Wednesday, October 23, 2002

SNIPER NEWS: Chief Moose Launches "OPERATION: Let's Go Get These F*ckers!"
Okay, here's the real story: TACOMA, Wash. — Authorities in the Beltway Sniper investigation are looking for two "people of interest," law enforcement sources told Fox News.

The two individuals they seek are John Mohammed, also known as John Allen Williams, formerly connected to Fort Lewis, an Army base south of Tacoma, Wash., and Lee Malvo.

The two men are linked to a blue or burgundy Chevy Caprice, with New Jersey license plates, with the plate reading: NDA-21Z.

The FBI searched a back yard in Tacoma that they believe may be related to the probe Wednesday night, the sources said.

Law enforcement sources told Fox News that search warrants related to the serial sniper case are being served in various parts of the country this evening — and this is just the first one.

The sources said these multiple warrants included some in the D.C. area and at least one search warrant is also being executed in Marion, Ala.

Agents searched the home in Tacoma Wednesday with metal detectors and chain saws — more than 2,000 miles away from the region where the shootings have taken place.

The agents, acting on information from the sniper task force based in Maryland, were seeking evidence at the rental home related to ammunition, a senior law enforcement official in Washington said on condition of anonymity.

A federal law enforcement official told Fox News it's not likely that arrests would be made Wednesday night and they are looking for a weapons cache or bullets. This was a consensual warrant, thus there were no doors broken down or forced entry.

The source described this as a "solid lead."

Lt. Col. Joseph Piek, a spokesman at Fort Lewis, said the FBI had asked for help from the base.

Piek told Fox News they are cooperating fully with the FBI and other agencies. He said they were contacted by the FBI at around 4:30 local time and he cannot confirm that a Fort Lewis soldier may have lived or rented the duplex. He also said about 60 percent of the soldiers live off the installation.

The flurry of activity raised hopes that investigators had a lead in the shooting spree that has left 10 people dead and three others critically wounded in and around the nation's capital since Oct. 2. The law enforcement source said no arrests were expected soon.

FBI spokeswoman Melissa Mallon said the search was consented to by the property owner, but refused to say why agents were there.

"There's no immediate danger to anyone in this neighborhood," she said.

The back yard of the home was divided into grids, and agents swept metal detectors back and forth over the ground. Other crews used chain saws to remove a stump from the yard and load it onto a truck; a source said the stump would be returned to Washington, D.C., for analysis.

Agents wrapped up their search and a rental truck containing the stump and other evidence left the scene Wednesday evening.

Dean Resop, who lives a block away, said "quite a few tenants," had been in and out of the home.

"Makes you want to watch your neighbors closer," said Resop, who has lived in the area seven years.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 miles away, worried parents sent their children off to schools across the Washington area with extra-tight hugs, defying the sniper's warning that children are not safe "anywhere, at any time."

Thousands of others kept their kids at home.

As expected, police said ballistics and other evidence had confirmed that the bus driver shot to death on Tuesday was the sniper's 13th victim in the three-week rampage.

Investigators waited three days to reveal the threat against children, which was contained in a letter found after a shooting Saturday in Ashland, Va.

Michael Bouchard of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms insisted vital information was not being withheld.

"We're all parents and are certainly concerned about the safety of our kids and of our co-workers," he said. He said if information is released too early, "it inhibits our ability to do the job we need to be doing."

For the first time in three days, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose did not issue a public statement to the sniper. A news briefing was scheduled, then abruptly canceled just before word leaked of the search in Washington state.

"The investigation has taken us down different avenues and roads that we need to explore," police spokeswoman Capt. Nancy C. Demme said without elaboration.

Earlier this week, Moose had implored the sniper to contact authorities and continue a dialogue, and he suggested police were having trouble complying with undisclosed demands.

The latest message believed to be from the killer was a letter found not far from where bus driver Conrad Johnson, 35, was slain Tuesday, two law enforcement sources told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The message reportedly demands $10 million — the same request sources say was made in Saturday's letter.

Schools across the region reported below-average attendance Wednesday.

There was no bus service for 3,800 special education students in Washington, and the overall attendance rate was just 75 percent, down 10 percent. In Prince George's County, Md., attendance was about 91 percent, down 4 percent from an average day.

In Montgomery County, where the shootings began and where Johnson was slain, attendance dropped to 89 percent. Attendance had been running about 95 percent, even as the school district joined others in "code blue" security status — meaning no outdoor activities or field trips.

"I'm not afraid of the sniper," said 17-year-old Heather Willson, a senior at Albert Einstein High School. "My school's fairly closed in, and we're pretty good at our code blue. I mean, I don't see any reason why he's going to change his tactics now and come inside and start shooting up students."

Schools in the Richmond, Va., area opened Wednesday for the first time this week, but attendance was lighter than usual.

Kim Arthur decided to walk 8-year-old son Stephen to John M. Gandy Elementary School in Ashland, Va.

"We can't keep our kids from doing what they usually do," Arthur said. "That would scare them even more."

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