Tip leads to arrest in Indiana sniper case
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
UPDATED: 9:56 PM
Tip leads to arrest in Indiana sniper case
By Lesley Stedman Weidenbener and Dick Kaukas
INDIANAPOLIS — A 17-year-old Delaware County high school student was charged with murder Tuesday after police said he confessed to a series of interstate sniper shootings that left a New Albany man dead early Sunday morning.
Zachariah Blanton of Gaston was being held in the Jackson County Jail on charges of murder, attempted murder and criminal recklessness after a hearing before Jackson Superior Court Judge Bruce Markel.
As a 17-year-old charged with murder, Blanton will be tried as an adult in accordance with the law, said Jackson County Prosecutor Stephen Pierson.
Pierson said he doesn’t know whether he will seek the death penalty, in part because of the defendant’s age.
“It’s just a tragic situation all the way around,” he said. “I haven’t made up my mind, and I’m going to take my time.”
Blanton is charged in the death of Jerry L. Ross, 40, who was shot while riding in a pickup truck on Interstate 65 near Seymour.
He also is charged with wounding Robert John Otto Hartl, 25, of Audubon, Iowa, who was riding in another pickup in the same area early Sunday. Hartl was released after being treated at a Seymour hospital.
Police said Blanton also is responsible for two shootings that occurred about two hours later along I-69 near Muncie. Delaware County authorities have not charged him in those shootings.
State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell said the break in the case came when a Delaware County reserve deputy talked to someone who knew Blanton and was concerned that he might have been involved.
He said investigators followed up on the tip Monday night, searched Blanton’s home and found a Remington Model 710 rifle with a scope that fires a .270-caliber round.
Whitesell said that matches the type of weapon used in the shootings, but he said tests to confirm whether the weapon is actually the one that was fired have not been completed.
Suspect called cooperative, remorseful
Investigators who interviewed Blanton Tuesday in Delaware County said he was cooperative and remorseful.
Blanton’s legal guardians — his grandparents — were present for the interview. An attorney was not, Delaware County Sheriff George Sheridan said.
Whitesell said information that Blanton provided led to the charges.
“I would call that a confession,” he said.
After the interview, Blanton was transferred to Jackson County for a probable-cause hearing.
Police said they have not determined a motive, and Sheridan declined to speculate about whether Blanton chose his victims at random.
Whitesell said the investigation determined that Blanton, who had hunted in Jackson County, drove onto an overpass near Seymour, leaned across the trunk of his vehicle and shot at pickups there.
He then drove north to the Muncie area and found a position near mile marker 42 on I-69, where he fired shots before driving south to the exit at mile marker 41 and shooting at a parked car, Whitesell said.
Sheridan said Blanton has faced charges involving sexual offenses and theft, but never was convicted and never served any time in jail or in a juvenile detention center.
'A great kid'
Blanton, who would be a senior at Wes-Del High School in Gaston this year, is a varsity football player and member of the track team. According to an Internet listing of high school football teams, he stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 330 pounds.
His uncle, Joseph Blanton, a mechanic who has a business near Gaston, described the alleged shooter as “a great kid” who sometimes helped him around the shop, most recently a couple of weeks ago.
He said he is “a good worker” who likes to talk about sports and car racing.
“I’m just heartbroken,” Joseph Blanton said. “I don’t think he done it.”
Several others who know Zachariah Blanton said they were stunned when they heard he had been accused.
Wes-Del principal Phillip Gardner said Blanton “was on course to graduate this year” and took half his classes at the “career center,” or vocational school.
“This is a very, very small school,” Gardner said, with about 530 students in the middle and high school.
“Everybody knew him. To me he was a student like everyone else, just a Wes-Del kid. It’s shocking.”
Stephen McColley, superintendent of the 880-student school district, said he knows Blanton’s family and “they are good people.”
He said there was nothing in Blanton’s background that would make anyone suspect “he would do this.”
Was a former church group member
Joseph Fights, pastor of Prairie Grove Congregational Christian Church in Gaston, said Blanton grew up in the area, was raised by his grandparents and attended the church’s youth group “until a couple of years ago.”
