Crime instructions

By Barbara Simpson

Truth is stranger than fiction. The Washington-area sniper is a story made for the movies. The problem is, it’s true, it’s been going on for three weeks and it isn’t over yet.

Since Oct. 2, the unknown sniper shot and killed nine people and wounded two others in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Local police are on the case along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and possibly the military with aerial surveillance.

Witnesses gave descriptions of what they saw, but there’s no pattern to them – except for one. They all agree the shooter is a man. Beyond that, we’re told there are no solid leads.

The one individual who gave what seemed to be a credible description – of the man, the gun and the vehicle used – turns out to have lied. As if authorities needed that!

Police cross checked his story with other witness accounts and it turns out that not only did he lie, he wasn’t even in an area where he could have seen the crime.

For his “creative” effort to get 15 minutes of fame, Matthew Dowdy of Falls Church, Va. was arrested and charged with making a false statement. He’ll go down in history – but not exactly as he might have hoped. A hero he’s not. “Fool” might be a better description. “Convict” even better. We’ll see.

Friday night, a white box truck was found at a car rental agency with shell casing inside. Ballistics tests are being conducted.

While headlines focus on the crimes and the investigation, the families of the victims face the reality and the magnitude of their losses.

For thousands of area residents, the result is fear. Sporting and school events have been cancelled, or the locations changed. Business is down as people stay home, behind locked doors and shaded windows.

Not unexpectedly, there’s been a huge increase in applications for gun permits. Wanting protection is a natural response after all, but with the restrictive gun laws in the area, the population is literally defenseless.

Wait a minute! Let me correct that: The law-abiding population is defenseless. The crooks have guns and the sniper is one of them. It’ll be interesting to see how many permits are granted.

In the meantime, police have come up with protection suggestions that would be laughable if they weren’t true. I take it back. They are laughable.

Want to avoid the sniper? Move fast and zig-zag when you walk. Be a moving target, you’ll be harder to hit. Stand in the shadows and crouch down when you pump gas.

Sorry, guys. Advice like that is as ludicrous as our national color-codes for terrorist risk.

Tell me the truth: If you heard something like that in a movie, you’d laugh. This isn’t a movie, but it’s a sure thing the script is being written right now in some Hollywood apartment.

It’s got all the elements of a tightly-edited shoot-’em-up: good guys, bad guys, innocent victims of all ages and mysterious, clever murderer, lousy witnesses and lying witnesses, all kinds of government agencies, smart cops and bumbling cops, intrusive media and leaks about clues. It’s all there.

And it will get made – you can bet on it. But not right now. In fact, 20th Century Fox has a similar thriller ready for release on Nov. 15. The script, written by Larry Cohen three years ago, is about a sniper terrorizing people in phone booths. Because of the headlines, the studio is delaying the release. Not canceling – delaying. No new date set.

Interesting, isn’t it, that Hollywood suddenly gets morality when real life overcomes fiction simultaneously. It wouldn’t want to be seen as capitalizing on human tragedy. Oh no.

But it has absolutely no compunction about releasing movies that give people blueprints for crimes. In those cases, if the movie comes before the crime, producers say there is no way their movie could possibly have influenced anyone.

Nonsense. Of course movies influence behavior. Do TV commercials sell products? The reason this movie is being delayed (as were visual depictions of the World Trade Center after 9-11) is because they’re afraid of losing at the box office and being criticized in the press.

It’s that’s simple and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just wish they’d be as honest when facing accusations that their movies are too violent, too sexually graphic, too supportive of illegal drug use, or too explicit in how to make bombs or kill people. They can’t have it both ways. They think they can. But they’re wrong.