. 31 in the same area.
On Tuesday, the Phoenix police sergeant’s personal vehicle had a passenger window shattered while he was driving to work before dawn on I-10 between 35th and 43rd avenues, according to DPS officials. He was not injured. Another shooting happened nearby a minute later.
The shootings brought back memories of other random highway and roadside shootings that have occurred around the country over the past decade, most notably the sniper attacks that terrorized the nation’s capital more than a decade ago.
In other cases, a man was convicted last year of terrorism charges after opening fire on a busy Michigan highway because he believed the drivers were part of a government conspiracy against him. An Ohio man took shots at several cars and houses over several months in 2003, killing one, before being caught and sent to prison.