Almost all of the so-called extrajudicial killings in the past bloody couple of years were carried out by motorcycle-riding gunmen wielding short firearms. A common scenario: One of two men riding in tandem would come within a few feet of his prey and shoot. With the target felled, both men would then speed away and vanish without a trace. A car could also be used as a getaway vehicle.
That was how it was carried out in the murder of the three priests in the past six months—the swift, almost fail-safe modus operandi of hired killers whose principals are too cowardly to do the killing themselves.
The murder last Monday morning of Tanauan City Mayor Antonio Halili (the fourth mayor to be killed) was unlike the countless ones in the past. He was felled by a sniper armed with a long firearm and hiding behind tall grass during morning flag-raising in front of the city hall. It looked like a well-planned, well-rehearsed kind of operation, one that needed nerves, practice and precision.
Shooting to kill someone at close range needs only enough nerves, motivation (money) and the right handgun or automatic weapon for the hired killer’s use—that is, after he finds his target at the right place at the right time. And, of course, how to get away fast. That is all there is. Sniping is different.
A sniper is a different beast of prey, a different breed. A sniper is one who shoots accurately from a hiding place and at a distance. There is a psychology if not method in becoming a sniper.
Just reading about a sniper can make you shiver, like in the novel “The Cellist of Sarajevo” by Steven Galloway, where a sniper with the nom de guerre Arrow carries out her everyday task to shoot in order to protect. And there is the autobiographical “American Sniper” by former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, “the most lethal sniper in American history,” who saw action in Iraq. At 38, he died in a hail of bullets from a war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In the 1990s, I interviewed for the Sunday Inquirer magazine a retired gun-for-hire (but not a sniper) who had so many kills in his resume. He happened to be a close blood relative of two top guns in the Armed Forces.
Police profilers must be, by now, busy finding out about recent target practice and related activities by gun enthusiasts, tracking down sharpshooters among civilians, the police and the military. It was not an ordinary Juan with a gun who put Halili in the crosshairs. Sure, the mayor had conducted “shame walks” for suspected drug pushers while he was a drug suspect himself, but who killed him, and why? And why in this manner?
If I may digress, shocking to me was how TV reporters were allowed by investigators to get into the grassy scene of the crime (where the sniper crawled, watched and waited) and do some reenactment themselves. All the traces of the sniper’s DNA (if he spit, dropped a tear, urinated) and other material evidence (footprints, etc.) were trampled upon and destroyed. Elementary, my dear Watson!
I was surprised to read a lot on snipers and sniping on the internet. A good read is “What goes on in the mind of a sniper?” by Stephanie Hegarty for BBC World Service. She interviewed snipers, Kyle among them, as well as behavioral experts who have studied snipers in war zones. Police snipers, Hegarty wrote, are of a different makeup and are more prone to PTSD than those in the military. And, yes, there is an American association that supports traumatized snipers.
“It’s killing that is very distant but also very personal,” anthropologist Neta Bar told Hegarty. “I would even say intimate.” She focused on snipers who, unlike soldiers who aim at big targets, pick individuals.
It would be interesting to know the profile of the sniper who killed Halili—
how and where he trained. Was he a lone wolf, a vigilante, a hired gun? If a hired gun, who hired him and why? For how much?
A new modus operandi in the drug war (presuming that the killing was drug-related) has begun.
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