A group of Arizona residents have decided to take the investigation into a string of vehicle shootings along an eight-mile stretch of Interstate 10 into their own hands.
Members of the so-called “Bolt Force,” dressed in all black, wearing body armor and armed with semi-automatic weapons, said Wednesday that they plan to do foot patrols in part of Phoenix in hopes to catch a possible shooter who has been terrorizing the community.
With residents already on edge, someone tipped off the authorities about the group and reported one of the members as being suspicious, according to KSAZ. Police ended up detaining and questioning the leader of the group, known as “Bolt.”
"The communication error caused resources to be drawn to me instead of the shooter which is bad, and it wasn't a result of me, it was a result of a breakdown of communication," he said. "Today I was out alone scouting and looking for shell casings, but I relayed that to law enforcement agencies, someone is going to get hurt or killed, and we are adding another element to this, I believe our presence at night in the dark can be effective.”
The state Department of Public Safety said in a statement, “We would prefer they let us handle this investigation.”
The group told Fox 10 Phoenix they plan on surveying some of the overpasses where a shooter could be hiding and they’ve alerted Valley law enforcement agencies to their efforts
A truck’s passenger window was shattered on a Phoenix freeway Wednesday, bringing the total number of incidents to ten in ten days. Four cars were hit last week along the city’s main freeway. One bullet shattered a windshield and the broken class cut a 13-year-old girl. Other rounds hit a headlight and the side of vehicles.
Police announced on Tuesday 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. On Wednesday’s investigators raced to a gas station after the driver of a white truck pulled off Interstate 10 with a shattered window. The Department of Public Safety director called the incidents “domestic terrorism crimes.”
Anytime that you have multiple shootings against American citizens on a highway, that's terrorism," 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. Authorities were conducting surveillance and deploying undercover detectives and members of the SWAT team and a gang task force.
"Ten days, nine incidents," Milstead said at a news conference. "This is a real and continuing threat to Arizona motorists."
Authorities increased the award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the incidents from $5,000 to $20,000.
Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said the agency wouldn’t discuss whether any bullets had been recovered, whether the shooter or shooters fired from vehicles or alongside freeways and whether more than one weapon was involved. It’s also unclear whether all the shootings are related, police said.
"We're not going to give the nuts and bolts of our investigation," Graves said, adding that doing so "would help the bad guy."
The first shooting took place on Aug. 29, when gunfire shattered the window of an SUV. A tour bus that was empty except for the driver was targeted later that day, A third vehicle was damaged late that night, but investigators said the driver did not spot the damage until the next day.
In a statement, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said "the safety of Arizonans is our No. 1 priority, and we are committed to apprehending those responsible for these crimes."
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.
Law enforcement officials who helped crack the cases in Ohio and Michigan described the difficult task of nabbing a suspect in highway shooting investigations.
The efforts require a large number of officers who are ready to flood an area immediately after shots are fired, said Lt. Ron Moore, who commanded a Michigan task force that investigated the 2012 spree in which 23 vehicles were shot on or near Interstate 96.
"You have to bring all the resources you can to bear on the problem — and that's exactly what we did," said Moore, an officer in Wixom, Michigan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.