Authorities are calling it “domestic terrorism.” Law enforcement has swarmed a nine-mile zone, helicopters buzzing overhead. And someone—or some ones—continues brazenly sending bullets and other “projectiles” into random vehicles, day and night, along a stretch of our city where more than 200,000 vehicles travel daily.[1] In the past two weeks, there have been approximately a dozen reports from drivers who heard loud popping noises and upon further investigation, realized their vehicles had been shot. In one incident, a teenaged girl was even injured.[2] The Arizona Department of Public Safety has remained tight-lipped about their investigation, increasing reward money for information not once but twice;[3] meanwhile, Phoenix citizens wonder whether there is an alternative to taking the freeways.

Last Thursday, alone, police investigated five incidents—some on the I-10 near the Avenues, one near South Tempe, and another on SR 51 farther north. Although most were later revealed to have been caused by road debris, there still seem to be more questions than answers. Is the shooter perched on an overpass? Driving? Is this person targeting certain drivers? Is this completely random? We’re scared, but more than that, we’re upset. Less than a decade ago, we were terrorized by the “Baseline Killer,” and we’re not about to give up our streets to these senseless crimes again. A handful of citizens have even joined together and created “The Bolt Force,” an armed patrol group who have stationed themselves near the shootings to protect the neighborhoods and search for evidence.[4]

Serial criminals are sadly nothing new. But every time another criminal pattern begins, we begin searching for reason in the chaos. Is it motivated by money? By anger at a particular group of people? We hope against the odds that it is not for sport, which tends to make tracking down a suspect a much greater challenge. In an effort to narrow down a few million people, law enforcement agencies often employ forensic psychologists to create a profile of the suspect. By employing this mix of investigative tactics and peer-reviewed psychological research—and sometimes dumb luck—profilers help the police be more efficient in their searches. “The basic premise is that behavior reflects personality,” notes Gregg McCrary, a retired FBI agent.[5] By examining evidence and crime scenes, the profilers look for patterns that shed light. If Arizona DPS officers have created this sort of a profile for the freeway shooter, they haven’t mentioned anything to the public.

One of the more frightening aspects of serial crimes is how long it takes until the pattern emerges and is recognized as such. In the D.C. shootings, for instance, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo’s crime spree started in February—but the three weeks of attacks we are familiar with occurred eight months later in October. For Mark Goudeau, the Baseline Rapist/Killer, he was convicted of aggravated assault and served a thirteen-year sentence, but in less than eighteen months from his release, he claimed his first new victim.[6] Has this freeway shooter acted before and no one has connected the dots yet? Also concerning are the copycat crimes that can crop up, such as the three teenagers who were arrested for using a slingshot to shoot rocks at other cars and pedestrians.[7] “In the case of copycat crimes, the main hypothesis is that the attention these crimes receive in the media acts as a reward for those wishing to copy them.”[8] Although refusing to publicize criminal actions is one way to slow or stop copycats, when the danger to the public is as high as it is at present, the balance usually falls towards informing the citizens who could be harmed.

We hope that all of you stay safe and alert during this time, and we are also hopeful that the police will get that bit of luck in order to find whoever is responsible for this. If you see or know anything that would be useful, please do contact the tip line at 602-644-5805 or Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS.

[1] AADT & KDT Report for Year-2014 (Interstates), Arizona Dep’t of Transp. (2014),http://www.azdot.gov/docs/default-source/planning/2014-interstates-aadt.pdf?sfvrsn=2

[2] Nigel Duara, Anxiety Builds in Phoenix After Another Mysterious Highway Shooting, LA Times (Sept. 10, 2015), http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-phoenix-highway-shootings-20150910-story.html

[3] DPS: Reward for Info in Phoenix Freeway Shootings Now at $50k, ABC15 (Sept. 14, 2015), www.abc15.com/news/region-phoenix-metro/central-phoenix/dps-reward-in-phoenix-freeway-shootings-increased-to-50000

[4] Kevin Kennedy, Citizen Group, The Bolt Force, Hunting for I-10 Shooter, 12 News (Sept. 10, 2015), http://www.12news.com/story/news/local/valley/2015/09/10/citizen-group-bolt-force-hunting–10-shooter/72008784/

[5] Lea Winerman, Criminal Profiling: The Reality Behind the Myth, Am. Psychological Ass’n 66 (July/Aug. 2004), available at http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug04/criminal.aspx

[6] Paul Rubin, Take a Chilling Look Inside the Baseline Killer Case, Phoenix New Times (Nov. 10, 2011), www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/take-a-chilling-look-inside-the-baseline-killer-case-6451168

[7] Department of Public Safety Identifies “Copycats” in Phoenix Freeway Shootings, ABC15 (Sept. 14, 2015), www.abc15.com/news/region-central-southern-az/maricopa/3-copycats-arrested-for-firing-rocks-at-cars

[8] Richard Amaral, Copycat Crimes: Why Do They Happen?, Psychology for Growth (July 4, 2013), www.psychologforgrowth.com/copycat-crimes-why-do-they-happen/