by Francis X. Clines, The New York Times
ROCKVILLE, Md., -- The police announced today that they had no
sketch to offer the public in their hunt for the suburban sniper
because witnesses who saw him kill his latest victim could not agree
on details in the mayhem of the shooting scene.
Investigators confirmed that more than one witness saw the latest
slaying, on Monday, but they would not disclose any details other
than the fact that the sniper is male. Advertisement
"There are a couple of people who believe they saw a man shoot,"
said Capt. Nancy Demme of the Montgomery County police.
"Unfortunately, distance and darkness and, perhaps, adrenaline have
made them unable to give us a clear composite that we can
The captain did not say, however, what partial descriptions or
other new evidence investigators might be working with in their
The search by hundreds of police officers went into a third week
with the Washington region fearfully anticipating that the sniper is
not finished with a rampage in which he has killed nine and wounded
two others in separate single-shot attacks.
With a single rifle shot to the head, the sniper killed
47-year-old Linda Franklin on Monday night as she loaded her car at a
shopping center in Falls Church, Va. Nearby witnesses said they saw
the shooting and offered the police details about the sniper, who
they said fled the scene in the same sort of light-colored van that
the police have been seeking from his earlier attacks.
One witness identified the weapon that the sniper shouldered,
about 90 feet from Ms. Franklin, as an AK-74, a high-powered
Russian-made assault rifle that can fire the type of bullets used in
the slayings, the police said. They emphasized that this detail might
be off somewhat because slightly different rifles, like light vans,
can appear so similar in the frenzy of a crime scene.
Through the day, there was a sense that the manhunt was taking a
more intensive tack on the basis of fresh, substantial evidence
collected but not publicly disclosed after the Monday shooting,
including partial license plate data. One report was of a Maryland
tag, but investigators declined to comment.
As in other periods of respite in the random assaults, news
reports surfaced of individuals under surveillance, but the police
emphasized they had no prime suspect to talk of. A steady run of
arrests continued as agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms pursued tips and found individuals with illegal rifles,
but no prime suspect.
The leaders of the local, state and federal manhunt task force
were unavailable for comment as they gathered for a private strategy
meeting. The elusive rifleman has baffled police in five
jurisdictions across a two-state 50-mile swath of the Washington
suburbs. Commanders have tightly restricted their comments to allow
him no hint of their strategy.
In another measure of the sniper's effects on local life, the
opening of the muzzle-loading deer-hunting season was suspended by
Maryland in a four-county region where the sniper has been preying.
"We don't want our officers chasing false alarms of shots fired,"
explained Doug Duncan, the Montgomery County executive.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening banned all recreational shooting except
at approved firing ranges until the sniper is caught.
With thousands of calls to the police logged, the captain urged
residents to keep calling about suspicious neighbors and "potential
suspects," people suspiciously angry or absent from work routines or
involved with weapons, she explained.
During the times of his repeated assaults, the sniper must so far
be going unaccounted for by anyone familiar with his routine, Captain
On Monday night, one witness talked of an olive-skinned man as a
possible suspect. But the police would not confirm this, emphasizing
factors like the yellowish dim light at the open-air parking garage
crime scene, as well as disparities with other partial descriptions.
"The only common denominator thus far is male," Captain Demme
said. "We don't have a refined description to go by."
With residents fully expecting another shooting soon, there was
wide speculation that the sniper might be pursuing a new sort of
gamesmanship by letting witnesses see him standing and taking aim on
Monday night in the garage. In previous shootings, the gunman has
shot across greater distances from perches hidden from witnesses.
His weapon can be accurate across 500 yards, say ballistics
specialists who found he is using high-intensity .223-caliber bullets
of the sort designed to bring down soldiers or large game on the run.
As each shooting occurs without an arrest, "the concern level and
the anxiety level are rising," said Mr. Duncan, chief executive in
Montgomery County, where the sniper has killed six people. Public
resolve to carry on with life is growing, too, Mr. Duncan insisted.
The other three killings were in Virginia, to the south and west,
enlarging the region's circle of fear.
Federal agents say they have been receiving many tips from
residents alarmed about gun-owning neighbors. "Most of these are
possessed legally," said Michael Bouchard, chief agent of the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, in the hunt.
"However, some are possessed by people who shouldn't have them,"
Mr. Bouchard added, cautioning against alarmist reports when the
individuals are questioned.