Mississippi authorities on Monday urged motorists to be alert in the wake of two shooting deaths along the state’s highways that they believe may have been committed by someone impersonating a police officer.
"There are some similarities between the two incidents, mainly the fact they happened alongside a Mississippi highway," Mississippi Bureau of Investigation Director Lt. Col. Larry Waggoner said in a press release. "The concern is that someone is posing as a law enforcement officer and that is how these vehicles end up on the side of the road."
Nebraska resident Thomas K. Schlender, 74, was found dead in his car along I-55 near Pope, Miss., on May 8. He had been shot and his was found in his car which had crashed into the highway median.
At a press briefing on Monday, Schlender was described as a grandfather traveling to Florida to pick up his grandson at the time of his death.
The other shooting victim, Lori Anne Carswell, 48, of Hernando, Miss., was found near her car on the shoulder of state Highway 713 near I-69 early May 11. Carswell, who worked at a nearby casino, was believed to be on her way home from work when she was shot.
Evidence from the two scenes led investigators to believe that both vehicles were on the roadside when the victims were shot. It also suggests that the two are linked, said John Champion, district attorney from Mississippi's northern region. He spoke to reporters at a press briefing in Hernando, Miss., on Monday, flanked by police, sheriffs and other officials from the region.
Shell casings recovered from the two shooting sites had been sent to the state crime lab for processing, said Warren Strain, public affairs director for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.
The department is urging people to verify that they are being stopped by a legitimate law enforcer, he said.
"If someone is being pulled over and it’s not obvious that it is a law enforcement officer, (they should) dial 911 or star 47 and that will roll into the nearest 911 dispatcher," Strain said, adding that dispatchers have been alerted and will be prepared to provide confirmation.
Officials at the press briefing said that if a driver is being signaled to pull over, they have the right to put their flashers on and drive slowly to to the nearest lighted and populated area before coming to a halt.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, under the safety department, is working with local police officers and sheriff’s departments and has put out relevant information to state and national law enforcement agencies.
Champion, the district attorney, also said the FBI behavioral science unit had been contacted.
Police earlier said that they were trying to find out where Schlender, the Nebraska victim, had stopped on his way south, but had no suspects in the case, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
"We do know that there were no inklings of foul play or criminal activity on Schlender’s part," Jay Hale, an assistant district attorney in Panola County, Miss., told the World-Herald.
Strain said there were other possible scenarios for the shootings, but did not say why investigators were focused on a police imposter, only that it was a "more ominous" possibility.
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