Fights said he doesn’t know what led to the grandparents’ getting custody. He said he thought Blanton “always had a few problems” that he associated with his coming from “a broken home.”
But Fights said he was “totally shocked” by the charges.
At a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Mitch Daniels said citizen participation and the cooperation of law-enforcement agencies led to a quick arrest.
“Indiana has been spared the sort of fear and uncertainty and disruption that has befallen other jurisdictions,” he said.
Immediately after the shootings, sheriff’s deputies from across the state — including those in Jackson, Clark and Scott counties — joined state police, conservation officers and excise police in the investigation.
The FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also took part.
In addition, Whitesell said, Ohio agencies sent investigators who had worked to solve a series of sniper shootings in that state.
Whitesell also confirmed yesterday that as part of the investigation, police found a note written on bathroom tissue and threatening a “bloodbath” in northeastern Indiana. But he said the note is believed to be a hoax and unconnected to Blanton.
Reporter Lesley Stedman Weidenbener can be reached at (317) 444-2780. Reporter Dick Kaukas can be reached at (812) 949-4033.
Copyright 2005 The Courier-Journal.
8:14 PM July 25, 2006
Hunch leads to sniper suspect
By Tim Evans and John Strauss A sheriff deputy's hunch led to the arrest today of a teenage hunter in the interstate sniper case, State Police Commissioner Paul Whitesell said.
Zachariah Blanton, 17, of Gaston in Delaware County was held today on murder, attempted murder and criminal recklessness charges. Blanton was held in the Jackson County Jail in Seymour, near the location where one motorist was killed and another wounded early Sunday.
Whitesell discussed the charges in a late afternoon news conference with Delaware County Sheriff George Sheridan and Gov. Mitch Daniels.
All three credited the public with responding to the police request for tips in the case.
“Without the alertness and volunteer cooperation of citizens in at least two places, this could not have been brought to as swift a resolution,” Daniels said.
Whitesell said the break in the case came when a reserve deputy from Delaware County spoke to an acquaintance of Blanton who was concerned about the teen.
“He (the acquaintance) was concerned about whether or not the suspect might have been involved,” Whitesell said. “The reserve deputy took that lamentation and followed up and called Sheriff Sheridan.”
The deputy was aware of the massive local, state and federal probe into Sunday’s shootings.
Jerry L. Ross, 40, New Albany, was killed by a gunshot while traveling on I-65 just north of Seymour. Robert Otto Hartl, 25, Audubon, Iowa, was treated after being hit by gunfire near the same location. The men were in southbound pickup trucks, and both shootings occurred at about 12:30 a.m.
Two hours later, a semi was hit by gunfire on I-69 near Muncie, and an unoccupied pickup truck was hit nearby in the same area. No one was injured in those shootings.
A Jackson County judge found probable cause to issue a warrant for Blanton on the three charges.
During a hearing this afternoon in Brownstown, investigators also presented testimony tying Blanton to the shootings in Delaware County, according to Jackson Superior Judge Bruce Markel III.
Markel said there was no testimony linking anyone else to the shootings.
Denise Blanton, the suspect's great-aunt, told The Star-Press of Muncie that she was shocked by the charges. “I can’t imagine that he would be involved."
Phillip Gardner, principal of Wes-Del High School in rural Delaware County, told The Associated Press that Blanton was on course to graduate next year.
Wes-Del has 300 students. Blanton was an average student who played football and was a shot putter for the track and field team.
“I know he was into mechanics,” Gardner told AP. “He had a big, old four-wheel truck that he was driving all the time. That kind of kid.”
He called the arrest “just tragic.”
“It’s very difficult for our whole community. We’re all just shocked.”
Staff writers Theodore Kim and Vic Ryckaert contributed to this report.
This story will be updated.
Copyright 2006 IndyStar.com. All rights reserved
firstname.lastname@example.orgInterstate sniper suspect in custody
CRIME Police: 17-year-old admits to weekend shooting that killed one, injured another
BY PATRICK GUINANE
This story ran on nwitimes.com on Wednesday, July 26, 2006 12:09 AM CDT
INDIANAPOLIS A 17-year-old from Delaware County has confessed to a series of sniper shootings that killed one motorist and injured another along Indiana highways last weekend, police said.
