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Police questioned club gunman, let him go

Authorities say the man who carried out a massacre in a women's aerobics class near Pittsburgh was questioned, searched and ultimately let go by police .
/ Source: The Associated Press

The man who carried out a massacre in a women's aerobics class had been questioned a week earlier by police because he matched the description of a man seen pulling what appeared to be a grenade from a computer bag, authorities said Monday.

George Sodini, 48, of Scott Township, was ultimately let go by Port Authority of Allegheny County police because they couldn't confirm he was the man on the bus July 28, authorities said.

Allegheny County Superintendent Charles Moffatt said Sodini wrote in one of his many diaries "don't worry about it, it was a false grenade."

"We've never found a grenade so nobody can tell you right now it was him on that bus. We believe it was him on the bus," Moffatt said.

Sodini fatally shot himself after killing three women and wounding nine others attending an aerobics class at the L.A. Fitness club in Collier Township on Aug. 4.

'There wasn't much we could do'
Since Sodini did not relate the entire grenade incident in his writings and no grenade was found in his home or among his belongings, there is no way to be certain it was really him on bus, Moffatt said.

Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said transit police didn't charge Sodini because the witness who reported seeing a man with a grenade couldn't confirm Sodini was the one. Sodini denied it when police found and questioned him two days later.

"It wasn't until two days later that our sergeant found a guy matching the description," Ritchie told The Associated Press on Monday. "There wasn't much more we could do at that point."

The passenger saw a man matching Sodini's description take a grenade out of a computer bag around 7 a.m. July 28 and move it around in his hands. The passenger didn't report it to Port Authority police until that afternoon, Ritchie said, too late for police to search the bus.

The passenger "definitely saw it; he just wasn't sure it was a real (grenade)," Ritchie said. "It looked pretty real to him."

The passenger told police the man "was sort of toying with it in his hands, sitting there almost passing the time with the thing in his hands."

Witness failed to identify Sodini
Police began staking out that bus route, and on July 30 a sergeant stopped, questioned and searched Sodini because he matched the description of the man with the grenade. The officer photographed Sodini, but the passenger was shown the picture and couldn't confirm Sodini was the man with the grenade, Ritchie said.

Port Authority officials immediately notified county police about the grenade investigation once Sodini was identified as the health club shooter, Ritchie said.

Two people injured in the shooting remained hospitalized Monday, one in fair condition and one in serious condition, hospital officials said.

Funeral home visitation was scheduled Tuesday in Franklin for the third woman killed by Sodini, Jody Billingsley, 37, of Mount Lebanon. Her funeral is Wednesday in Franklin. Funerals for the other two victims, Heidi Overmier, 46, of Carnegie, and Elizabeth Gannon, 49, of Green Tree, were on Saturday.

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