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New Sniper Note After Deadline Passes

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New sniper note after deadline passes

NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES

ROCKVILLE, Md., Oct. 23 — Sniper investigators on Wednesday assessed a new note that reportedly repeats an earlier demand for $10 million, and issued a plea for any illegal immigrants who might have seen Tuesday’s shooting to come forward. That plea came with an INS promise not to deport any illegal immigrants with information on the sniper.President Bush said he would use all means at his disposal to help track down the killer.

THE PRESIDENT promised the “full resources of the federal government” and a spokesman earlier noted that that so far has included deploying more than 1,300 FBI and other federal law enforcement agents.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the hunt will remain “a joint operation” of county, state and federal agencies.

Washington-area parents were particularly on edge after it was revealed that a note found Saturday stated: “Your children are not safe anywhere at any time.”

Those parents had to weigh whether to send their children to classes Wednesday, after officials decided to keep schools open.

The report of a new note came from The Baltimore Sun, which cited unidentified sources as saying police found it at Tuesday’s shooting in Aspen Hill, Md. It reportedly restated a demand — first made in a letter left at a shooting in Ashland, Va., on Saturday — that $10 million be wired to a domestic bank account.

Sources close to the investigation confirmed the report to NBC’s David Bloom.

The sources added that the Saturday letter included a deadline to pay, and that Tuesday’s slaying came after the deadline had passed without payment.

A Maryland bus driver died in that attack, and police said Wednesday that ballistics tests had linked it to the sniper shootings.

Investigators also made a plea for any witnesses in past attacks to come forward. Charles Moose, police chief of Montgomery County and the sniper task force coordinator, said some illegal immigrants might have been witnesses to Tuesday’s shooting, and he tried to assure them that deportation wasn’t the task force’s intent.

“That is not our interest ... we will work with them,” he said at a news conference.

The head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, James Ziglar, later issued a statement saying he could “assure everyone that INS will not seek immigration status information provided to local authorities in this effort.”

Moose said he made the appeal based on information provided to him by other law enforcement officials.

Police also left fliers — in English and Spanish — on vehicles parked near Tuesday’s shooting, asking for anyone with information to come forward.

‘MORE THAN VIOLENCE’

Late Tuesday, Moose called a news conference to relay a message that underscored the reports of a demand for money.

“In the past several days, you have attempted to communicate with us,” Moose said. “We have researched the option you stated and found that it is not possible electronically to comply in the manner you requested. However, we remain open and ready to talk to you about the options you have mentioned. It is important that we do this without anyone else getting hurt.”

“Call us at the same number you used before to obtain the 800 number you have requested,” Moose continued. “If you would feel more comfortable, a private P.O. box number, or another secure method can be provided. You indicated that this is about more than violence. We are waiting to hear from you.”

At a news conference earlier Tuesday, Moose confirmed that a note was left at Saturday’s shooting and that it included a postscript that stated: “Your children are not safe anywhere at any time.”

The angry letter also berated police as “incompetent” and listed six calls to the sniper task force that had been “ignored,” The Washington Post reported.

Sources told Bloom that authorities waited three days to publicly reveal the threat because the writer had explicitly warned investigators not to release the note’s contents.

Addressing criticism about the delay, Michael Bouchard of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sought Wednesday to assure residents that no vital information was being withheld from them.

“We’re all parents and are certainly concerned about the safety of our kids and of our co-workers,” he said. He said that if information were made public “before we were ready for it to go out, it inhibits our ability to do the job we need to be doing.”

NO OUTDOOR SCHOOL ACTIVITIES

On Wednesday morning, Washington-area parents had that threat in mind when they decided whether to send their kids to school. Most schools were open, but there were no outdoor activities.

One Ashland, Va., mother, Kim Arthur, said she was a little scared, but added: “We can’t keep our kids from doing what they usually do” because that would scare kids even more.

Police were stationed at schools in the area, as school officials said they felt keeping schools open could be safer than leaving children at home unattended by working parents.

Still, schools were allowing parents who want to keep their children home to do so as an excused absence.

In Maryland, Gov. Parris Glendening was asked on WTOP Radio Wednesday if he might order National Guard troops to protect schools. He suggested he would not, saying he was concerned about the psychological effect that armed soldiers would have on students.

But Glendening said he is considering having National Guard troops at poll booths on Nov. 5, Election Day.

BUS DRIVER KILLED

Oct. 22 — A married father of two children was killed Tuesday in Aspen Hill, Md., possibly the latest victim of the Washington-area sniper. NBC’s David Bloom reports.

In Tuesday’s killing, bus driver Conrad Johnson was shot in the chest as he prepared his bus for his morning run. Johnson was 35, married and father of two children.

Capt. Nancy Demme of the Montgomery County Police Department told reporters that investigators were interviewing several witnesses, but it was not clear whether they saw the shooter.

Police put a 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.

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

Bus 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.

EARLIER CALL GARBLED

Investigators on Monday indicated that the person who left Saturday’s note had tried to contact them in a phone call that was too garbled to understand. And they pleaded with the person to call back.

Sources told 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 the caller is the sniper because information provided by him 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 a tarot card.

The sources added that the letter found Saturday was at least three pages long.

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

70,000 CALLS TO FBI

With Tuesday’s shooting now linked to the sniper, the number of people killed in the spree that began Oct. 2 is 10. Three others have been critically wounded.

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.

The FBI said it has received more than 70,000 phone calls in two weeks. The toll-free number is routed into 70 phone lines staffed by FBI agents as well as special agents from other agencies.

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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