Van Ness sniper had hundreds more rounds; police still investigating motive

D.C. police and federal law enforcement are still trying to determine the motive behind the sniper shooting in the Van Ness area Friday, but the District’s police chief said Monday afternoon that the suspect fired more than 200 shots and had 800 more rounds of ammunition in reserve.

Police Chief Robert Contee said at a news conference that Raymond Spencer, 23, had four long guns and two handguns in the fifth-floor apartment, and that three of the long guns were “constructed so they were fully automatic.”

Classes were canceled Monday at the Edmund Burke School, where the shooter appeared to be concentrating. Four people were wounded, including a sixth-grader who was grazed by a bullet. Two people are still in critical condition but stable, Contee said.

“They are not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination,” he said, “but right now it appears they’re hanging in there.”

Contee said Spencer had “a little command center” set up in the bathroom of the apartment in the Ava Van Ness building, with a laptop, cellphone, pillow and blankets, as well as a camera set up in the hallway to see the police coming, and a refrigerator pushed up against the door.

From a window of the apartment, he unloaded rifles up and down Connecticut Avenue Northwest, with bullets flying thousands of yards — perhaps as far as Cleveland Park, Contee said.

The chief added that Spencer had gone to to Wheaton High School, was a lifeguard “at some point” and was in the U.S. Coast Guard for a few months in 2017.

“We’re not sure why he was discharged,” Contee said.

Spencer’s motive remains unknown, said Contee. There were no letters or notes in the apartment that would explain it. “We have not been able to decipher” any connection to the school, he said, adding that targeting the school is “not something we can rule out.”

Police don’t know how long the shooting had been planned. “I’m hoping that as we exploit his devices and go through that, we’re able to get to that,” Contee said.

The chief added that the man who was seen on TV being led away from the scene in handcuffs Friday afternoon was detained because, while police were evacuating his building, they found a gun on him and determined he was a felon in possession of a handgun.

‘See what we can find’

All four victims were clustered around the school — either standing outside or waiting in cars for pickup. One of the victims suffered just a minor grazing and declined medical treatment; one of the people in critical condition was a retired police officer.

Many keys to finding a motive may be in Spencer’s online presence. On 4chan, a user named Raymond Spencer posted a video of the shooting. The user also posted notes including “Waiting for police to catch up with me,” and “Dear God please forgive me.”

In an interview with WTOP earlier Monday, Contee said “We’ll work with our federal partners in that space, just to see what we can find, allow some of our technical people to see what information he’s posted out there on the regular web, the dark web, or any other message board.”

They will also search the hard drive of any computer from Spencer.

“That kind of thing is typical in this type of investigation … to see if there’s any type of manifesto that exists, what trail did he leave behind that might explain why he did what he did.”

Spencer began renting the Van Ness apartment in January and had another residence in Fairfax County, where three more guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition were found.

“It was very sparsely decorated inside the apartment, and not sure exactly the purpose that he had it, if it was setup for the sole purpose of this (shooting), and he was planning this — we just don’t know that. But we’re really trying to get to the bottom of why we experienced Friday the way that we did,” Contee said.

During the investigation, police found Spencer had no prior run-ins with law enforcement or any documented history of mental health issues, Contee said, but he did acknowledge that Spencer was “estranged from his family for some time now.”

Police do not know whether Spencer was employed, but that may be a key factor to see how he financed the Van Ness apartment and the weapons.

“Some of these weapons are pretty expensive weapons. Some of the scopes that were purchased for these weapons were pretty expensive as well,” said Contee. “As we dig into the investigation, we’ll try to learn more about, you know, how he financed the weapons.”

Meanwhile, investigators will continue to do groundwork to identify where exactly the bullets landed Friday afternoon.

“The velocity of a bullet fired from a long gun can go thousands of yards and certainly in this case, some of the bullets did. We know that a number of vehicles in the immediate area and buildings were struck by gunfire, but it’s going to take as long as it has to take for us to get to the bottom of it,” said Contee.

The chief added that residents or business owners should contact D.C. police if they see unusual property damage that might be due to the shooting.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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