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Sniper Said to Leave 'I am God' Note

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Sniper said to leave ‘I am God’ note

Tarot card reportedly found near Md. school

NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES

ROCKVILLE, Md., Oct. 9 — A sniper terrorizing the Washington, D.C., area left behind a Tarot card with the words, “Dear Policeman, I am God,” written on it, police sources told several media outlets. A bullet casing also was reportedly found at the scene of the serial killer’s most recent shooting, a Bowie, Md., middle school where a 13-year-old boy was critically wounded.

THE TAUNTING MESSAGE, first reported Tuesday night by WUSA-TV, was left on a Tarot card known as the Death card. Unidentified sources cited by the Washington Post and the Associated Press confirmed the report.

According to the reports, the Tarot card for “Death” was found about 150 yards from the entrance of Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Maryland’s Prince George’s County.

The sources said the card, with its one-sentence message, was discovered in a matted-down wooded area where a shell casing also was found.

The shell casing was being checked against the National Ballistics Identification Network, a database of crime-scene firearms evidence maintained by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

If the sources’ accounts are accurate, the Tarot card would give investigators a new avenue to explore in their efforts to track down the sniper, who has killed six people and wounded two others since Oct. 2. In addition to testing the card for fingerprints, police might be able to trace the Tarot card, since many decks bear destinctive designs that could point to a specific manufacturer or distributor.

LEAK ANGERS POLICE CHIEF

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, who has been leading the investigation, angrily declined to confirm the reports about the card at a news conference Wednesday morning, saying he was concerned that unapproved information was leaked.

“It is inappropriate to comment about this card,” he said. “I need to make sure I don’t do anything to hinder our ability to bring this person or these people into custody.”

Moose also had harsh words for “retired law enforcement” officers who appear on television to discuss the case, describing them as “ranting and raving” and charging that they were putting the investigation in jeopardy for their own personal gain.

At a second news conference later, a calmer Moose indicated he was following the advice of other experts assisting the investigation in refusing to release details of the case.

“At this point I am following their advice,” he said. “I think it’s good advice.”

WOODED AREA SEARCHED

Investigators searching for the sniper remained on edge, quickly responding to reports of shootings and tips.

Officers wearing bullet-proof vests were searching a wooded area in Clinton, Md., Wednesday after police received a phoned tip that a man carrying a long bag had been seen walking into the trees. The area, which was sealed off with yellow crime scene tape as offices conducted the search, is near two schools and about 10 miles away from the scene of some of the sniper shootings.

Police in Prince George’s County also responded quickly early Wednesday to a report of a shooting at a motel on state Route 301. Investigators quickly determined the incident was the result of a domestic dispute and not connected to the sniper attacks.

So far, despite the efforts of nearly 200 police officers and a reward that has grown to more than $237,000, the key to finding the killer still eluded authorities.

At a news conference Tuesday, Moose acknowledged that he could not definitively say investigators were making progress in finding the killer. “I hope we are closer,” he said. “That is not a determination; that is a statement of hope.”

INVESTIGATORS RELY ON TIPS

With few other clues and only one sketchy witness account — a woman’s report that she saw a white cargo truck speeding away from one of the crime scenes Thursday — Moose said investigators were relying on tips from the public.

By early Wednesday, police said they were working their way through 1,600 leads culled from 8,000 tips to a police hot line at 240-777-2600.

The only evidence police have publicly discussed consists largely of bullets recovered from the sniper’s victims.

Investigators have discerned no pattern among the victims. One died on a Washington street, the five others within five miles of one another in Maryland. The student and a woman who was shot in suburban Virginia survived.

EARLIER CASE CONNECTED?

Michael Bouchard, special agent in charge of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ Baltimore field office, said investigators were trying to determine whether a shooting outside a liquor store Sept. 14 in Hillandale in Montgomery County was linked to the sniper attacks. In that incident, a 22-year-old employee of the liquor store was shot in the back as he stood outside but survived.

Bouchard said ballistics tests in connection with the shooting were inconclusive, and Moose did not characterize it as being of special interest, saying only that investigators were examining recent shootings nationwide to see whether they could find anything that matched up with the current shooting spree.

The single positive aspect of the investigation that authorities could point to was the rapidly growing reward for information leading to the capture and indictment of the sniper. The reward started at $50,000, but by Tuesday afternoon it had climbed to more than $237,000 thanks to a $100,000 contribution from the state and individual contributions, many from people who live out of state, said County Executive Douglas Duncan.

But Duncan said that was little comfort to victims’ families.

“On Wednesday, I’m going to my fourth funeral in four days,” he said. “The devastation that these killings have caused to these families is horrible. They can’t explain it. They can’t comprehend why their loved one was taken from them.”

CALL TO SURRENDER

As students, many of them escorted by their parents, returned to school a day after the shooting of the student in Bowie, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening joined local officials at a news conference to denounce the sniper.

“This is a person who is shooting elderly men, shooting women and now shooting little children,” Glendening said. “And I really think if there is any message, it is for this individual to turn himself in, to stop this insane killing.”

“No one is looking up to him. No one is thinking this is a great act he is doing,” the governor added. “This is an act of an absolute coward.”

Parents heeded calls from schools to escort their children to school Tuesday and volunteer on safety patrols after the boy was cut down Monday as his aunt dropped him off at Benjamin Tasker Middle School.

Authorities had encouraged parents to take their children back to school, arguing that they would be safer inside the buildings than elsewhere. Under the “code blue” security plan in place at schools in both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, students were not allowed outdoors during the day, and all afternoon activities like sports games were canceled.

But it appeared that many parents decided to keep their children home. Some buses carried fewer students than usual, and schools where parents usually line up their cars to drop off youngsters had no traffic problems.

BOY’S DOCTORS ARE OPTIMISTIC

The student who was wounded in the torso in Monday’s shooting was in critical but stable condition Tuesday at Children’s Hospital in Washington. Doctors said they were optimistic he would survive.

The only other victim known to have survived the sniper, a 43-year-old Spotsylvania County, Va., woman who was shot in the back Friday in a parking lot at a craft store in Fredericksburg, Va., was released from the hospital Tuesday.

All victims were hit by a single bullet fired from a distance. Police say the weapon was probably an assault rifle or a hunting rifle accurate up to 730 yards, the length of more than seven football fields.

Police have spoken of a single sniper but have not ruled out the possibility that more than one person is involved.

President Bush denounced the attacks Monday as “cowardly and senseless acts of violence” and ordered FBI profiling experts and ballistics analysts from the ATF to assist local police. Attorney General John Ashcroft told Moose he could count on federal support.

The police hot line to report information about any of the shootings in Montgomery County is 240-777-2600.

MSNBC.com’s Mike Brunker and The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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