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Police: No Sniper Sketch Possible

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Police: No sniper sketch possible

NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES

ROCKVILLE, Md., Oct. 16 — Disparities in witness accounts of Monday’s sniper slaying means a composite sketch of the suspect won’t be possible, police said Wednesday. The setback came as police confirmed that one witness was certain he saw the sniper fire an assault gun. Meanwhile, the Army was sending reconnaissance planes with high-tech surveillance equipment to help in the hunt for the killer.

October 15 — Families in the Washington area are coping with violent and unexpected death at the hands of a sniper. NBC’s Bob Faw reports on the lives lost.

POLICE HAD BEEN working with witnesses to Monday’s slaying of a woman in a parking lot in Falls Church, Va., but on Wednesday they backed off their earlier optimism of being able to give a description of the killer.

“There are a couple of people who believe they saw a man shoot; unfortunately distance and darkness and perhaps adrenaline have made them unable to give a clear composite that we can disseminate,” said Capt. Nancy Demme of Montgomery County Police, which is coordinating the investigation.

There was “so much disparity in their descriptions” that “the only common denominator” was that the suspect is male, she said.

But Demme said one witness “firmly believes” that he saw the suspect firing an AK-74. Not to be confused with the better known AK-47, some models of the AK-74 are capable of firing the .223-caliber rounds the killer has used, NBC’s David Bloom reported.

Still, Demme emphasized that the witness could be wrong and urged the public not to focus on a certain gun model. “We have to keep in mind that weapons are interchangeable, like vehicles,” she said.

Sources had earlier told Bloom that at least one witness saw the sniper inside the parking garage, perhaps 50 feet from the victim, Linda Franklin.

ARMY PLANES ON WAY

At the Pentagon, meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday approved deployment of the Airborne Reconnaissance Low, a DeHavilland DHC-7 equipped with advanced electronic and imagery sensors, including infrared, NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski reported from the Pentagon.

The planes were being flown to the region and were expected to join the hunt within days. The aircraft are based at Fort Bliss, Texas, and have been used primarily in the drug war in Latin America.

Authorities had considered using a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle but decided to have military pilots fly reconnaissance, a defense official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The help will be provided in a way meant to comply with the Posse Comitatus Act, an 1878 law that bans the military from domestic law enforcement. That means the military will relay data to law enforcement officials and will not decide on its own what targets to watch, the official said.

The Pentagon’s participation also could involve a system of sensors that could detect flashes of gunfire on the ground, the official said.

A U.S. intelligence official said intelligence agencies were not aware of any foreign connection to the snipers. “If we knew of any such links, we would inform the appropriate local authorities,” the official told NBC’s Robert Windrem.

But without hard evidence about motive, investigators were hesitant to rule out any possibility, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said Tuesday.

“Under these horrific circumstances, you don’t want to draw any premature conclusions,” he said. Regardless of whether the attacks are the work of terrorists, he said, “the community is terrorized.”

NEW VICTIM, NEW CLUES

The new technology signals a new tactic in the hunt for the D.C.-area sniper, who struck again Monday by killing Franklin, 47, in an attack investigators say has yielded the most detailed clues yet.

Linda Franklin of Arlington, Va., became the sniper's ninth victim.

Authorities examined a number of clues, including, for the first time, a witness account of a possible driver of a beige or white van that has been the focus of speculation since the shootings began Oct. 2.

One man who said he was a witness described a man driving away in a white van.

Robert Young, a Washington construction worker, told The Associated Press he had returned to the shopping center Tuesday to talk with police. He said he had heard a muffled gunshot and saw a white van.

Young said that as he backed his truck out of his parking spot, a white Chevrolet Astro van with two men inside tried to turn into his lane. He said the driver appeared very agitated to find his way blocked and instead drove by a neighboring restaurant and out of sight.

Young described the driver as a short man of slight build. He said, “I got a good look at the guy.”

The driver “seemed to be excessively irritated because he couldn’t pull into my lane,” he said. “I thought this fool was going to want to get out of the van and duke or something. But he didn’t. He kept on going.”

Police released these composite images of white vans that witnesses reported seeing at the scene of last Friday's sniper slaying.

CONSISTENT DESCRIPTIONS

Oct. 15 — The random nature of the sniper attacks has changed the pattern of lives and routines in the Washington area. NBC’s Robert Hager reports.

The vehicle description was similar to that of a van spotted near the site of a deadly shooting Friday in Fredericksburg, Va. Police on Tuesday released two composite images from Friday’s witness accounts, both showing white utility minivans with ladder racks. One depicted a late model Ford Econoline, while the other showed a Chevrolet van.

Fairfax County Police Chief Tom Manger said his department was “following up” on what kind of license plates the van spotted near Monday’s killing might have had.

“There was some additional information that we were able to get from last night’s case,” he said.

The FBI has a profile of the killer, Bloom reported, but is declining to release it. Police say the profile is not certain enough to release.

VICTIM WAS FBI ANALYST

Franklin, of Arlington, Va., was the mother of two grown children. She worked as a cybersecurity analyst for the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center, which tracks crimes tied to infrastructure such as computer networks, energy grids and financial services.

Franklin recently had a double mastectomy after breast cancer and was still in physical therapy at the time of her death, according to a friend, Paul Hulseberg.

Police said that Franklin was not one of the 400 FBI agents working on the sniper case and that there was no indication that she was targeted because of her job.

Franklin was shot once in the head as she and her husband loaded purchases into their car about 9:15 p.m. The two were in a covered parking lot outside a Home Depot in the Seven Corners Shopping Center of Falls Church.

Police closed roads in the area, but nearby freeways made it easy for anyone to leave the scene quickly.

Nine people have now been killed and two wounded since Oct. 2 by a killer who police think could be aided by a driver.

MORE THAN ONE VEHICLE?

Besides the van, police are also looking for a white box truck that witnesses reported seeing near a few of the shootings.

Maryland police have released composite images that show a flat-front white truck with a roll-up door in the back, a weathered paint job, a small dent in the back bumper and unknown dark purple or black writing on the side.

Moose acknowledged that the descriptions and composites of the vehicles reported by witnesses in Virginia, who described a van, differed significantly from those in Maryland, who described a panel truck.

“It’s not beyond any reality that the person or people involved in this would have numerous vehicles that they could be using,” Moose said.

Montgomery County police released these composite images Saturday of a white box truck described by witnesses to at least two of the Maryland shootings.

The reward for information leading to capture of the killer has grown to more than $500,000.

Authorities have established a hot line — 1-888-324-9800 — for any tips, but said they were still overwhelmed and urged only callers with specific leads to call. People with non-urgent information should submit tips through the FBI’s Web site.

People can also write in with tips to P.O. Box 7875, Gaithersburg, Md., 20898-7875.

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