Bus driver is serial sniper’s 13th victim

A BUS driver was the Washington sniper’s thirteenth victim, police said last night as anxious parents took their children back to schools after a chilling warning from the gunman that said “your children are not safe.”

Maryland Governor Parris Glendening announced that the state would consider posting National Guard troops at polling stations if the sniper wasn’t caught by elections on November 5.

“I’m hoping the person is brought to justice long before election day,” the governor said.

Ballistics and other evidence connect Tuesday’s shooting of Conrad Johnson, 35, to the fatal shootings of nine other people in the Washington area, said Michael Bouchard of the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Addressing criticism that investigators waited several days to reveal the threat to children found in one of the sniper’s notes, Bouchard sought to assure residents that no vital information was being withheld from them.

“We’re all parents and are certainly concerned about the safety of our kids and of our co-workers,” he said.

He explained that, if information were made public “before we were ready for it to go out, it inhibits our ability to do the job we need to be doing.

Officials also urged any witnesses to come forward without fear of potential problems with their immigration status, despite authorities detaining two illegal immigrant men on Monday in a white van and turning them over to federal authorities for deportation proceedings.

“We just have concerns that some people in the immigrant community didn’t come forward,” Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said.

He said witnesses’ immigrant status is not the concern of the sniper task force.

Moose read the warning about children at a briefing on Tuesday. “Your children are not safe, anywhere at any time,” he said.

The message was left at the scene of the Saturday night shooting in Ashland, Virginia.

Addressing criticism that investigators did not reveal the threat for several days, Bouchard said yesterday: “We’re all parents and are certainly concerned about the safety of our kids and of our co-workers.”

“My kid was fine until he heard on the radio the other day that kids are not safe anytime, anywhere,” Andy Wisecarver said as he hurried his eight-year-old son into an elementary school in Kensington, Maryland.

“I’m not afraid of the sniper,” 17-year-old Heather Willson said defiantly outside Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland. “He mostly takes people out in groups of ones and twos, and normally it’s in a wide-open space.”

One of the sniper’s victims was a 13-year-old boy shot outside his Bowie, Maryland, school. The boy remains in serious condition.

Moose urged the killer to continue a dialogue that began after Saturday’s shooting.

The latest message believed to be from the killer was a letter found near the scene of Tuesday’s shooting.

The Baltimore Sun newspaper, reported that the letter repeated demands first made in Saturday’s note.

That note demanded $10 million, said a senior law enforcement official.

“We have researched the options you stated and found that it is not possible electronically to comply in the manner that you requested,” Moose said in a message that authorities explained would be understood by the sniper. “However, we remain open and ready to talk to you about the options you have mentioned.”

He said the sniper was seeking a toll-free telephone number to talk with authorities.

Moose offered to set up a private post office box “or another secure method” if the killer preferred. “You indicated that this is about more than violence,” Moose said.

The warning about children’s safety was discovered by police outside a steakhouse just north of Richmond, Virginia, where the sniper critically wounded a man Saturday night.

Moose said the warning about children was a postscript, but refused to describe the rest of the note.

The letter writer also called police inept and described six unsuccessful attempts to reach investigators by telephone since the attacks began, complaining that operators hung up on the calls, The Washington Post reported. Many of the calls made to a tip line set up for the case are being handled by FBI trainees, because officials want agents out in the field doing investigative work, according to federal law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

Over 600 FBI agents are assisting in the case.

The tip line, run primarily out of the FBI’s Washington field office, had received more than 67,200 calls through Sunday night, according to the sources. The calls continue to pour in at the rate of 400 an hour.

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