Zachariah Blanton, of Gaston, was arrested Tuesday afternoon on charges of murder, attempted murder and criminal recklessness with a firearm. He is being held in the Jackson County Jail, near Seymour, where the first of two sniper attacks on Interstate 65 early Sunday killed Jerry Ross, 40, of New Albany, and injured Robert Otto Hartl, 25, of Audubon, Iowa.
Police do not yet have a motive in the case, though Delaware County Sheriff George Sheridan Jr. said Blanton has a history with police. Sheridan said Blanton has no convictions on his record and has never served time, even as a juvenile. He would not comment further.
The sniper attacks early Sunday sparked statewide concern, with electronic message boards on Indiana interstates instructing motorists to "report suspicious overpass activities -- call police."
Investigators received more than 50 tips Monday, but didn't see a break in the case until that evening.
An acquaintance of Blanton told a Delaware County reserve deputy he was concerned that a friend might be responsible for the Interstate 65 attacks and similar shootings reported two hours later on Interstate 69, near Muncie. No one was injured in the second round of shootings.
Blanton cooperated with investigators Monday night, and during a search of his grandparents' home, officers recovered a rifle and scope that matched the type of weapon used in the shootings, police said.
Indiana State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell said there was no need for a written confession, given Blanton's cooperation with investigators.
Police said Blanton, a student at Wes-Del High School, knew the area around Seymour -- where the shootings began about 12:20 a.m. Sunday -- from past hunting trips.
"(That) helps explain why he was able to perpetrate the crime from that overpass because it requires a certain esoteric knowledge of the lay of the land, and to egress out of there in the fashion that the shooter did," Whitesell said.
Police said Blanton then drove about 100 miles northeast, stopped at an I-69 overpass and shot a moving semitrailer. Blanton then a drove a mile south to another overpass, where he shot an unattended vehicle, Whitesell said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Boy's Recovery Considered Miracle
Dad Breathes Air Into Son Trapped Underwater For 7 Minutes
Boy's Recovery Considered Miracle
POSTED: 10:19 am EDT July 21, 2006
UPDATED: 10:29 am EDT July 21, 2006
ORLANDO, Fla. -- A 14-year-old who was sucked to the bottom of a hotel hot tub and kept under water for at least seven minutes was likely saved by air his father breathed into his mouth during the ordeal.
Aljuwon Pipkin, who was visiting Walt Disney World from New Jersey, became stuck at the bottom of the hot tub last Thursday at the Radisson Parkway Hotel.
Officials said a grate at the bottom of the tub apparently broke and created a strong suction that pulled the teen underwater.
Pipkin's father was at the pool and noticed his son stuck at the bottom of the hot tub.
"I get chills now even speaking about it," father Sharif Pipkin said. "I was truly a traumatic moment. I figured he was at the bottom and they just couldn't pull him up and then he didn't come up. And, I pulled again and he didn't come up. I began to holler for help from people."
As people jumped in to pull the teen from the bottom of the tub, Pipkin's father jumped in and began to breathe air into his son's mouth, the report said.
"(Aljuwon Pipkin) doesn't remember the frantic help from hotel guests and doesn't remember his father breathing into his mouth underwater," Local 6 reporter Jessica Sanchez said.
Pipkin was transported to Florida Hospital South in critical condition and initial scans of his brain were abnormal. Doctors feared he suffered brain damage.
However, seven days after the near drowning, Pipkin was given the OK to leave the hospital. He was diagnosed as being healthy with no permanent damage from the incident.
"The fact that he woke up at all is being considered a miracle," Sanchez said.
"I just remember going down to the pool and then waking up in the hospital," Pipkin said. "I can appreciate life more," Aljuwon Pipkin said. "It makes you want to work harder for things."
Pipkin's family said they do not blame the Radisson Hotel and said they believe what happened was an accident, the report said.
