Washington, Oct. 21 (Reuters): Officers arrested two people and seized a white van today that may be linked to deadly sniper attacks in the Washington area, as authorities planned to respond to a message found near the latest killing.
The White House confirmed the two arrests, underlining the keen interest that has swirled around the case. Nine people have been killed and two critically injured in one-shot attacks since October 2. A Saturday shooting in Ashland, Virginia, that wounded a 37-year-old man had the hallmarks of the killer but has not been officially linked.
Officials in Henrico County, Virginia, would not immediately confirm the arrests, but White House spokesman Ari Fleischer did.
“On the arrests, it’s a fluid situation,” Fleischer said. “There has been more than one.” He said the White House was keeping in close touch with developments.
The latest apparent victim of the serial sniper was shot outside a Ponderosa restaurant, under circumstances similar to other shootings: only one shot was fired, reportedly from the cover of a wooded area.
The white van seen today was in keeping with reported witness sightings of white vans or trucks near the scenes of previous shootings. Authorities in Virginia were shown on live television surrounding a public telephone booth and removing the white van near Richmond, the state capital.
The telephone booth may have carried a telephone number mentioned in the message found at the Ashland crime scene, which investigators disclosed yesterday.
The message, discovered near the scene of Saturday’s attack, was the second apparent communication from the gunman who has terrorised the Washington, DC, area for almost three weeks.
The shootings have ranged from suburban Montgomery County, Maryland, north of the US capital, to Ashland, some 145 km to the south.
“The message that needs to be delivered is that we are going to respond to a message that we have received,” said police chief Charles Moose of Montgomery County, Maryland, where five of the killings occurred.
“We will respond later, we are preparing our response at this time,” Moose told reporters in Rockville, Maryland.
Yesterday, Moose told reporters of the message with a very brief public statement: “To the person who left us a message at the Ponderosa last night, you gave us a telephone number. We do want to talk to you, call us at the number you provided.”
The Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper said the note containing the phone number and “significant text” was found in the woods behind the restaurant. The first apparent message from the sniper was found near the scene of a shooting that critically injured a 13-year-old boy outside his school in Prince George’s County, Maryland, east of Washington.
The message in that incident was on a Tarot “Death” card directed to police, reading: “I am God.”
The victim of Saturday’s attack remained in critical condition today after two surgeries, during which doctors recovered the bullet that had ripped through his stomach, pancreas and spleen. Officers were examining the bullet; the previous shootings have been linked by ballistics evidence.
A funeral service was also scheduled in Arlington, Virginia, for Linda Franklin, 47, the victim of the last shooting definitively linked to the sniper. Franklin was shot on October 14 outside a Home Depot in Falls Church, Virginia. Despite an intense manhunt involving 1,000 or more local, state and federal law enforcement officers, police have made little headway in finding the elusive serial shooter.