- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

A Ride On bus driver was fatally shot in Montgomery County's Aspen Hill neighborhood yesterday morning while waiting to start his morning run. He appeared to be the 13th victim and 10th fatality of the sniper terrorizing the Washington area.
Conrad Johnson, 35, was killed in the pre-dawn hours in an attack that bears all the hallmarks of the sniper. One shot was fired, and there were no witnesses.
Mr. Johnson, 35 and a married father of two, was shot as he stood at the top step of the empty bus shortly before 6 a.m. in the 14000 block of Grand Pre Road not far from the intersection of Connecticut and Georgia avenues and just two blocks from where the sniper's first shot was fired into a store window three weeks ago.
A link to the sniper awaits ballistic tests on the bullet that killed Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Johnson was preparing to take commuters on another busy weekday route and was going about his routine: cleaning his bus, running down a checklist, completing paperwork.
He was hit, like the other sniper victims, by a single shot. There are woods nearby and the bullet came from an unknown direction.
"We have no vehicle lookout to share. We have no suspect lookout to share," Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose told reporters yesterday shortly after noon.
Within hours, dozens of Mr. Johnson's relatives were flocking to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, where they learned that he had died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
"He had a large extended family, and he's going to be missed greatly," Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said.
Fellow bus driver Wade Vassell said at the Silver Spring Metro station yesterday that a friend called him with the news of the death of "C.J."
"I know my boy eight years. He was my friend," the shaken co-worker said. "I'm nervous, real nervous."
The union representing drivers discussed increasing security. Alphonso Banks, who works the same route as Mr. Johnson did, said that he would cover some of his bus windows with cardboard as a precaution.
"I feel scared," said Mr. Banks, 35, who was to come back to his job at 7:15 a.m. today.
As federal, state and local law-enforcement officers combed Northgate Park near where Mr. Johnson had stopped, the destination sign on his blue-and-white bus displayed the message "Not In Service."
As in most of the earlier attacks, there were no known eyewitnesses.
The roadblocks now deployed by police in response to any suspected sniper shooting tied traffic in knots in the metro area yesterday during the morning rush hour, as scores of vehicles were stopped and searched. Commuters reported delays of two or three hours in reaching work. Some simply gave up and returned home.
Investigators pulled back, although not officially, from the theory that the sniper uses a white van or a white box truck. In past dragnets, police searched only white vans and trucks. Yesterday, all vehicles in the area were checked.
The ubiquitous white van reported seen at some of the earlier shootings has not been reported at the scene since a woman was killed at the Home Depot in Falls Church on Oct. 14. It was determined that the van was not related to the killings.
At a televised news conference last night, Chief Moose told the sniper that they could not comply with his demands and urged him not to inflict any more harm.
"Call us at the same number you used before to obtain the 800 number you have requested," Chief Moose said, referring to a phone number given once before by the man believed to be the sniper. "If you would feel more comfortable, a private P.O. box number or another secure method can be provided."
Earlier yesterday, an emotional Chief Moose revealed a threat in a letter left for police on Saturday night: "Your children are not safe anywhere at any time."
He said that he was disclosing that part of the letter, which he described as a postscript, to end speculation about threats against children. The letter was found near a restaurant in Ashland, Va., where a man was shot and critically wounded.
Chief Moose would not answer questions about the sniper's demands, which apparently were contained in the letter and in telephone calls to police.
A law enforcement source involved with the investigation told The Washington Times that the sniper demanded more than $1 million to stop the shootings. Other reports put the sniper's demand at "several million dollars," and WUSA-TV (Channel 9) said that the amount sought was as much as $10 million.
"We have researched the options you stated and found that it is not possible electronically to comply in the manner you requested," Chief Moose said, adding that police were still willing to negotiate and that the sniper should telephone again.
"You indicated this is about more than violence. We are waiting to hear from you," he said. "It is important we do this without anyone else getting hurt."
Investigators said that the bus stop shooting may have been the sniper's angry response to police attempts to capture him using the newly established lines of communication.
The revelation about the threat against children came after reports yesterday in the Los Angeles Times and Richmond Times-Dispatch that the sniper's letter contained a threat directed at Richmond-area schools. The report prompted criticism of Montgomery County officials who kept public schools open while Richmond closed schools on Monday and yesterday.
Some investigators believed that the sniper returned to the Maryland neighborhood where the shooting spree began because of the arrest of two men near Richmond at a public telephone under police surveillance.
"I think [the sniper] saw that and is sending them a message: 'I'm not as dumb as you think I am,'" said a police source involved with the investigation.
The arrests near Richmond occurred while Chief Moose was communicating with the sniper through the media. He was responding to a written message that instructed police to call a public telephone in Richmond, WUSA-TV (Channel 7) reported yesterday.
Chief Moose would not comment about the possibility that the sniper may have returned to Montgomery County because he felt betrayed by police watching the pay phone. "It is inappropriate for me to speculate," the chief said.
The bus stop shooting rekindled fears in Aspen Hill.
Lazaro Ledon, 21, who lives in the Northgate Apartments across from the bus stop, said that he regularly rides the bus on Mr. Johnson's route.
"I knew the guy was going to have to come back here," Mr. Ledon said of the sniper. "I'm getting paranoid. I was paranoid yesterday, but I'm more paranoid now because I know [the sniper] goes for people at bus stops."
Ride On bus driver Derrick Jones, 32, who has driven a Gaithersburg route for 2 years, said that he had been worried about getting shot on his bus before yesterday. Now, he's thinking of taking his wife and two children to stay with relatives in Pittsburgh until the sniper is caught.
"It makes me ready to take this uniform off and go home. If another driver goes down, people might start quitting," he said. "I hope they put about a hundred bullets in that guy when they catch him."
The serial sniper began the shooting spree on the evening of Oct. 2, firing a shot through the window of a Michaels craft store in Aspen Hill but injuring nobody. About 45 minutes later, the sniper killed a man in the parking lot of the Shoppers Food Warehouse in Wheaton.
The next morning, the shooter killed two men and two women in separate attacks in Montgomery County. The initial spree lasted less than two hours. By then, authorities knew a serial sniper was on the loose, and the killings continued.
That evening, the shooter killed another man just over the Montgomery County line in the District. The next day, a woman was shot and wounded outside a Michaels store in Fredericksburg, Va. She was released from the hospital after a few days.
The next attack came on Oct. 7., when a 13-year-old boy was shot as he was dropped off at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie. He remains hospitalized in serious condition.
The sniper killed a man at a Manassas gas station on Oct. 9; a man at a Fredericksburg, Va., gas station Oct. 11.; and a woman outside the Home Depot store in Falls Church on Oct. 14. The sniper did not strike again for four days, the longest break in the serial shootings.
On Saturday night, a man was shot outside a Ponderosa steakhouse in Ashland, Va. It was the first attack carried out on a weekend and in a different metropolitan area Richmond, which is about 30 miles south of Ashland. The victim, a 37-year-old man that Florida Today reported to be from Melbourne, Fla., remained in critical but stable condition yesterday at a Richmond hospital.
Although federal law-enforcement agencies are involved in the sniper investigation, a federal law-enforcement source said that it would remain a local case unless the shooter breaks federal laws. For example, federal conspiracy laws would apply if more than one person is involved.
Matthew Cella, Guy Taylor, Arlo Wagner and Jon Ward contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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