Sniper lull fails to calm region

No shootings in 2 days and few new details

`We should all be concerned'

Heightened security at Redskins stadium

October 14, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

For a second straight weekend, it appeared that the sniper terrorizing the Washington area attacked no one - a welcome, if small, comfort with the killer still on the loose after 12 days.

Authorities yesterday offered few new details on their intense hunt for the serial sniper, who has killed eight and wounded two. News media briefings were cut to one a day because officials said there has been scant information to release.

In Landover, thousands of football fans went ahead with Sunday tailgating rituals before the Washington Redskins game but amid heightened security. As helicopters buzzed, some in the pre-game crowd said they were keeping one eye on the grill and one on the woods around FedEx Field's parking lots.

In this climate of fear and uncertainty, a "good day" is one in which the sniper does not shoot anyone, said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. By that definition, Saturday and yesterday were good days.

A fast-food restaurant manager was arrested yesterday in Virginia for allegedly reporting a rooftop sniper in an attempt to get a day off from work, sheriff's deputies said.

Stafford County authorities closed a milelong stretch of highway and evacuated at least five businesses in response to the 911 call, Sheriff Charles Jett said.

Deputes traced the call to Richard L. Jones, 25, manager of the Burger King in the plaza where the gunman was reported, Jett said.

Stafford is between Manassas and Fredericksburg, two communities that in the past four days have recorded killings linked to the sniper.

The sniper's most recent attack occurred Friday, when 53-year-old Kenneth Bridges of Philadelphia was gunned down as he pumped gas into his Buick in Spotsylvania County, Va.

Many people noted that last weekend's calm ended Monday morning when the sniper wounded a 13-year-old boy at a middle school in Bowie.

"That is something we should all be concerned over," said Arnett Gaston, a University of Maryland clinical psychologist who studies violent behavior and thinks the sniper will act again.

Police declined to speculate about the possibility of new incidents. "We won't make any assumptions about any kind of pattern," Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose told reporters.

Moose said he was satisfied with the investigation, which involves agents from several federal agencies and local police departments. "I feel very good about the progress," he said without elaborating.

He said the sketch of a white box truck that was seen at more than one sniper shooting in Montgomery County produced "a lot of calls" to an FBI tip line, 888-324-9800. (Moose asked the public to dial the number carefully because a software firm with a similar number has been inundated with errant calls.)

Investigators were still working on a sketch of a Chevrolet Astro van seen leaving the site of Friday's shooting, he said.

In addition to looking for white vans and box trucks, Moose said on CNN, the public should pay attention to recent strange behavior, such as a person who is never around during the shootings or frequently changes his or her schedule.

"We're not closing our minds to anything, so it's really asking people to keep an open mind," he said. "Let our investigators determine whether it's good information or bad information - don't make that decision yourself."

Moose, along with Duncan, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and other officials made the rounds of the Sunday morning television talk shows yesterday, urging viewers to call in tips and to continue with their normal daily routines, including going to work and school today.

In all, 10 people have been shot by the sniper, police say, eight of them fatally, as they shopped, cut grass, pumped gas, went to school or sat on a bench. The single-shot slayings have occurred in suburban Maryland, Washington and Virginia.

Gaston, a professor of criminology at Maryland, said the killer seems to have a sense of intellectual superiority.

"What's the sense in being smart if you cannot continue to demonstrate the superiority or if no one knows how smart you are?" he said. "For these two reasons alone, the probability is these acts will continue."

Gaston speculated that this attitude ultimately may be the sniper's undoing: "No matter how brilliant any of us are, if we do something often enough we make a mistake."

Outside FedEx Field, a bolstered police presence was visible on the ground and in the air.

"There are definitely more officers," said Capt. Andy Ellis of the Prince George's County Police Department. There was also a "heavier" helicopter presence.

The number of tailgaters, though, seemed down. Marty O'Brien, who owns Fran O'Brien's Steak House in Washington, said he sometimes has 150 people at his tailgate parties. Yesterday he had about 100.

Many fans, he said, went straight into the stadium, where a crowd of 80,768 watched the New Orleans Saints win, 43-27.

In the RV parking lot, the party on the Bohemian Party Vessel - an old school bus named for National Bohemian beer - was in full swing.

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