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Man Dies in New DC-Area Shooting

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Man dies in new D.C.-area shooting

Oct. 22 -- Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose and County Executive Doug Duncan describe Tuesday's shooting.

NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES

ASPEN HILL, Md., Oct. 22 — A bus driver was shot and killed as he prepared his bus for his Tuesday run, and police immediately treated the slaying as if it were the work of the sniper who has terrorized the Washington, D.C., area for almost three weeks. Police swept the scene soon after the shooting, but they later said they had no new information to disclose about the sniper.

“AT THIS POINT we have no vehicle lookout to share, we have no person lookout to share,” Charles Moose, police chief of Maryland County and the sniper task force coordinator, told reporters.

Moose called the shooting “very similar” to the sniper attacks and said ballistics tests would be done to compare the bullet to those in the sniper shootings.

“We realize that the person or the people involved in this have shown a clear willingness and ability to kill people of all ages, all races, all genders, all professions, different times, different days and different locations.”

Moose had used three previous briefings to communicate directly with the person he hinted was the sniper, but he told reporters Tuesday that he had no new messages to relay.

SEVERAL WITNESSES

In Tuesday’s shooting, police said Conrad Johnson, a Montgomery County bus driver, was shot in the upper abdomen as he stood on the top steps of a bus.

Johnson was airlifted to a hospital within a half-hour of the shooting, but surgeons were not able to save his life. He was 35 and a father of two children.

Capt. Nancy Demme of the Montgomery County Police Department told reporters that “we don’t know if this is related but we’re treating this as if it is.”

She said investigators were interviewing several witnesses, but it was not clear whether they saw the shooter.

Police put a widespread dragnet into place immediately after the shooting, clogging traffic on Connecticut Avenue, one of the main arteries into Washington, D.C., just as the morning commute began. Police helicopters flew over the scene as cars were checked at roadblocks for nearly four hours.

The shooting, which happened before sunrise about 6 a.m. ET, was adjacent to an apartment building and wooded area in Aspen Hill, Md.

Johnson’s bus was stopped next to a wooded park with a playground and basketball court. Drivers often park their buses there as they get ready for their morning runs.

The location, 15 miles north of downtown Washington, is near six of the confirmed sniper attacks, and less than a mile from the first shooting at a crafts store where a bullet pierced a window without hurting anyone.

Unlike many of the confirmed shootings, this one was not near an interstate onramp. But given the minimal traffic at the time, the attacker could easily and quickly flee the scene.

Police converge on the scene of a shooting early Tuesday in Aspen Hill, Md., where a 40-year-old bus driver was shot in the chest and killed.

‘CALL US BACK’

On Monday, authorities continued a game of cat-and-mouse with the person who left a letter at the scene of Saturday’s shooting in Ashland, Va.

Investigators indicated that the person tried to contact them in a phone call that was too garbled to understand. And they pleaded with the person to call back.

“The person you called could not hear everything you said. The audio was unclear and we want to get it right. Call us back so that we can clearly understand,” Moose said via a press conference.

Sources told NBC’s David Bloom that the person called police using a disguised voice that was only about 25 percent audible. Two phone lines known only to that person have been set up and are being routed to the sniper task force, Bloom added.

Law enforcement sources told The Washington Post that police believe they have spoken to the letter writer by phone at least twice.

The sources said police believe the caller is the sniper because information either from the phone calls or the letter indicates intimate knowledge of the tarot card left Oct. 7 at a shooting scene in Bowie, Md.

The Post’s sources said that at least once the male caller said, “I am God” — a reference to the publicly disclosed words on the tarot card.

DETAILS ABOUT LETTER

The sources added that the letter was at least three pages long, contained veiled threats and mentioned a demand for money.

A senior law enforcement official speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity said Tuesday that the letter suggested the author wants several million dollars.

The Los Angeles Times and Richmond Times-Dispatch said the letter also contained a threat directed toward schools.

The Times also reported that unidentified federal agents said the letter was poorly worded, bordering on broken English.

An investigator who read the note told Bloom that the contents indicate “this could be a very difficult time we are about to go through.”

GAS STATION STAKEOUT

October 21 — There was excitement when police grabbed two men near the scene of Saturday’s shooting. But as NBC’s Joe Johns reports, it didn’t pay off.

The Post also cited several sources as saying that one of the calls to the sniper task force came Monday morning and was traced to an area immediately near a Richmond, Va., gas station where two men were detained later that day.

Authorities later said the two men had been at the wrong place and the wrong time and had nothing to do with the sniper attacks.

Henrico County police spokesman Tom Shumate said the men — a 24-year-old Mexican and a 35-year-old Guatemalan who were in the country illegally — had been turned over to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The Post reported that after the phone call Monday morning police had been staking out the area when a white Plymouth Voyager with a roof rack pulled up next to a pay phone at the gas station. Police rushed the vehicle, dragging out the driver.

The second man reportedly was detained across the street at another gas station where he was using another pay phone.

RELAYING TIPS

The sniper has killed nine people and critically wounded three in Virginia, Maryland and Washington since Oct. 2.

Until Saturday, the longest distance from Washington that the sniper had struck was in Spotsylvania County, about 50 miles south of the nation’s capital. Ashland is about 85 miles south of Washington.

Investigators on Saturday also started using Army spy aircraft on loan from the Pentagon, The Washington Post reported. The aircraft have sophisticated infrared radar but there has been no word on what if any impact they have had so far.

The reward for information leading to capture of the killer stands at 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 online at www.fbi.gov/sniper/sniper.htm.

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

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