Teen charged in Ind. shootings to appear in court
July 26, 2006 (Last Updated: 6:15 AM) (WLS) -- Zachariah Blanton, 17, is charged with murder in connection to the Indiana interstate sniper shootings over the weekend. Blanton will appear in court Wednesday morning.
Indiana State Police were joined by the governor of Indiana to announce the arrest Tuesday afternoon. Those shootings happened Sunday in Seymour and Muncie, and put the region on high alert.
Zack Blanton is a shot-putter on his high school track team. Now, he is charged with firing a different kind of shot. Detectives say last weekend Blanton was with some friends hunting deer on property his family owns in southern Indiana. They say the teenager left the posse in a red pickup truck, and then committed the sniper attacks that killed one man, wounded another and shot up several vehicles.
"Indiana has been spared the sort of fear, uncertainty and disruption and that has befallen other jurisdictions elsewhere," he said during a news conference in Indianapolis," said Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.
Daniels credits tips from residents in two different parts of the state with bringing the interstate sniper case to an end.
Seventeen-year-old Zack Blanton was arrested early Tuesday at his home. Authorities say he consented to a search of the house and that a hunting rifle was found, a Remington 710 with a scope that has now been linked to the shootings through ballistics tests.
"We don't know what the motive is at this point in time. The investigation is still fairly fresh. Any attempt to answer a motive would be speculation from afar," said Dr. Paul Whitesell, Indiana State Police superintendent.
Two sniper victims were shot and wounded early Sunday as they rode in pickup trucks on Interstate 65 south of Indianapolis. Two hours later, gunfire hit a moving tractor-trailer and a parked SUV on I-69 in Delaware County, about 100 miles to the northeast, although no one was wounded there.
At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, authorities said the break in the case was a witness coming forward.
"He had been talking to someone who knew the suspect and had been recently involved and them in some ancillary business between the two of them, and he was concerned about whether or not the suspect might have been involved. And the reserve deputy took that and followed up and called Sheriff Sheridan," said Dr. Paul Whitesell, Indiana State Police superintendent.
Blanton is a student at Wes-Del Middle Senior High School in Gaston, Indiana, just off of I-69, the same highway that cuts through Indiana and where the random shootings occurred.
Although he is 17, Blanton is being charged as an adult. According to police, he also has a juvenile arrest record.
"He has had some criminal cases that involve crimes of sex and theft crimes as well," said George Sheridan, Delaware County Sheriff.
Blanton faces preliminary charges of murder, attempted murder and criminal recklessness, prosecutor Stephen Pierson said. A judge on Tuesday afternoon said he had found probable cause to issue an arrest warrant for Blanton, who was being held in the Jackson County Jail.
Blanton's arrest was not a surprise to at least one Gaston resident.
"He's a nut. He always has been. He got in trouble all the time. He's gotten in all kinds of trouble for being mean to people," said Joe Snyder, Gaston, Indiana resident.
Blanton has a profile page on the internet in which he describes himself as someone who loves hunting, hunting and more hunting, and features numerous hunting scenes and photos. Blanton's profile lists his heroes in life. Atop the list is the Ku Klux Klan. The list includes Robert E. Lee and Larry Flynt. Tuesday afternoon, a young girl posted a message on Blanton's website, saying: "I just heard about you on the news. Why in the heck did you do that?"
Possible copycat shooting reported in Hammond
There were reports of a similar shooting in northwestern Hammond, Indiana early Tuesday morning. A truck window was shot out on 169th Street at the Cline Avenue overpass. No one was hurt.
While local officials continue to investigate Tuesday evening, it seems that state officials are skeptical about what happened Tuesday morning. Lake County Sheriff's deputies used metal detectors looking for evidence near 169th Avenue in Hammond, where Tuesday morning a motorist claims someone took a shot at his pickup truck.
"The front windshield of the car did sustain a gunshot, but actually getting any physical evidence such as a bullet or anything like that, no, we were unable to get that," said Detective Patrick Tracy, Lake County Sheriff's Department.
"It's scaring the whole community. This district has been a pretty quiet, decent district, and I just can't believe something like this would happen," said Flo Decker, business owner.
The sheriff says a Hammond man arrived to work and reported the incident. The motorist alleges a man in a trench coat pulled out a rifle and took a shot at his pickup truck. The Lake County Sheriff says they need more information to determine exactly what happened.
"We might have a copycat here in the area who may want to do the same thing. We're investigating that and certainly want to get as much as information from the witness and anybody else who might have been in the area," said Sheriff Roy Dominguez, Lake County, Indiana.
The incident was also reported to the Indiana Task Force that formed after the weekend's series of sniper shootings. State police say it appears Tuesday morning's apparent shooting was not related to the sniper shootings.
"We have found no evidence to my knowledge of any casings or -- and the report was that a man with a trench coat, with it 88 degrees, jumps out of a truck and fired, and we have found no evidence to support that," said Supt. Paul Whitesell, Indiana State Police.
Despite what's going on statewide, local officials continue to investigate and they encourage anyone with information about Tuesday morning's Hammond incident to come forward. They really want to get to the bottom of this, whatever it was that happened.
Police warn drivers to stay alert
Prior to Tuesday's arrest, Indiana authorities warned drivers from Greensburg to Greencastle, from New Castle to New Albany, to keep their eyes peeled for a killer.
"We believe additional shootings may occur in the future. We base this on information developed, one with a reference generalized to northeast Indiana and a second one that is focused to southern Indiana," said 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten, Indiana State Police.
Monday, an army of law enforcement searched for any and all clues, while electronic signs along the interstate pleaded for the public's help. Authorities, for now, are under the assumption the shootings are connected.
"I want to reinforce from the Indiana State Police, from the task force perspective, we are treating this as if it is a unified event," said Bursten.
For truck drivers who frequently travel along I-65 there is genuine concern for their safety now.
"I already had this load before this happened and today I was kind of not sure, should I take it or not," said Marjan Risteske, a truck driver near Lowell, Indiana.
"Everybody is uptight about this because somebody from behind you can kill you," said Jon Dascalu, truck driver.
Indiana investigators constuled with Columbus, Ohio, police, who apprehended a sniper responsible for a series of shootings in 2003 and 2004.
Indiana State Police sniper hot line: (317) 232-8200
Indiana: (800) 622-4962
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