Arizona freeway shooting suspect in custody: 'We got him!'

Arizona shooting update: With a suspect in custody, residents of Phoenix hope 'the healing process' can begin.

Matt York/AP
Arizona Department of Public Safety officers stand near a tractor trailer shot near 67th Ave and I-10, Thursday, in Phoenix. Numerous shootings of vehicles along I-10 over the past two weeks have investigators working around the clock.

On Friday evening, a suspect was arrested in connection with the Arizona freeway shootings that have disturbed the city of Phoenix since August 29th.

Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., a landscaper and gun enthusiast, is believed to be responsible for four of the 11 incidents.

The governor tweeted to say "We got him!" but reminded people in a follow-up tweet that the investigation remains ongoing, which the Arizona Department of Public Safety reiterated in their most recent statement.

The investigation involved state troopers and police forces in Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa, as well as the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Mr. Merritt was apprehended in a Walmart parking lot by police officers in unmarked cars and carrying semi-automatic weapons.

No shootings have been confirmed in the case since Sept. 10. Hours before the arrest, ADPS spokesman Bart Graves told reporters, "I think it’s fair to say since a week ago, we’ve made headway in this case." 

Authorities initially offered a $5,000 reward for any leads, which they raised to $20,000 on Sept. 9 and then to $50,000 on Sept. 14.

"Somebody knows something," said ADPS Director Frank Milstead at the time. "That is why we have increased the reward to $50,000. We still need that one tip that will help us solve this case."

Authorities distributed fliers throughout Phoenix and surrounding suburbs advising residents to be vigilant. Electronic billboards prompted drivers to phone in tips, but several of the accrued tips were false leads, from drivers mistaking small rocks thrown up by car wheels for gunshots or deliberately thrown rocks.

Friday evening, Col. Milstead confirmed the arrest and said that a weapon owned by Merritt was "forensically linked" to the shootings on Aug. 29 – the day the shootings began – and on Aug. 31, USA Today reported.

"The weapon and man we believe was responsible for starting this spree is in custody," Milstead said.

Merritt has not been linked to the other seven attacks.

"Are there others out there? Are there copycats? That is possible," said Milstead.

Three other suspects are also in custody. One, a 19-year-old from a suburb outside Phoenix arrested a week ago, was not a prime suspect, officials told the Associated Press. He was detained on unrelated charges for possession of marijuana.

Merritt’s father, Leslie Merritt Sr., denied that his son was the shooter, reported UPI.

"It's got to be some sort of mistake or someone wanted the reward," he said. "This is just preposterous."

The 11 incidents spanned a stretch from Aug. 29 to Sept. 10, most along Interstate 10. Only one person was injured: a young girl who suffered a small cut from broken glass. Eight vehicles were hit by bullets in the incidents, while three were hit by objects that could have been BB pellets, rocks, or other projectiles.

Robert McDonald Jr., who was driving an empty tour bus that was shot on Aug. 29, told the Arizona Republic that he is relieved that the reign of fear can come to an end.

"Now, I don't have to worry about having to duck when I see another vehicle behind me and wonder if this individual is still out there," he said. "With this capture, if it is indeed the right person, hopefully, the Valley can now start the healing process to get back to where we were before Aug. 29."

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