Fact Check

Sniper Avoidance Tips

Does an e-mail offer sniper-avoidance tips from an experienced 'SWAT sniper'?

Published Oct 15, 2002


Claim:   E-mail offers sniper-avoidance tips from an experienced "SWAT sniper."


Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2002]

Hello everyone,

As you may already know I have been a SWAT Sniper for about 3 years. My specialty is Counter Sniper for Presidential and dignitary protection. What this basically means is, I am posted at certain locations looking for a sniper/assassin. Once a threat is detected, I am charged in countering his/her ability to attack by early detection and neutralizing (killing) him/her.

Now on to business:

This Sniper killing people in the DC Metro area is a skilled sharpshooter and very calculated. Unfortunately he appears very disturbed and has just left a calling card stating he was God. What that probably means is he may escalate the matter by increasing the rate of killing in each attack because he acknowledges the police's hot pursuit. This sniper knows it's a matter of time before he is discovered. He thinks he is superior to everyone, but knows eventually he will be caught. He is playing a very sick game that he feels he is winning. He will probably want to sensationalize his confrontations with the police and eventually stop running and have a standoff. The police may be his future targets.

It is very important that you adjust your regular routine because this is a very deadly individual. I am going to give you my personal/professional advice on the matter.

The Sniper's MO (his methods) are the following.
a. 1st wave of attacks were concentrated in an area the suspect was very familiar with.
b. It appears these initial attacks were closer, probably less than 100 yards away. Witnesses were hearing loud cracks.
c. He definitely is showing off. He is trying to maintain 100%, one shot for one kill. (Sniper's creed).
d. He is probably not shooting the first person that appears. He is looking for the highest probable kill. This encompasses distance, position, and movement of the individual and excludes physical barriers
(vehicles, tress, columns, etc).
e. He is shooting from areas adjacent to major roadways, thoroughfares, highways, etc. (quick egress). First group was within a couple of miles from beltway. Child shot in Bowie was a block away from the US 50 on the 197.
f. He went up to northern Virginia (70 miles away) to throw police off his trail (diversion, used by snipers for stalking targets and eluding enemy).
g. He is making this to be a giant "Stalk" around the Metro area. It is a game now. He wants them to come after him (like he is in his own war against the enemy).
h. He is probably using any foliage (tree line, woods, bushes) that is around the malls, shopping center, gas stations, and parking lots.
i. He is able to shoot accurately out to 500 yards (5 football fields) with or without a scope (depends on individual's abilities).
j. The farther out he/she is, the more difficult of course it is to detect or pinpoint location. This aids in egress as well. (He knows this).

My advice to you all is to consider the following.

1. Avoid unnecessary errands.
2. Bring someone along.
3. Do not stand outside your vehicle grabbing things out the car.
4. If you go to the store, put items in back seat of car (nothing in trunk) so that you can grab items and exit quickly.
5. When slowing down or at a stop, keep windows closed (glass deflects bullets, he knows this and he is not shooting through glass anymore).
6. Never walk straight to a door more than 20 feet away. Zig zag and walk at angles. The shooter is setting up on doorways/entrances and waiting for victims to line up on entrance. The hardest shot for a sniper is a target traversing laterally to his/her position.

  • Walk between cars, use them for protection, and NEVER walk in a straight line to a doorway. Park as close as possible.
  • Be mindful of wooded areas and any bushes around establishment. More than likely surrounding areas. Look for reflections (glare of the scope or weapon).
  • Use drive-thru at fast food.
  • Look around and make it obvious (looking over your shoulder in the distant) he may hesitate if they think someone notices him. Point to what you are looking at as well. You want to telegraph yourself to others and get them involved.
  • Keep clear of abandoned vehicles, but concern yourself with them. He is probably parking along roads and walking to his shooting position.
  • You are probably safer inside the DC area only because congestion will prevent him an easy egress for the sniper. So if there is a toss up for a store then pick the inner city (not the outer boundaries).

The main thing is being careful. Everyone is at risk even the police. He is able to pick the time and place so he has the overall advantage over the police. . If you still have difficulty sorting it out, then just stay home (smile). These are just my opinions and hopefully can help in your daily activities. Take care.

