Published March 16, 2004
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Police in Ohio are on the hunt for the highway sniper who has terrorized the Columbus area for months and left one woman dead.
Officials announced Tuesday that they believe Charles A. McCoy Jr. (search), 28, is the elusive gunman linked to two dozen highway shootings. They warned that the suspect has a history of mental health problems and is believed to be armed and dangerous.
"The key issue for us right now is to locate this guy," said Steve Martin, chief deputy of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office (search). "We believe he bought another gun."
The sheriff's office said McCoy lived within miles of where the so-called Ohio sniper's bullets struck homes, school buses, vans, cars, delivery trucks and tractor-trailers.
The suspect is a 5-foot-8, 185-pound white male with brown hair and green eyes, the sheriff's office said. The car is a dark green 1999 Geo Metro with a black hood.
A bulletin from investigators to other police departments said McCoy was believed to have a semiautomatic pistol and ammunition.
"McCoy has had mental health issues in the past and is currently not on medication," the notification read. "He is believed to have suicidal or homicidal tendencies."
Since May, two dozen sniper shootings have targeted vehicles and buildings around Interstate 270, which circles Columbus, and other highways. Most of the shootings have happened since October; the latest was on Feb. 14.
Martin would not say what evidence led investigators to McCoy, but newspaper and television reports said Tuesday that McCoy's family gave authorities at least one of his guns.
The Columbus Dispatch, citing unidentified sources, said a relative contacted police and that McCoy could be a suspect.
The newspaper reported that McCoy's father, Charles Sr., later gave police a 9 mm Beretta handgun, and on Monday it was ballistically matched to some of the bullet fragments recovered in the shootings.
A woman cleaning snow off her car in the driveway of the father's home refused to comment Tuesday.
McCoy's mother, Ardith, who lives with her son a few miles from McCoy's father, filed a missing person report with Columbus police on Monday, saying she had not seen her son since Friday.
She said he was upset over a possible move and withdrew $600 from a bank account, saying he was going to a restaurant-bar known for its array of video games.
Earlier, a neighbor, Janet Taylor, said she saw McCoy leave his mother's house on Monday. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy between the neighbor's account and the mother's report to police.
Martin's office, which is in charge of the investigation, would not release any details about the case Tuesday morning.
In the three most recent shootings, witnesses described seeing someone aiming at them while standing next to a car. Their descriptions of the suspect and car were similar to information the sheriff's office released Monday.
"I don't know if he's still local," Martin said. "We don't have any reason to believe he's not."
Investigators filed an arrest warrant late Monday for McCoy on a charge of felonious assault in a Dec. 15 shooting that damaged a house.
Nicole Sewald, 28, lived across the street from McCoy and told Fox News on Tuesday that she was surprised to know how close she was to the suspect.
"I just really couldn't even believe that it was that close to home," she said. "I am still amazed that I was actually that close to him and know him."
Though others in the community have described McCoy as "angry," Sewald called him "quiet," but said she'd never actually had a conversation with him.
"I know that other neighbors have had problems with him — nothing that I've encountered," she told Fox.
Sewald's son attends an elementary school struck one night by the shooter.
Since May, the sniper shootings have targeted vehicles and buildings around Interstate 270, which circles Columbus, and other highways. Most of the shootings have occurred since October; the latest was on Feb. 14.
The only person hit, Gail Knisley (search), 62, was fatally wounded Nov. 25 while riding in a car on I-270.
Lab tests showed that bullets from nine of the shootings were fired from the same gun. The others were linked by location and circumstance.
From the beginning, Martin has said investigators believe the shooter is familiar with the area around I-270. Although the last four shootings were on other highways, most of those that occurred through January were within about a 10-mile southern stretch of the interstate.
The warrant issued Monday charges McCoy with firing two rounds from a 9 mm handgun into an occupied residence near I-270. Authorities had not previously identified the type of gun used in the shootings.
Two bullet holes were found on the front of the house and a bullet was found in a bathtub. No one answered the phone there late Monday.
Several neighbors said they recognized McCoy from a photo released by investigators, although they barely knew him.
A light was on in the McCoys' split-level house but the curtains were drawn and no one answered the door. A real estate agent briefly drove up to remove a "for sale" sign from in front of the house.
"I think my husband said once that they were having trouble selling the house because the shootings in the area," Sewald said.
Edward Cable, whose minivan was hit by a bullet Nov. 21 as he was driving on a road near Interstate 270, said by telephone he was glad to hear a suspect was identified.
"I just hope they find him soon, and I wish it hadn't taken so long," the retired prison guard said. "If they do have concrete evidence that this guy was the one who did it, I hope they pick him up before someone else is shot."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.