Phoenix’s top prosecutor said Wednesday that a string of freeway shootings that has left the desert city on edge are acts of domestic terrorism, but he acknowledged there’s no state terrorism law to bring against those responsible.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said that the shootings qualify as terrorism in a general sense because they have caused motorists to divert from their normal driving routines.
"My reason for using that terminology, again, is to underscore how serious law enforcement is taking this threat to the public and recognizing what the impact has been," the prosecutor said.
Montgomery said the state’s terrorism laws enacted after 9/11 focus more on protecting public utilities from attack, but they wouldn’t apply to the freeway shootings.
Instead, those held responsible for the shootings could face state endangerment, criminal damage and aggravated assault charges, said Montgomery, adding that nothing has surfaced to suggest the case would be handled by federal prosecutors.
Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead, whose agency is leading the investigation, has previously called the incidents “domestic terrorism crimes.”
Danielle Wallace, an assistant professor at Arizona State University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, disagreed with the characterization.
"It's a little extreme. We don't know what the motivation is of the shooter. It's kind of hard to say what it is until we know," Wallace told The Associated Press. "Who knows what this person is doing? They could just be mimicking another crime that's happened recently."
Authorities are investigating 11 confirmed vehicle shootings since Aug. 29, mostly along a stretch of Interstate-10. Some involve bullets and other came from other projectiles including BBs, pellets or rocks. No motive has been established.
Authorities announced Wednesday that they would be using 16 all-digital billboards across the metro area to advertise the $50,000 reward being offered for information leading to an arrest in the case. Officers handed out thousands of fliers in neighborhoods near Interstate 10 in hopes of getting a break in the case.
Phoenix officers also hit the streets in communities near the freeway to help spread the word and hand out fliers on important information regarding the shootings, according to Fox 10 Phoenix.
Officers spokes to people at several businesses from coffee shop drive-thrus to convenience stores, the Fox affiliate reported.
"It has a lot of information I didn't know about, it'll help, it'll help society get this guy," an unnamed resident told the station.
There has been only one injury throughout the series of incidents. A 13-year-old girl’s ear was cut by a glass shattered window of the vehicle she was riding in.
Arizona state police were questioning a 19-year-old man last Friday in the case of the shootings.However, he was jailed on an unrelated charge. Authorities have declined to say why they detained the man.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.