God Bless.


Origins:   Each new crisis that reaches national attention seems to bring out at least one widely-circulated Internet message — penned by a self-proclaimed expert eager to share his credentials and expertise — offering simple, practical steps the average person can take to deal with and lessen his exposure to danger from the impending threat.

Just as we saw similar messages about how to protect ourselves against gas, germ, and nuclear attacks and mailed anthrax, now we have this latest missive about dealing with the sniper who has been terrorizing the Washington, D.C., area since October 2, killing nine victims and wounding two others.

That these messages circulate widely is not surprising: fear of becoming the victim of someone's dealing out death seemingly at random is a powerful emotion. No one can take comfort from the knowledge that he is not a part of the group being targeted when victim selection fits no identifiable pattern, and people begin to look for protective steps they can take to ensure their safety. Even if the steps offered actually provide little or no real protection, they fill our emotional need to have a sense of being able to assert some measure of control over our lives and fates rather than passively allowing someone else to control them.

As always, the most commonly asked question is, "Is this real?" Since the message quoted above does not contain any information about its author, verifying that it comes from someone who can claim to be a "SWAT Sniper" or a "Counter Sniper for Presidential and dignitary protection" is difficult. (Some versions included a first name and cell phone number at the end with an invitation to "give me a call if any of this is confusing," but that phone number is no longer in service.)

Are the tips (if not the psychological analysis of the motivation and experience of the unknown sniper) offered at least good ones? In general, yes, they match advice offered by other experts, although the message omits one of more common pieces of advice now being given out (one which runs contrary to the usual tenets for avoiding crime): try to stay away from well-illuminated areas:

BALTIMORE (AP) - Men who spent their careers studying snipers are giving civilians in the Washington suburbs the kind of advice they once gave to people accustomed to living in the line of fire: Keep moving. Look for cover.

Dark, out-of-the-way spots may be the safest places for people to buy groceries or pump gas, said retired Maj. John Plaster, former Army Green Beret and author of "The Ultimate Sniper," a police and military training manual. He offered the advice Thursday to people in counties surrounding Washington, where sniper attacks have terrorized people for nine days.

"If you look at where the night shootings have taken place, they were well illuminated," Plaster said. "Think about how well lit a gas station is at night when you're pumping gas."

Don Bassett, a former FBI instructor who trained agents to be snipers, said people should make themselves difficult targets. Anyone in an open area should keep moving — especially if the area is surrounded by woods or rolling terrain, he said. Anyone getting out of a car should avoid the most brightly lit areas of service stations or parking lots.

Bassett said quiet, country roads may be safer than busy streets for taking a walk or a jog. He calls schools and service stations "target-rich areas" because they see a constant flow of traffic.

"I think he's picking targets of opportunity that are more or less plums," Bassett said.

People walking quickly are harder to shoot, he said.

Plaster said people should also be aware when they're standing in an area where they're visible from more than 80 to 100 yards away. He said it's not difficult for a trained marksman to hit a target from that distance.

"I would try to be more alert, but at the same time you have to go on with your life," Plaster said.

Perhaps the larger issue is not whether these tips might somehow lessen one's chances of becoming a sniper victim, but how practical they actually are. How many people can effectively train themselves to "look for reflections" every time they walk through foliage or approach buildings adjacent to shrubbery, remember to approach every doorway by walking in a "zig zag" fashion, or spend their days constantly looking around and over their shoulders while pointing at everything they look at and attempting to engage the attention of others? And why stop with these tips? Mightn't, for example, taking to wearing clothing that can serve as camouflage be even better?

As always, a danger exists beyond the direct one created by the current crisis: that a large group of people — a whole suburban area, or even the entire country — can all too easily be paralyzed through fear and panic. That the average citizen can best help himself and others by being well-informed and aware is indeed good advice, but we must also be wary of being lured into the comfortable trap of thinking that "things aren't as dangerous as we feared" (or, worse, "there is no danger") because someone has thrown a few simple tips our way.

Last updated:   21 July 2011

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

Article Tags