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Woman Questioned in Md. Sniper Hunt

DAVID DISHNEAUOctober 9, 2002

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ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) _ A tarot card with the words, ``Dear policeman, I am God″ was found near a bullet casing outside the school where a 13-year-old boy was critically wounded, a person familiar with the investigation said Wednesday.

The shell casing was .223-caliber, the same caliber investigators believe was used to kill six people in the Washington area and wound another, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Michael Bouchard said Wednesday.

He would not discuss whether authorities had linked the casing to the shooting Monday at the school or to the other apparently random attacks.

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, who has been leading the investigation, wouldn’t comment when asked about the tarot card Wednesday but he said he was angry that unapproved information was being leaked.

``I need to make sure I don’t do anything to hinder our ability to bring this person or these people into custody,″ Moose said.

The taunting message left on a tarot card known as the Death card, first reported Tuesday night on WUSA-TV and then by The Washington Post, was confirmed by a source Wednesday to The Associated Press.

Police sources told the newspaper that the tarot card was found next to the spent shell casing in a wooded area about 150 yards from the school entrance in an area of matted grass, suggesting the gunman had lain in wait.

The motive for the seemingly random crimes still eluded police Wednesday, one week after the first of six slayings. Nearly 200 investigators were working their way through 1,600 leads culled from 8,000 tips.

``We need just a shred of evidence,″ Prince George’s County Police Chief Gerald Wilson said.

Wednesday morning, police responding to a 911 call spent several hours searching woods behind another school in Prince George’s County after a witness reported seeing a man with a long black bag. They called off the search after finding nothing in the woods, about 20 miles from where the boy was shot.

``We feel confident that nobody is in there,″ Prince George’s County Police Cpl. Diane Richardson said.

A woman who was questioned in the area was expected to be released, Richardson said.

A Prince George’s County school spokeswoman said students were being kept inside as county schools remained locked down.

Police believe the sniper has shot eight people. One death occurred on a Washington street, the others came within five miles of each other in Montgomery County, and a woman was wounded in Virginia.

Investigators say the sniper apparently picked victims at random and fired from a distance with a high-powered hunting or military-style rifle. All the victims were felled by a single bullet.

Even as they discarded one lead _ a man was released after police questioned him about at least one rifle in his home _ investigators wondered whether the sniper might have struck weeks earlier, on Sept. 14, when a liquor store employee in Montgomery County was wounded by an unknown assailant.

Bullet fragments recovered from the clerk who was wounded at a shopping center in Silver Spring have been examined, but the analysis has proved inconclusive.

``We are not linking it, we are not ruling it out,″ Bouchard said of the shooting in the Hillandale Shopping Center.

In Montgomery County, where five of the deaths occurred, Moose urged people to keep calling in tips. The reward swelled to more than $237,000.

``We feel like someone has information that will help us bring this situation to closure,″ Moose said.

The Sept. 14 shooting occurred outside the Hillandale Beer and Wine store. Owner Arnie Zelkovitz said police interviewed him about the incident, in which his 22-year-old employee was shot in the back.

Zelkovitz said he believes the man was another sniper victim: ``It just seems too coincidental.″

Gov. Parris Glendening took a confrontational tone, repeatedly calling the shooter ``a coward″ during a news conference.

The wounded 13-year-old boy, who police have not identified, was in critical but stable condition Wednesday. He was shot in the torso early Monday after his aunt dropped him off at Benjamin Tasker Middle School.

Ballistics tests found that the bullet that struck him was of the same caliber as those that killed some of the others and wounded a woman in Virginia. That woman was released from the hospital Tuesday.

Dorothy Prather, a teacher at Tasker, said she was impressed by how well students responded to the traumatic events. ``The only ones who seemed really concerned were the parents,″ she said.

At a nearby mall, employees at a Coldwell Banker real estate office noticed shoppers were edgy.

``They don’t get out of their car without looking around, then they dash in the store,″ Polly Rogers said. ``You don’t see people on their porch, or playing tennis. We’re not used to this _ we think Bowie is the safest place.″

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On the Net:

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

ATF: http://www.atf.treas.gov/

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