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Nation

Investigators defend policy on sniper

| Monday, Oct. 14, 2002

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) — Investigators hunting an increasingly brazen sniper defended their meager release of information, saying Sunday they don't want the killer to know what they know.

Authorities pointed to the dangerous balance between pleading for public help and revealing too much.

"We don't want to release anything that may cause <#201> anyone to think they're a suspect," said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Mike Bouchard.

Montgomery County police Chief Charles Moose, meanwhile, has cut back on his news briefings while saying he wishes there was more he could reveal.

"I wish we could give you a name, a mug shot and an address, but we're not at that point," he said in one of four appearances he made yesterday on national TV talk shows.

Moose has become the public face of a massive task force investigating a random shooter who has fired a single round into each of 10 victims, killing eight, in suburban Washington since Oct. 2.

The most-recent killing occurred Friday morning, when a 53-year-old father of six was shot while fueling his sedan in a gas station just south of Fredericksburg, Va. At the time, a state trooper stood just 50 yards away, investigating a traffic accident.

Also yesterday, calls continued to flood tipster hot lines with information about white box trucks and a second white vehicle, a Chevrolet Astro van, seen at two or more of the killing sites.

And authorities began describing the serial sniper as not just a local threat but an attempt to terrorize an already anxious nation.

"This reminds us that people in our past have tried to intimidate and put fear into Americans," Moose said. "This is a strong nation <#201> and we will not be intimidated."

At the sprawling Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., pastor C.J. Mahaney urged Sunday worshippers to turn off their televisions and turn to God.

"I am concerned there is too little faith and too much fear," the preacher said from the pulpit.

Frances Pratt, 86, attended morning services at St. George's Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, a few miles north of the latest shooting.

"I don't worry," Pratt said. "Sooner or later he'll be caught. They always are."

The victims, in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., were shot as they carried out daily errands, including mowing grass, shopping and pumping gas. Four were killed at service stations.

County, state and federal investigators won't say whether they know much about the killer, whose only apparent communication to police was a tarot card left at one shooting scene with the words, "Dear Policeman, I am God."

Moose refused to comment on reports that the FBI has asked the Pentagon to search its records for recently discharged GIs who had gone through sniper school. FBI spokesman Mike Saltz declined to comment on any investigative leads and the ATF's Bouchard said: "I don't think you need special training. Obviously the person has practiced before."

Investigators also would not discuss reports that a scrap of paper found at the site of the latest killing contained scribbled directions from northern Maryland to the Capital Beltway.

Authorities told residents to keep looking for a white truck matching composite images released Saturday and based on witness descriptions from more than one shooting.

With no known shootings since Friday morning, a reporter asked Moose whether he was worried about today. One week ago, the killer apparently took the weekend off, only to strike again on Monday, Oct. 7.

"We won't make any assumptions about any kind of pattern," Moose said. "I never approach Monday morning with a sense of dread."

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