A 21-year-old man, who is suspected of being the chief instigator behind the random shootings that have terrified passing motorists on Arizona freeways in the past few weeks, has been arrested by a police SWAT team, according to latest reports emerging in the media.
CNN reports that the arrest was carried out late on Friday night after the police had “forensically linked” the suspect’s firearm to the one which was used for shootings that occurred on August 29 and August 31 on Interstate 10 in Phoenix, Arizona.
According to Nola, the Wal-Mart where the suspect was arrested is six miles north of where some of the shootings on I-10 occurred.
The suspect has been identified as Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., who might face a range of charges that include criminal endangerment, assault and unlawful discharge of a firearm. Merritt Jr. is suspected to have carried out the first four of the 11 shootings that took place on Phoenix freeways during the end of August, which led to “numerous reports” of damaged cars, according to the authorities. Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead likened the shootings to an act of “domestic terrorism.”
No serious injuries were reported from the shootings, though a 13-year-old girl’s ear was cut by glass after a bullet shattered a window of a vehicle she was riding in.
It is widely believed at this moment that Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. is the main instigator behind the shootings. According to Milstead, following the first four shootings, several copycats took it upon themselves to terrify the passing motorists on Arizona freeways, and though no other arrests have been made yet, the investigation remains ongoing.
Arizona governor Doug Ducey took to Twitter to thank the police for the arrest.
BREAKING: We got him! DPS SWAT team is in custody of the individual suspected of I-10 shootings. Apprehended moments ago.— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) September 19, 2015
In the wake of his son’s arrest, however, Leslie’s father told the Associated Press that his son had nothing to do with the Arizona freeway shootings and that anyone who says he was involved is a “moron.” According to NBC, Leslie’s father believes that his son is being made a scapegoat by the police who were under increasing pressure to make an arrest.
“He has way too much value for human life to even take the slightest or remotest risk of actually injuring someone.”
Authorities in Arizona had earlier offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case. They distributed thousands fliers in the neighborhoods surrounding the freeway this week to raise awareness about the shootings and the reward, but they have remained tight-lipped about any details in the case. Arizona police departments are yet to comment on the charge made by Leslie’s father.
Only time will tell if Leslie Allen Merritt Jr. was the chief instigator behind the Arizona freeway shootings that so terrified commuters, but the police will now hope that at least the “copycats” seize their activities. If, however, that does not turn out to be the case, Arizona police will be back to where they started.
[Photo by Jeff Topping / Getty Images]