Sniper’s Taunting Note Reported Found

T By Christian Davenport and Jamie Stockwell

the sniper linked to eight area shootings left a taunting message for authorities outside the Bowie, Md., school where a 13-year-old boy was shot Monday morning, police sources confirmed Tuesday night.

“Dear policeman, I am God,” the message said. Police said it was found on a Tarot card, part of a deck used in fortune telling, and is known as the Death card. It was spotted in a wooded area about 150 yards from the school entrance, where police have also found a spent shell casing and a matted area of grass that suggested the gunman had lain in wait.

The message, first reported Tuesday night on Channel 9 in Washington, was the first known communication from the sniper, police sources said Tuesday night.

Authorities have linked the same gun to several of the shootings, which have left six people dead and two wounded. However, despite devoting an increasing level of resources to the investigation, which has seized the attention of the Washington area and been widely reported throughout the nation, authorities have reported few clues.

Contacted Tuesday night after the television report aired, Prince George’s County police Chief Gerald Wilson declined to comment.

“I can’t confirm that,” Wilson said of the TV report. There’s “nothing I can say in regards to that.”

An officer close to the case told a reporter that the television account had severely impaired the police investigation.

Earlier Tuesday, it was reported that bullet fragments recovered from a liquor store clerk who was wounded at a shopping center in Silver Spring, Md., on Sept. 14 have been examined. But the analysis has proved inconclusive, authorities announced Tuesday night, meaning a connection cannot be made or rejected.

“We are not linking it, we are not ruling it out,” Michael Bouchard, an agent for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said of the shooting in the Hillandale Shopping Center on New Hampshire Avenue.

Police, meanwhile, returned to several of the recent crime scenes Tuesday, again searching for clues in a case that continues to baffle investigators. The broader inquiry, which has drawn 195 investigators from local, state and federal agencies, includes reviewing lists of snipers who served in the U.S. military, recent sales of rifles and a systematic review of 1,400 leads received from the public and deemed credible.

Investigators also are trying to determine whether there are links between the victims and the shooter. “This could be anything,” one law enforcement source said. “It could be another Timothy McVeigh. It could be bin Laden. It could be Joe Nut.”

Wednesday marks a week since the attacks are known to have begun with a single shot fired through the window of a Michaels craft store in Aspen Hill, Md. Since then, eight shots have killed six people and wounded two others. The victims range from a 13-year-old boy about to walk into his school in Prince George’s County to a 72-year-old man crossing a street at night in the nation’s capital.

Tuesday’s relative calm allowed investigators to canvass the different crime scenes and pore over the hundreds of tips received. The trauma of the last week was evident when Montgomery County’s police chief, Charles Moose, stepped up to a microphone for the afternoon news conference and began by saying, “There are no acts of violence in the county to report.”

Authorities said the rifle used in Monday’s shooting at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie was the same one used in five of the other shootings. The shell casing was recovered in a wooded area 150 yards from where the 13-year-old was standing. Until Tuesday night it was the only such piece of evidence publicly discussed by authorities. authorities.

One law enforcement source said that the ground was matted, as if a person had been lying there, and brush appeared to have been parted. That signals that at least in this case, the gunman was not in a vehicle when he fired, the source said.

At least three search warrants have been executed based on hundreds of tips investigators received after the shooting Monday, according to law enforcement sources.

The boy shot outside the Bowie school remained in critical but stable condition last night at Children’s Hospital. The only other victim to survive, a 43-year-old woman shot at the Spotsylvania, Va., Mall on Friday, was discharged Tuesday from Inova Fairfax Hospital after steadily improving since the weekend.

All of the victims were shot from a distance with a high-powered rifle that can be deadly accurate from as far as 500 yards. Authorities said it appeared that the victims were chosen at random as they went about the chores of everyday life–going to school, vacuuming a car, walking down the street.

Elected officials, appearing at a joint news conference outside police headquarters in Rockville, Md., said the myriad agencies involved in the investigation were working together. “There is unprecedented determination, there is unprecedented cooperation to solve this case,” said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. “There’s no turf battle here. There’s no ego here. Just resolve and determination to track down whoever has done this.”

Gov. Parris Glendening called the shootings an “act of absolute cowardice.”

“We will catch him,” Glendening said. “There is no question. And he will be brought to justice.”

As he and the others spoke, heavily armed officers stood watch atop police headquarters. The surveillance that is now a part of the investigation also includes two state police helicopters that circle the region during morning and evening rush hours and a chopper sent by the FBI.

At the news briefings, officials divulged little information on the status of the investigation. They continued to press the public for help, and announced that a reward fund set up by Montgomery County has grown to $237,000.

“Regardless of the quantity of physical evidence they have, it’s not like investigators are sitting around banging their heads,” said Douglas Gansler, Montgomery County state’s attorney. “They have gotten thousands of calls, hundreds of leads that they are tracking down. And that’s precisely how these types of cases get solved.”

Forensic testing has linked six of the eight shootings to a single high-powered rifle that fires a .223-caliber bullet. Washington D.C. police also have said that dogs detected residue from a gunshot on a wall in front of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Northwest, near the scene of one of the five fatal shootings Thursday.

Authorities have no motive in the slayings and no suspects have been named. A single eyewitness saw a white box truck at the scene of one shooting on Thursday, and police continue to place some import on that tip. Investigators are sifting through motor vehicle records and seeking to interview owners of such vehicles. Tuesday, Moose said investigators believe that they have not yet spoken to the person or persons who may have been in the truck.