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‘Divine’ sniper mocks America

Rockville, Oct. 9 (Reuters): The Washington area sniper who has killed six people and injured two others reportedly left a haunting message for police —“Dear Policeman, I am God” — but investigators angrily refused today to discuss the possible evidence.

Quoting law enforcement sources, WUSA television reported that detectives who recovered a shell casing in the woods near Monday’s shooting, when a 13-year-old boy was badly wounded, found a Tarot card known as the “Death Card” with a message scrawled on the back that read: “Dear Policeman, I am God.”

At the first of several news briefings scheduled for today, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose declined to discuss the card. “It is inappropriate to comment about this card. There has not been anything authorised for release.”

Contacted about the card, a police spokeswoman said she could not confirm it.

A frustrated Moose reacted angrily when asked about the reported message. “Someone in the team, someone on the law enforcement community has done something I find very inappropriate. It indicates that I don’t have control of the team,” he said. Moose said the investigation “continued to unfold” but offered few details about how police work was progressing in finding the killer.

“The person, or the people, that are doing this, rethink what you are doing, turn yourself in to law enforcement,” Moose pleaded at a later news briefing.

Since October 2, the sniper has killed five people and wounded one in Maryland suburbs of the US capital, killed one person in Washington and wounded another in Fredericksburg, Virginia, about 130 km south of the other shooting sites.

With the sniper silent since early Monday, area residents were on edge today, wondering if the shooter might strike again. Schools in Montgomery County, which were heavily guarded by police following Monday’s shooting, were closed today for a long-planned teacher training day.

In neighbouring Prince George’s County, where the 13-year-old boy was critically wounded as he was dropped off at his school, police were checking a report of a “suspicious person” carrying a shotgun near Friendly High School.

“We have officers there combing the area near the woodbine,” Prince George’s County spokeswoman Corporal Tammy Sparkman said by telephone. “The witness stated that she saw a suspicious person carrying what appeared to be some type of shotgun.”

The search area is around the town of Clinton, close to Andrews Air Force Base southeast of Washington D.C. It was not known whether this is related to the sniper shootings.

Authorities had also been examining evidence from a September 14 shooting in Montgomery County to assess if it was related to the sniper shootings. “The forensic work on the Sept. 14 shooting is inconclusive,” Moose said, adding that further tests were not expected.

Each victim was hit by a single shot fired from an assault rifle. There was no indication the victims, aged 13 to 72, knew each other. Ballistics evidence connected the crimes.

Authorities offered a $237,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the sniper.

The shootings rattled residents in and around the US capital, where many people were still unnerved by the September 11, 2001, strike on the Pentagon and letters sent later containing anthrax spores.

No one has reported seeing the shooter in any of the eight incidents. Police said the weapon was probably an assault rifle or hunting rifle accurate up to 730 yards.

The Secret Service, the FBI, US Marshals and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have joined state and local police in the investigation.

Montgomery County officials also have requested assistance from US Attorney General John Ashcroft, seeking additional help under a federal law pertaining to serial killings.

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