Warrant Issued in Sniper Case
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ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) _ Police issued an arrest warrant Wednesday for a man they believe may have information about the sniper shootings that have left 10 people dead in the Washington suburbs. Investigators also delivered another message to the sniper, complying with a request to say: ``We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.″
The man wanted for questioning, John Allen Muhammad, was being sought on a federal weapons charge and should be considered ``armed and dangerous,″ said Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose.
However, Moose cautioned that it shouldn’t be assumed Muhammad, 42, is involved in any of the shootings that have stricken the Washington area since Oct. 2.
The lead came on a busy day that saw the investigation spread across the country to Tacoma, Wash., where FBI agents converged on a home with metal detectors and chain saws.
Another potential lead cropped up in the South: Montgomery, Ala., Mayor Bobby Bright said federal authorities were investigating whether a fatal shooting there last month was linked to the sniper.
Bright said a caller to the sniper investigation tip line apparently claimed responsibility for the sniper shootings and the Montgomery shooting Sept. 21. One woman was killed and another wounded.
Moose said Muhammad may be traveling with a juvenile, identified by a law enforcement source as 17-year-old Lee Malvo. The relationship between Muhammad, who also goes by the name John Allen Williams, and the teen was not clear.
A law enforcement source told The (Baltimore) Sun that police found a piece of paper at the scene of the Montgomery shooting that bore Malvo’s fingerprints. Police then traced Malvo to a Tacoma house where he had been living with Williams, the paper said.
Several newspapers said Williams was formerly stationed at Fort Lewis, 15 miles from Tacoma. A Fort Lewis spokesman did not return a call for comment on whether Muhammad was stationed on the base.
Felix Strozier, who ran a karate school with Williams in 1997 and 1998, said Williams told him he had been in the Army but did not say where.
Early Thursday, police closed off a portion of Interstate 70 near Myersville in Frederick County because of ``significant police activity.″ They were also setting up a media center off I-70 in the city of Frederick, said state police Lt. Scott Yinger. It was unclear if the activity was related to the sniper investigation.
Across the nation’s capital and its suburbs, worried parents sent children off to schools Wednesday with extra-tight hugs, defying the sniper’s warning that children are not safe ``anywhere, at any time.″ Thousands kept their kids at home.
And police also said ballistics and other evidence had confirmed the bus driver shot to death Tuesday was the sniper’s 13th victim in the three-week rampage that has also left three people critically wounded.
Moose, who is heading the sprawling investigation, issued his latest message to the killer via television late Wednesday. He expressed frustration at the failure to make contact despite the sniper’s repeated attempts through ``notes, indirect messages and calls to other jurisdictions.″
``You have indicated that you want us to do and say certain things. You’ve asked us to say, ‘We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.’ We understand that hearing us say this is important to you,″ Moose said.
Then he said: ``The solution remains to call us and get a private toll-free number established just for you.″ If that happens, Moose said, ``we can offer other means of addressing what you have asked us for.″
The latest message believed to be from the killer was a letter found not far from where bus driver Conrad Johnson, 35, was shot Tuesday, two law enforcement sources told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The message reportedly demands $10 million _ the same request sources say was made in a letter found at another shooting site Saturday.
Police did not say where they believe the pair might be. They issued an alert for a 1990 blue or burgundy Chevrolet Caprice with the New Jersey license plate NDA-21Z and a 1989 white Chevrolet Celebrity with Maryland plates.
Earlier this month, police said they were looking for a burgundy Caprice seen near a fatal Oct. 3 shooting by the sniper in the District of Columbia.
Muhammad’s ex-wife, Mildred, was being questioned by the FBI Wednesday, said Adele Moses, who identified herself as the woman’s sister. She said Mildred was living with her in Clinton, Md., southeast of Washington.
In Tacoma, FBI agents spent hours at a rental home, eventually carting away a tree stump from the yard and other potential evidence in a U-Haul truck. The back yard was divided into grids by tape, and agents swept metal detectors back and forth in a painstaking search.
The agents, acting on information from the sniper task force, were seeking evidence related to ammunition, a senior law enforcement official in Washington said on condition of anonymity.
FBI spokeswoman Melissa Mallon said the property owner consented to the search, but she refused to say why agents were there.
``There’s no immediate danger to anyone in this neighborhood,″ she said.
Pfc. Chris Waters, a Fort Lewis soldier who lives across the street from the home, said he called police after hearing gunshots in the neighborhood nearly every day in January.
``It sounded like a high-powered rifle such as an M-16,″ he said. ``Never more than three shots at a time. Pow. Pow. Pow.″
Dean Resop, who lives a block away, said quite a few tenants had been in and out of the home.
``Makes you want to watch your neighbors closer,″ said Resop, who has lived in the area seven years.
FBI agents also visited Bellingham High School, 90 miles north of Seattle, on Wednesday. Mayor Mark Asmundson told the Bellingham Herald the agents were apparently seeking information on a male teenager who once attended the school and an older man. He said both left the area about nine months ago.
Investigators waited three days to reveal the sniper’s threat against children, which was contained in a letter found after a shooting Saturday in Ashland, Va.
Michael Bouchard of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms insisted vital information was not being withheld.
``We’re all parents and are certainly concerned about the safety of our kids and of our co-workers,″ he said. He said if information is released too early, ``it inhibits our ability to do the job we need to be doing.″
Schools across the region reported below-average attendance Wednesday.
``I’m not afraid of the sniper,″ said 17-year-old Heather Willson, a senior at Albert Einstein High School in Montgomery County. ``I mean, I don’t see any reason why he’s going to change his tactics now and come inside and start shooting up students.″
Schools in the Richmond, Va., area opened Wednesday for the first time this week, but attendance was lighter than usual.
Associated Press writers Curt Anderson, Allen G. Breed, Paul Queary and John Solomon contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Montgomery County police: http://www.co.mo.md.us