Copyright 2006 by Internet Broadcasting Systems and Local6.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
No Spare Time....
at all. None. I am lucky enough to have the past two weeks paid vacation from work, and that is awesome! We have been nothing but busy.
Angi turned the big 3 - 0 on Tueday. She was born July, 11 1976. Wow.
I got her a birthday cake, a total of seven birthday cards from me and the kids, a dozen doughnuts, three reese cup candy bar things, and that's about it. We also went to Red Lobster, and my parents watched the kids (they were in state). She got a crap load of sewing stuff for her birthday a week or so ago, and we got a new Canon Digital Rebel XT also. With an extended warranty, extra battery, it (the Rebel) came to a bit over $1,000 bucks. But at least there is a one hundred dollar mail in rebate. We are going to sell the old camera, and accesories on eBay, probably.
I have done the following (Or will get finished this weekend):
Change the Trailblazer's oil
Change the Aspire's lightbulbs
Get the Aspire's transmission, AC unit, serviced, new fuel filter
Change the belts, spark plugs, wires, and airfilter on Aspire
Vacuum both cars, and clean them out real good
Rotate and balance tires on both cars
Vacuum up and clean the garage
Get the lawnmower serviced
Get Trailblazer into dealer because of engine light came on
Get Trailblazer into shop to fix cracked mirror (already cracked when we bought it)
Get my eyeglasses for work repaired (both pairs)
Replace door locks on house and new garage code
and........BY THE WAY..........
my mom bought a house in Huntington, Indiana, because she took a transfer offer she got for my plant.
HAPPY 230TH BIRTHDAY!!!!
I stood out on the back porch to watch the fireworks, and Angi stayed inside, because she could not care less about them. We decided to wait another year if we can, before we have any more kids, if we have any at all I mean.
Happy 230TH BIRTHDAY!!!!!
Liftoff: Discovery soars on July 4th By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer
Tue Jul 4, 7:09 PM ET
NASA gave the shuttle Discovery a majestic Fourth of July send-off and said early signs showed the spacecraft to be in good shape, despite once again being struck by the flying foam that has plagued the program.
The first-ever Independence Day manned launch came after two weather delays and over objections from those within NASA who argued for more fuel-tank repairs.
Shuttle managers said early video images of liftoff showing small pieces of foam breaking away — and one even striking the spacecraft — were not troubling.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said of the launch: "They don't get much better than this."
It was Griffin who chose to go ahead with the mission over concerns from the space agency's safety officer and chief engineer about foam problems that have dogged the agency since Columbia was doomed by a flyaway chunk of insulation 3 1/2 years ago.
Discovery thundered away from its seaside pad at 2:38 p.m EDT.
About three minutes later, as many as five pieces of debris were seen flying off the tank, and another piece of foam popped off a bit later, Mission Control told the crew. The latter piece seemed to strike the belly of Discovery, but NASA assured the seven astronauts it was no concern because of the timing.
Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said Discovery was so high when the pieces came off that there wasn't enough air to accelerate the foam into the shuttle and cause damage.
"That is the very raw, preliminary data," he said. "It will be a while before we get a complete picture of what happened during the ascent."
The astronauts reported seeing what they described as a large piece of cloth tumbling away from Discovery soon after reaching orbit. It looked like one of the thermal blankets that protects the shuttle, they said, but Mission Control later told them it may have been ice and that a similar observation was made during Discovery's flight a year ago. "Wow, that's real good news," said shuttle commander Steven Lindsey.
Hale and others on the launch management team were in a jubilant mood over the smooth liftoff.
"No, we did not plan to launch on the Fourth of July, but it sure did work out to be great to launch on Independence Day," said Hale, who was wearing a patriotic tie.
Lindsey, an Air Force fighter pilot, was at Discovery's controls and aiming for a Thursday linkup with the international space station.
"Discovery's ready, the weather's beautiful, America is ready to return the space shuttle to flight. So good luck and Godspeed, Discovery," launch director Mike Leinbach said just before liftoff.
