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Police Back Handling of Sniper Case

October 13, 2002

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ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) _ Investigators hunting for the Washington-area serial sniper defended their limited release of information, saying Sunday they must strike a balance between enlisting the public’s help and revealing too much to the killer.

Montgomery County police Chief Charles Moose, who has become the public face of the probe, has refused to answer questions about any investigative detail, from whether a suspect has been spotted on surveillance cameras to whether any more notes have been left behind.

``Please rest assured, when we have something we are confident the media can help us with, we will use that,″ Moose said Sunday. ``It is a fine balance, but we do understand the power we have with the media in the 21st century, but we also know that we must use that appropriately.″

Since the shootings began Oct. 2, 10 people in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., have been hit, all with a single shot, all apparently at random as they went about their daily errands. Eight have died.

A massive task force of county, state and federal officers hasn’t said if they know much about the killer, whose only apparent communication to police was a tarot card left at one shooting scene with the words, ``Mister Policeman, I am God.″

Moose on Saturday released composite images of a box truck, based on witness descriptions from more than one shooting, showing a flat-front, older-model white truck with a roll-up door in the back, a weathered paint job, a small dent in the back bumper and unknown dark purple or black writing on the side. Witnesses said it may have also had a loud motor.

Officials said a similar sketch of a white Chevrolet Astro van with a ladder on top, reportedly seen at the most recent killing at a northern Virginia gas station Friday, may be on the way, but no descriptions of any possible suspects have been released.

``We don’t want to release anything that may cause the media or anyone to think they’re a suspect,″ said federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Mike Bouchard. ``We don’t want them to fear they are going to be labeled as a suspect.″

Moose appealed at a briefing Sunday for anyone who was near the shooting scenes to look at the composite truck images. ``Please keep an open mind,″ he said.

When asked Sunday morning if he was worried about Monday, given that the sniper hadn’t struck during a second weekend, Moose said: ``We won’t make any assumptions about any kind of pattern.″

Moose also refused to comment on a Time magazine report that the FBI has asked the Pentagon to search its records for recently discharged GIs who had gone through sniper school, which teach snipers to work in tandem, one as the spotter, the other as the shooter.

The Pentagon referred questions to the FBI. FBI spokesman Mike Saltz declined to comment on any investigative leads.

``I don’t think you need special training. Obviously the person has practiced before,″ Bouchard said.

The magazine also reported that the FBI is creating animated 3-D computer-graphic displays to reconstruct the crime scenes in hopes of jogging memories of potential witnesses.

Four of the 10 shootings have taken place at service stations, sending jitters through motorists and station operators across the region.

Raja Abilnona’s filling station sits across the street from the Exxon station south of Fredericksburg, Va., where 53-year-old Kenneth H. Bridges was shot to death Friday morning. He has started parking three tow trucks in front of his pumps as a shield.

``Maybe my customers will think it’s safer,″ he said. ``It’s harder to see in here ... at least it will make it more difficult for someone to shoot.″

In Alexandria, Va., members of the Guardian Angels, a volunteer public safety organization, manned two gas stations to pump for travelers too scared to get out of their cars. At Landover, Md., security was beefed up for Sunday’s Washington Redskins game.

Moose encouraged people in a region already anxious over last fall’s hijackings and anthrax scares to stay alert to the latest attacks, but not panic.

``We want people to keep the faith and remember that this is certainly not the first person or group of people that have tried to change us or change our behavior as a nation.″


On the Net:

Montgomery County Police Department: http://www.co.mo.md.us

Federal Bureau of Investigation: http://www.fbi.gov

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms: http://www.atf.treas.gov

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