ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) -- Prosecutors are investigating whether to file
charges against a witness accused of intentionally misleading
investigators by falsely claiming he saw a sniper open fire with an
assault rifle and flee in a cream-colored van.
The story began to unravel when police compared it to accounts from
others who saw the shooting Monday that killed an FBI cyberterrorism
analyst in a crowded Virginia parking garage. Eleven people have been
shot in the sniper attacks since Oct. 2, and nine have died.
Fairfax County officials said the witness - who was not immediately
identified - could be charged with filing a false statement.
"It would have been better if it didn't happen, but it didn't cripple
the investigation," said Fairfax police Lt. Amy Luba. She said there
were other witnesses to the shooting Monday.
Police said they don't have a composite sketch of the sniper who has
terrorized Washington, Maryland and Virginia, leaving a tarot death
card at one scene inscribed: "Dear Policeman, I am God."
Authorities say they haven't ruled out the possibility there could be
Acting on tips and leads, police have served search warrants, checked
motor vehicle records, searched military documents and used other
tactics to sift through a constantly changing list of suspects.
Many people own guns that can fire the .223 caliber bullet used in
the attacks, or drive white vans similar to vehicles seen leaving the
Police had several people under surveillance Monday night, according
to a law enforcement source. They were cleared after the FBI agent
was shot in a parking lot around 9 p.m.
That incident initially appeared to give police a big break in the
case - the first witness to actually see the sniper.
But Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said Thursday the
witness was not credible. He also chastised reporters for running
reports about the weapon and descriptions of the suspect as
olive-skinned, possibly Hispanic or Middle Eastern.
"We get this noise ... out there that gives people tunnel vision and
makes them focus in on things that are not appropriate. ... We would
like to be able to do our job."
Moose said the witness' emphatic description of the shooter's AK-74
assault rifle is also bogus. But investigators cautioned that they
still believe the sniper is using one of a family of more than 30
similar assault-type weapons capable of firing a .223-caliber bullet.
"The message we're trying to say is please keep an open mind," Moose
said. "People saw a description of a weapon over the last day and a
half and we're convinced they eliminated people they know because
they say, `Their gun is not the weapon I saw in the paper."'
Police have defended their tight control on information in the case,
saying they don't potential witnesses to be influenced. They have,
however, released composite drawings of white box trucks and vans
that were reported leaving shooting incidents.
After two massive police dragnets failed to catch the killer, police
increased their presence on highways. Virginia State Police
spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said troopers have doubled their patrols
outside Washington by pulling in officers from other counties.
Investigators returned to the Home Depot parking garage in Falls
Church on Thursday to make another sweep for possible evidence. At a
parking lot across the street, police stopped all vehicles as they
left and officers appeared to crouch down to search beneath them.
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Schools in the region continued operating under lockdown
restrictions, with outdoor sports and activities postponed.
Montgomery County school officials planned a meeting next week to
search for ways to salvage shortened fall sports seasons.