Wednesday, June 27, 2001

NEWS - Woman killed by sniper's bullet at zoo

Woman killed by sniper's bullet at zoo
Wednesday, June 27, 2001
CJ Online
The Associated Press
By Dee-Ann Durbin

LANSING, Mich. -- As Bernita White and her daughter walked toward a ticket booth at the city zoo, the state trooper's wife was cut down by a rifle bullet fired from more than 100 yards away.

On Tuesday, who fired the deadly shot and why remained a mystery.

"It's a tough case," Lansing police Lt. Ray Hall said.

Witnesses told police that one or two shots came from the woods at Potter Park Zoo, but no one saw the shooter.

The lawyer for Bernita White's husband acknowledged his client is under investigation but insisted he wasn't involved.

Bernita White, 41, a computer systems analyst, had filed for divorce a month ago, but the couple were still living together in suburban Lansing.

"Mr. White is adamant that he had nothing to do with it," attorney David Clark said. "He needs some time to be alone with his family. He has two children who don't understand the gravity of the situation."

Seven hours after the slaying Saturday, police informed Bernita White's mother of the killing. Barbara Sims, 67, of Detroit, went into cardiac arrest and died.

"She couldn't take it. She couldn't handle it," Sims' husband, Bennie Sims, told WDIV-TV. "It killed her. It almost killed me."

The bullet, which struck Bernita White in the heart and exited her side, hasn't been found.

Hall said authorities have ruled out the possibility that the bullet had been fired randomly into the air. Based on the bullet's trajectory, someone meant to shoot the woman, he said.

Police have questioned 20 people, including Bernita White's husband, Artis White, a detective sergeant with the state police.

He and his wife were in the park with their 5-year-old daughter when the trooper left to pick up their other daughter, 7, who has at another park. He returned about an hour later to find his wife dead, Hall said.

The zoo, closed for the rest of the weekend, was reopened Monday. A normal crowd of about 400 showed up, said executive director Carol Webster. As a precaution, a police officer has been assigned to patrol the zoo.

"It's not good to go through life being afraid," Jeanne Walser said Monday while watching her three boys play in the park. "But I've probably been a little more cautious. I'm looking around more than I would've before."

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