PHOENIX – Police have detained a man who they believe may have ties to a string of freeway shootings that have rattled Phoenix over the past two weeks.
It's not clear whether the man detained Friday after he was arrested at a convenience store near Interstate 10 is the only person of interest. The shooting scenarios have varied, said a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. Some shootings involved bullets fired at random cars, others involved projectiles — possibly BBs or pellets — and one was apparently road rage, spokesman Bart Graves said.
Phoenix drivers have been unnerved since the shootings began Aug. 29, mostly along Interstate 10, a major route through the city. Many drivers have avoided freeways since then. Eight of the cars were hit with bullets and three with projectiles that could have been BBs or pellets. One girl's ear was cut by glass as a bullet shattered her window.
In a press release, the Department of Public Safety identified the man detained on Friday a 19-year-old from a Phoenix suburb. The department would not provide more information linking him to the shootings other than to say he was being questioned and that he had been booked into jail on an unrelated possession of marijuana charge.
Graves had said earlier Friday that investigators were questioning the man "about a number of things" besides the freeway shootings, but he declined to disclose what that entailed.
Speaking to Fox 10 in Phoenix (KSAZ-TV) from the back of a squad car after being apprehended, the man said officers surrounded him and his mother, guns drawn, after he bought a pack of cigarettes and a drink. He said officers had been aggressive with him, aggravating his back injury.
Witnesses said law enforcement officers seemed to be waiting for the man to appear at the convenience store and moved in quickly, surrounding his white Chevrolet Tahoe with unmarked vehicles. Graves said the SUV was being examined for any evidence that might connect it to 11 confirmed shootings.
"What you saw occur today is a result of a lot of troopers on the road, a lot of detectives on the road, a lot of undercover and marked vehicles, just a lot of work by our detectives trying to solve this case," Graves said.
Josie Duarte had thought something was odd when she arrived for work at a nearby dental clinic earlier Friday and noticed 10 unmarked cars along with a marked police truck parked behind her office. She only realized what was up when she saw the same cars swarm the parking lot of the Chevron station and convenience store.
Marco Mansilla watched it unfold while getting coffee at an adjacent McDonald's restaurant. The lot was suddenly teeming with law enforcement, and when he tried to leave, an officer told him to "go back in the store. It's not safe."
Mansilla said he asked an officer, "What happened? Is that the sniper guy?" He said the officer declined to answer, saying only "enjoy your breakfast."
On his way back to his window-tinting business across the street, Mansilla said he saw the man sitting inside a police car while four officers watched over the woman, who was in handcuffs.
"She was in shock," Mansilla said.
Store clerk Sara Kaur said she was the one who sold the man cigarettes, at about 9:15 a.m., moments before between 15 to 20 cars swarmed in and officers handcuffed him. She described him as a regular customer, and she said she's "never had a problem with him."
Authorities have appealed for help through social media, news conferences, TV interviews and freeway message boards, whose messages morphed from "report suspicious activity" to "shooting tips" to the more ominous "I-10 shooter tip line."
Many of the thousands of tips proved to be false leads. In Arizona, windshields are frequently cracked by loose rocks sent airborne by the tires of other vehicles.
Longtime residents still remember a string of random shootings that terrorized Phoenix a decade ago. Nearly 30 people were shot then, and eight killed, including a cyclist who was riding down the street and a man who was sleeping at a bus stop. Two men were eventually caught and convicted.
Associated Press writers Josh Hoffner, Terry Tang, Brian Skoloff and Walter Berry contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that the Department of Public Safety says there are multiple scenarios, not necessarily multiple shooters.