Police say to sniper: ‘Call us’

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, along with other police agencies, swarmed on a white Plymouth Voyager minivan in Richmond on Monday at about 9 a.m. in what proved to be a fruitless attempt to bring an end to the Washington, D.C.-area sniper case.

Police reported Monday afternoon that authorities could find no evidence to tie the two men arrested at the scene to the recent shootings that have baffled law enforcement officials in Virginia, Maryland and Washington.

Both were later identified as illegal immigrants.

Authorities did not disclose whether the gas station, a short distance from Henrico police headquarters, had been under surveillance before police responded.

The sniper, whose one trademark is his assassination-style, single-shot attack, has now left nine dead and three wounded in the D.C. metro area and Virginia since Oct. 2.

The arrests of the two men on unspecified charges came on a day rich with developments in the case.

Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose, who is in charge of the investigation, sent a cryptic message to someone Monday: 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.”

In response to that communication, Moose said, in part: “We do want to talk to you. Call us at the number you provided.”

Moose refused to give further comment except to ask the media to “carry it clearly and carry it often.”

His message follows the revelation Sunday night that police received a telephone number in a lengthy letter left near where the shot was fired Saturday that seriously wounded a 37-year-old man in the parking lot of a Ponderosa restaurant in Ashland.

Moose said Sunday he wanted the letter writer to call police “at the number you provided.”

Moose took no questions Sunday, but police sources later said the letter writer would know what Moose meant.

During Mooses Monday afternoon press statement, Special Agent Mike Bouchard of the ATF said the white box truck seized from a Virginia rental agency is not connected to the sniper case. Although there was a .223 caliber shell in the truck, Bouchard said, after testing, authorities have no reason to believe the shell is connected to the serial killer.

Police also confirmed Monday that the victim from Saturday nights shooting is the snipers twelfth. ATF ballistics tests confirmed the bullet came from the same rifle the sniper has used to fell his other victims.

The man, shot in the abdomen, remains in critical condition after undergoing surgery twice and suffering from severe internal injuries, which include significant bleeding.

Doctors at the Medical College of Virginia Hospital in Richmond removed the mans spleen, two-thirds of his stomach and half of his pancreas in surgery. He is expected to undergo three to four more surgeries.

Dr. Rao Ivatury, director of the hospitals trauma department, said the victim, who has not been identified, was “lucky to be alive.”

He was shot as he and his wife walked toward their car in the rear parking lot of the Ponderosa Steak House in Ashland on Va. 54 off Interstate 95 around 8 p.m.

Hanover County Sheriff V. Stuart Cook, flanked Monday by heads of local police agencies, Virginia State Police, the FBI and Virginia Secretary of Public Safety John W. Marshall, sought to reassure the public in an expanding area now victimized by the sniper.

“What we collectively want to say to our citizens of the metropolitan area is that we want to assure you that we continue to press forward with all of our resources,” he said, “and truly understand the fears, the anxieties and the concerns of all our citizens.”

Gov. Mark R. Warner stayed in Richmond Monday and canceled a scheduled visit to Hampton Roads. “We asked him not to go because of the unfolding events,” said gubernatorial spokeswoman Ellen Qualls.

Warner kept in “regular contact” over the weekend and Monday with Col. W. Gerald Massengill, superintendent of Virginia State Police, Qualls said.

As the search for the killer entered its 19th frustrating day, other leads that once had seemed promising continued to dry up.

Authorities confirmed that a shell casing found inside a box truck rented near Washington Dulles International Airport on Friday was not connected to the shootings.

Last week, police thought they had a major break from a witness who said he saw the shooting that killed FBI analyst Linda Franklin outside a Home Depot store in Falls Church. But the witness and his descriptions were discredited.

Instead of closing in on the gunman, police arrested 37-year-old Matthew Dowdy on charges of giving false information to authorities. During his initial court appearance in Fairfax County on Monday, Dowdy was ordered held without bond pending a Nov. 18 trial on the misdemeanor charge. If convicted, he could face up to six months in jail.

Richmond Times-Dispatch writers Paul Bradley, Kiran Krishnamurthy, Mark Bowes, Chris Dovi and Pamela Stallsmith contributed to this report.

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