- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose yesterday urged whoever called police on the special number yesterday to call back because the first call was garbled.
The appeal came hours after the leaders of the large police force said they had conclusively linked a shooting on Saturday night in Ashland, Va., to the sniper who has killed nine persons and wounded three in Maryland, Virginia and the District since Oct. 2.
Two men arrested in a white van early in the day, which saturation television coverage had led thousands of viewers to think the sniper had been caught, turned out to be illegal aliens on their way to a deportation hearing. They had no connection to the sniper at all.
Chief Moose first acknowledged some sort of dialogue Sunday night when he held an unscheduled briefing to say police had found a note with a telephone number at the scene of the shooting in Ashland at Ponderosa restaurant.
Then two statements yesterday indicated that there had also been telephone contact with an unspecified person.
"The person you called could not hear everything that you said," Chief Moose said to a growing collection of shouting reporters yesterday afternoon. "The audio was unclear and we want to get it right. Call us back so that we can clearly understand."
He declined to answer questions about what communication has taken place.
"Unfortunately, I will not be able to discuss the issue or answer any questions regarding attempts to communicate. It would be inappropriate," he said.
CNN, the cable-TV network, reported that law-enforcement officials were directed to a three-page handwritten message behind the restaurant by a caller to the national tip line who had an "unknown accent." The note was said to include a demand for money.
Investigators believe that the call might have come from the sniper, and that the caller was the same person who had left the message and phone number on a piece of paper at the scene of the shooting Saturday. A sniper critically wounded a man who had stopped with his wife for dinner at the steakhouse.
The communication would be the first since Prince George's County police found a tarot card with the note, "Mister Policeman, I am God," near the scene of an Oct. 7 shooting at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie where a 13-year-old boy was critically injured.
NBC News reported last night that the person contacting police was, indeed, the sniper. It said phone numbers known only to the sniper were being routed to the task force headquarters in Rockville.
The network also reported that the note found at the scene in Ashland contained threatening details that police would not disclose and the exact language of the earlier tarot-card message.
Hopes were raised at 8:45 yesterday morning when a dozen police cars descended on a white Plymouth minivan parked next to a pay phone at an Exxon gasoline station. Hanover County Sheriff V. Stuart Cook said that two men were taken into custody at Parham Road and Broad Street in Ashland.
Police questioned the men, but by late yesterday it was established that the two a 24-year-old Mexican and a 34-year-old Guatemalan were not connected to the investigation. The two men were being transferred to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service for deportation proceedings based on immigration violations, an immigration official said.
Another promising lead collapsed yesterday when Special Agent Michael Bouchard of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said that a shell casing recovered in a white box truck at a car rental agency near Washington Dulles International Airport on Friday night was not connected to the case.
"There is no evidence to say that shell casing was linked to any of these shootings," Mr. Bouchard said.
Police are following a lead from French authorities, who alerted Interpol, the international police agency, that a French army deserter who is known as a marksman is missing in North America. A Defense Ministry spokesman said that there was speculation of a link to the sniper.
The latest shooting victim, a 37-year-old man who was shot in the stomach outside the restaurant in Ashland, remained in critical but stable condition yesterday after his spleen and parts of his pancreas and stomach were removed. Dr. Rao Ivatury, who performed the surgery at the Medical College of Virginia Hospital in Richmond, said the man was conscious and responding to his wife's voice but would require additional surgery within a few days. "He still has a long way to go."
Surgeons removed the bullet and turned it over to investigators. As in the previous shootings, a single shot was fired in this instance, as well. Doctors were "cautiously optimistic" that the man, who was not identified, would make a full recovery. His wife said they were from out of state and were "just traveling through" when they stopped for food and gasoline.
A man charged with lying to police about what he saw at the scene of a sniper attack at the Home Deport in Falls Church a week ago was again denied bail at his arraignment yesterday.
Police said Matthew M. Dowdy, 37, of Falls Church gave them a false story about an olive-skinned man in a cream-colored van leaving the scene of the Oct. 14 sniper shooting. Fairfax County Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond Morrogh said that Dowdy "deliberately lied to police on three separate occasions" about what he saw and that his misinformation "resulted in a massive waste of time and resources." If convicted, he could be sentenced to six months in jail.
Schools in Richmond and nearby counties were shut down yesterday. Schools in the Washington metropolitan area will remain open today, though most have canceled outdoor activities and field trips.
Patrick Badgley, S.A. Miller, Mary Shaffrey, Ellen Sorokin, Guy Taylor and Arlo Wagner contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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