WASHINGTON – Montgomery County detectives have reportedly bought violent video games in a search for any possible motive behind the sniper attacks that left 10 dead and three wounded in the region.
Montgomery County Police spokeswoman Lucille Baur would not confirm or deny a report that county detectives had bought violent games or movies in a search for clues.
Baur did say that among the tens of thousands of calls police received on the sniper case were tips citing violent movies and video games. She said that officers followed up on phone tips, but she could not say which tips were pursued or how many dealt with videos and movies.
But a clerk at the Circuit City store in Gaithersburg said a detective approached his sales counter about two weeks ago to buy a copy of “Grand Theft Auto 3,” and that other clerks in the store had sold violent video games to people identifying themselves as police.
An official with the county police union said “it would not be unusual” for investigators to follow the video lead, although he could not say if they had done so in this case.
“There’s thousands of things that you do in the study of criminology and it would not be unusual,” for investigators to look at video games, said Walt Bader, president of the Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police. “It sounds to me like that’s what happened.
“It’s certainly possible. You follow a lead just like everything else,” Bader said. “I’m sure, from an academic standpoint, those things are being looked at.”
Tim Momyer said that at least one of the things being looked at is “Grand Theft Auto 3,” a PlayStation 2 game that lets players use a sniper rifle to shoot people, among other virtual acts of violence.
Momyer, a sales associate at the Circuit City store on Quince Orchard Road, said a Montgomery County detective came to buy a copy of the video game about two weeks ago. He described the buyer as a white male wearing a faded navy-blue shirt that said “Montgomery County Police” on it.
Momyer said the man wore a badge near his waist and said he was a county police detective who was going to study the game to see if the sniper was “using the game and being sick enough to re-enact the game.” Momyer said the man said he could not give a phone number or address.
He said other clerks at the store had also sold copies of violent video games to customers claiming to be police detectives working on the sniper case.
In “Grand Theft Auto 3,” once a player acquires a rifle, he can shoot people walking along city streets and in parks, including police officers. When a player uses the rifle, the video screen turns into a rifle scope with crosshairs. The player shoots, the rifle recoils as the shot is heard and — if hit — the target falls to the ground dead.
“You’re almost like a sniper in the video game,” Momyer said. “You take people out on the streets.”
The manufacturer says more than 6 million copies of “Grand Theft Auto 3” have been sold since its release in October 2001, grossing over $250 million, the highest-grossing PlayStation 2 game to date. A newer version of the game was released Tuesday.
The game gained attention when it got a “dishonorable mention” on the annual Video Game Violence Report by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Herb Kohl, D-Wisc. The report said the game is not recommended for children of any age because of its “extreme violence . . . the ability to cause fear, illegal/harmful behavior, disrespectful language, sexual content, as well as some nudity.”
“This game is the fantasy of a bunch of young guys,” said David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, which sponsored the game report. “It’s a fraternity house fantasy and clearly inappropriate.”
Rockstar Games, which publishes the Grand Theft Auto series, said the game is clearly marked with a “mature” rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, for blood, strong language and violence. It is recommended only for those 17 and older.
Walsh said that given the nature of Grand Theft Auto 3, the police were “prudent” to follow up on the leads. He noted that one clue in the sniper investigation was a tarot card with the words, “I am God.”
“Gamers will often say `I am God,’ which was on the card,” Walsh said. “They were smart to follow up on the possibility that the snipers were gamers because games like that mimic the kinds of actions the snipers were taking.”