Three teens arrested in 'copycat' attacks on Arizona motorists

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | Monday, September 14, 2015

A trio of teenage boys are facing charges of assault, endangerment and criminal damage in what authorities are calling “copycat” attacks perpetrated on motorists in the Phoenix metro area. In addition, a person of interest remains in police custody in connection with the highway shootings that have terrorized travelers on Interstate 10 since Labor Day Weekend.

The three suspects were apprehended after a motorist called 911 because his vehicle was struck by an unknown projectile in the town of Queen Creek, Ariz., a suburb southeast of Phoenix. The victims were able to identify and take pictures of the vehicle and license plate in an adjacent lane, which sped away quickly after the attack.

Arizona Department of Public Safety officers have been investigating a series of 11 shootings that have occurred along I-10 beginning on Aug. 29. The most recent confirmed shooting incident occurred on Sept. 11 and involved a tractor-trailer. Both DPS Director Frank Milstead and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said in a news release that the teens are believed to have been engaging in copycat behavior, and are not directly linked to the shootings.

On Friday, DPS officials announced they had questioned two persons of interest in the highway shootings, one of whom was detained. The detained suspect was subsequently identified as Oscar De La Torre Munoz, 19, of Avondale. Munoz was booked into Maricopa County Jail on Friday on an unrelated drug charge, according to DPS spokesman Bart Graves.

Graves said investigators are still pursuing leads in the shooting, and that “the investigation continues.”

Milstead previously referred to the shootings as “acts of domestic terrorism.” Authorities are offering a $20,000 reward for information on the shootings.

Only one person – a 13-year-old girl who was cut by shattered glass in the initial attack – has been injured so far in the shooting incidents, Graves has said.

The three teenage suspects in the copycat case – all of whom are 18 years old and from Mesa – have been identified as Aaron Nottingham, Albert German and Christian Cook. According to a news release issued by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, the suspects allegedly admitted their involvement in using a slingshot to fire landscaping rock at 10 pedestrians and four vehicles in the Mesa and Queen Creek areas on Saturday.

The shooting incidents have occurred along Interstate 10 in Phoenix and began in the late morning on Saturday, Aug. 29, when two vehicles were struck within a half-hour of each other on I-10 between 19th and 59th Avenues. A third vehicle was hit on the same freeway late that night. The fourth vehicle was shot on Monday, Aug. 31, at about 4:25 a.m. in the same area, according to reports.

Graves said the vehicles involved in the initial incidents were a local commercial truck, a bus, and two passenger cars.

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, a Phoenix police sergeant’s personal vehicle had a passenger window shattered while the officer was driving to work on eastbound I-10.

Police are asking motorists to be alert and exercise caution in the area. Graves said anyone with information about the shooting or who observes suspicious persons or activity should call the Arizona DPS at 602-644-5805, or Silent Witness, an anonymous crime hotline for the Phoenix metro area at 480-948-6377.

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