"I can't think of a better place to be here on the Fourth of July," radioed Lindsey. "For all the folks on the Florida east coast, we hope to very soon get you an up-close and personal look at the rocket's red glare."
It was unclear for a while Monday whether Discovery would fly at all.
A slice of foam, not much bigger than a crust of bread, fell off an expansion joint on the external fuel tank as the spacecraft sat on the launch pad. Shuttle managers concluded Monday night after intensive engineering analysis that the remaining foam on that part of the tank was solid.
Engineers said the piece — 3 inches long and just one-tenth of an ounce — was too small to pose a threat even if it had come off during launch and smacked the shuttle. Inspectors devised a long pole with a camera to inspect the joint and found no evidence of further damage. NASA also made sure there was no excessive ice buildup at that spot Tuesday.
The fallen foam, albeit harmless, added to the tension already surrounding this mission.
NASA's chief engineer and top-ranking safety official objected two weeks ago to the 12-day mission without eliminating lingering dangers from foam loss, considered probable and potentially catastrophic.
They were overruled by shuttle managers and, ultimately, Griffin. He stressed the need to get on with building the half-done, long-overdue space station before the shuttles are retired in 2010 to make way for a moonship, per President Bush's orders.
Griffin said he welcomed the debate over Discovery's launch and acknowledged that the space agency plays the odds with every shuttle liftoff.
"If foam hits the orbiter and doesn't damage it, I'm going to say ho-hum because I know we're going to release foam. The goal is to make sure that the foam is of a small enough size that I know we're not going to hurt anything," Griffin said in a weekend interview with The Associated Press.
"It's hardly the only thing that poses a risk to a space shuttle mission," he said.
If photos during launch or the flight show serious damage to Discovery, the crew could move into the space station. Then a risky shuttle rescue — fraught with its own problems — would have to be mounted. The rescue ship, Atlantis, would face the same potential foam threat at launch. NASA also worked on a possible plan for flying Discovery back to Earth unmanned if necessary.
Many have speculated that if anything happens to Discovery or its crew, the shuttle program could end with this mission, and plans for moon and Mars exploration could be put in jeopardy.
In its flight last July, Discovery experienced dangerous foam loss, though the chunk was smaller than one that slammed into Columbia's left wing, and it missed Discovery altogether.
Just like a year ago, more than 100 cameras and radar were trained on Discovery at liftoff to spot any foam shedding. The intensive picture-taking continued with on-board cameras and the astronauts snapping zoom-in shots upon reaching orbit.
NASA figures it will be nearly a week before it can decisively say whether any debris hit Discovery during launch.
Last July, cameras caught a 1-pound chunk two minutes after liftoff, despite extensive repairs that came after the Columbia disaster killed seven astronauts in 2003. The big piece of foam came off an area untouched in the wake of the tragedy. Smaller pieces popped off other parts of the 154-foot tank.
Over the past year, NASA has removed foam from the location of last year's largest foam loss, saying it represented the biggest aerodynamic change to the shuttle in 25 years of flight. Engineers deemed the foam there unnecessary.
Shuttle managers put off repairs to another potentially dangerous area of the tank, foam wedges to insulate the metal brackets that hold pressurized lines in place. The foam prevents ice and frost from forming on the brackets once the tank is filled with super-cold fuel.
Managers said they wanted to make one major change at a time. The space agency's chief engineer disagreed as did the chief safety officer, saying they would rather take the extra six months to fix the problem before launching.
Griffin contends NASA doesn't have time to spare with the shuttles set to be phased out in 2010.
One of the seven crew on Discovery is a German, Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency, who will move into the space station for a half-year stay, joining the American and Russian there already.
Reiter will bring the size of the station crew to three for the first time since 2003.
Besides commander Lindsey and Reiter, Discovery is carrying pilot Mark Kelly; Michael Fossum and Piers Sellers, who will conduct at least two spacewalks at the station; and Lisa Nowak and Stephanie Wilson.
Beginning Wednesday, they will survey use a 50-foot inspection boom to view the shuttle for damage. They also will make repairs to the space station and deliver much-needed supplies.
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