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Police look for motives into the Van Ness sniper shooting

Nation's Capital Shooting

Students at the Edmund Burke School saw classes canceled Monday after a sniper shot at the school, wounding four people, including a student.

And D.C. and federal law enforcement are trying to determine the suspected shooter’s motive.

Police said the 23-year-old unloaded around 100 rounds from rifles up and down Connecticut Avenue Northwest. The shooting left two of the victims in critical but stable condition, a sixth-grade girl had a gunshot wound to the arm, and there was far-reaching damage to the school and surrounding area.

“We don’t know why,” D.C. police Chief Robert Contee told WTOP.

Raymond Spencer, he said, does not have a clear connection that would cause him to target the Edmund Burke School.

“It does not appear he had a connection to the school, and we just don’t know why he chose the school,” said Contee. “We just don’t know enough about his motive to come to that conclusion. Certainly, the school was right there.”

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, another who was in critical condition was a retired police officer. Another woman also was critical.

“They are not out of the woods yet. They’re still at the area hospitals being treated for the injury. So we’re just asking the community to keep them in their thoughts and prayers and their families as well,” Contee said.

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.”

“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,” said Contee.

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 set up his “sniper-style nest” in an Ava Van Ness Apartment adjacent to the school. He began renting it in January and he had another residence in Fairfax County.

“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.”

Spencer had a handgun and several rifles in the apartment where he was found dead.

“Some of the weapons he purchased and some of the weapons he was able to self-manufacture or have someone manufacture them for him,” Contee said.

Police as of now do not know if 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 one hundred or so 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.