- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

Authorities on the sniper task force in Montgomery County say that the case was cracked by spontaneous and wide-reaching teamwork by local police and federal agencies.

"We certainly can't take all the credit, nor can the ATF," said FBI Special Agent Barry A. Maddox, who worked closely with the task force, which included local police, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and members of the U.S. Secret Service.

"There were so many agencies involved in this investigation from the beginning local and federal. It has been a very good team effort, and I don't want to pinpoint one agency more than another," he said.

Federal law blocks agencies such as the ATF and the FBI from seizing control of a local murder investigation unless the police submit a written request for help.

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose did just that on Oct. 7, four days after the sniper made headlines by killing five persons in the county within 16 hours.

He wrote U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for help. Mr. Ashcroft responded with a telephone call on Oct. 8, telling Chief Moose, "We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to solve this."

The presence of federal agents in the Washington metro area could be felt almost immediately. When the sniper hit Oct. 9, killing a 53-year-old man at a gas station near Manassas, ATF and FBI agents quickly descended on the scene to gather evidence.

While the federal muscle provided expertise in this instance, the large numbers of agents aggressively combing the scene of a shooting on Oct. 14 outside a Home Depot in the Seven Corners area near Falls Church in which a 47-year-old woman was killed appeared to create some confusion.

Days after the massive evidence-gathering effort, Chief Moose announced that a key witness to the shooting had misled investigators. For the next week, the sniper probe appeared to lack direction, with the police chief holding impromptu news conferences and reading to the killer cryptic messages that appeared to have been carefully scripted.

Just when it seemed that the investigation had become significantly hampered by turf battles between federal and local agencies and by the fear that sensitive information was being leaked to reporters, there were some key breaks:

• On Saturday night, investigators discovered a multiple-page letter dropped in the woods in Ashland, Va., where the sniper shot a 37-year-old man outside a restaurant just hours earlier.

• On Sunday, investigators alerted authorities in Montgomery, Ala., that they had credible information linking the sniper to a Sept. 21 liquor-store shooting in that city in which one woman was killed and another injured.

• On Tuesday, investigators found another note near the scene where the sniper had killed a 35-year-old bus driver in Aspen Hill. Late in the day, Chief Moose sent a cryptic message to the sniper on national television, saying it is "not possible electronically to comply" with the sniper's requests.

• On Wednesday, the task force secured a warrant to arrest John Allen Muhammad, 42, on federal weapons charges, and Chief Moose announced that investigators also were searching for John Lee Malvo, 17, and for a burgundy Chevrolet Caprice.

• Earlier Wednesday, investigators searched a property in Tacoma, Wash., where Mr. Muhammad apparently had lived. A tree stump, reportedly used for target practice, was taken from the property to an ATF laboratory for ballistics tests to compare with the bullets found in the sniper shootings.

• At 3:19 a.m. yesterday, police arrested Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo after the two were found sleeping in their car at a rest stop off Interstate 70 in Frederick County, Md.

The quick developments that preceded the early-morning arrest occurred on a national scale, lending the impression that the investigation had become a massive homeland security effort.

But agents on the task force, based in Montgomery County, have been careful not to characterize as a federal "terrorism investigation" their efforts to catch the sniper.

Such a probe officially would have been led by a homeland security department.

"It's not a terrorism matter at this time," said an FBI official. "This has been a domestic police matter involving a murder case."

Mr. Maddox said that the quick pace of the investigation and its sudden expansion in scope was a direct result of cooperation between local and federal agencies.

"The fast developments are what federal law enforcement brings to the table," he said. "We have 56 field offices throughout the United States, and what we bring to the table is manpower, resources and expertise."

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