Suspect in Series of Phoenix Freeway Shootings Arrested

Credit: Morgue File

Credit: Morgue File

The Arizona Freeway shooter has been under investigation for some time now. The string on shootings, which have terrorized drivers in the past weeks, have hopefully come to an end. On Friday, a police SWAT team arrested a suspect.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who has been pleading citizens for their help in capturing the person responsible, announced the arrest on Twitter.

“BREAKING: We got him!” he wrote on Friday. “DPS SWAT team is in custody of the individual suspected of I-10 shootings. Apprehended moments ago.”

21-year-old Leslie Allen Merritt was arrested at a Walmart in Glendale, Arizona, and is to be arraigned on Saturday.

“I think the detectives really worked this,” Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said on MSNBC, Saturday. He credited “old-fashioned police work” and public tips for helping bring the investigation to this point.

Investigators were eyeing out Merritt all day on Friday, and spotted him at a pawnshop, selling a gun, according to KPNX.

Investigators report that Merrit entered the Walmart where he was arrested, at 6:45 p.m. along with a woman and 5-year-old child.

Witnesses said he was no more than 10 feet inside the building when the SWAT team swarmed in and tackled him to the ground. They also said he didn’t resist and appeared to willingly give himself up.

“Ten officers came out with the suspect, he didn’t resist, they put him right in the car after checking him,” witness Brandon Copeland told KPNX.

At a Friday night news conference, authorities said Merritt owned a weapon that was “forensically linked” to the first four shootings.

The first three shootings took place on Aug. 29, and the fourth on the following night. The shootings hit a tour bus, SUV and two cars. Luckily, no one was injured. All four took place on Interstate 10.

Though the suspect has been captured, authorities believe that he was not the only gunman involved in the shooting spree that took place over the past few weeks.

“I believe we have some copycats that decided to participate,” Director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Frank Milstead said.

Merritt’s father insisted to The Associated Press that his son had no involvement in the shootings and that anyone who accuses him of it is a “moron.” He feels the police, who were under the pressure of the public to arrest someone, targeted his son.

“He has way too much value for human life to even take the slightest or remotest risk of actually injuring someone,” Leslie Merritt Sr. said.

Merrit is facing multiple charges, including criminal endangerment, assault and unlawful discharge of a firearm.

Authorities report that a total of eleven vehicles were shot on or near the I-10 freeway since Aug. 29. Three of the shootings involved unspecified projectiles and eight involved bullets, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Police also report that one of the shooting was preceded by “road rage.”

The investigation remains ongoing, according to Ducey. Officials are on the look out for other potential suspects involved.

“The overhead freeway signs will stay lit,” Graves said Saturday. “We are asking for leads.”

“Are there others out there? Are there copycats? That is possible,” Milstead reported.

The last confirmed shooting took place on Sept. 10, when a truck-tractor was targeted. It is not clear where the vehicle was located at the time of the shooting.

The only injury that occurred was when a 13-year-old passenger of one of the targeted cars was hit by flying glass. No critical injuries occurred throughout the shootings.

Some drivers told NBC News that they avoided using the freeway out of fear of being shot. A $50,000 reward was offered for information that could result in an arrest.

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