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Sniper investigation hits snag after witness discredited

A police officer searches the top of a van near the Home Depot store in Falls Church, Virginia.

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Discredited witness reports have caused police to shift the focus of the latest sniper shooting
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Police: Information from one reported witness 'not credible'
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Many wonder: Will life ever return to normal?
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The use of 'ballistic fingerprinting' in the hunt for the sniper.
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• Interactive: The death penalty
• Interactive: Police close in
• Interactive: Suspects' trail
• Story: D.C. area victims
Tip line:
$500,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people involved in the shootings.
Write-in tips:
P.O. Box 7875
Gaithersburg, MD
Reward contribution line:

Suspect vehicles:
White Chevrolet Astro-type minivan with a ladder rack on its roof; Ford Econoline van with a ladder rack on its roof; white box-type truck

ROCKVILLE, Maryland (CNN) -- The investigation into the Washington-area sniper spree suffered a setback after a witness account was discredited, authorities said Thursday.

"I would totally get away from all of the statements that were supposedly emanating from witnesses in the Fairfax County case," Fairfax County Police Lt. Amy Lubas said.

That witness had told police he saw the gunman shoulder a weapon just before Monday's shooting and then saw the shooter flee in a cream-colored van.

The man's description of a Chevrolet Astro van with a roof rack with its left taillight burned out was broadcast to law enforcement across the region and led to the shutdown of most major thoroughfares around the nation's capital as authorities searched for the van.

A source close to the sniper investigation told CNN that the witness who had claimed to have seen the latest shooting was actually in the Home Depot store at the time it occurred. Investigators were suspicious of his account because he could give great detail about the rifle and little detail about the supposed escape van.

This source said investigators questioned him extensively, and Wednesday night he confessed to making up the story.

Authorities said they expect charges to be brought against the man, whose name has not been released, for giving false information to police.

"It would have been better if it didn't happen," Lubas said.

Back at the scene of Monday's shooting that killed 47-year-old Linda Franklin, police Thursday again combed the parking lot around the Home Depot in Falls Church, Virginia.

Authorities in the last two days had expressed optimism that Monday's shooting would help crack the case because there have been few witnesses to the previous sniper shootings. The sniper has killed nine people and wounded two others, all in public places, since October 2.

Fairfax County Police Chief Tom Manger said authorities were still "going to continue to work with other witnesses at the scene" to see if they have any further details.

With the sniper investigation now in its third week, the only "common denominator" in all reports is that the shooter is a male. (What is known about the sniper)

Monday's shooting made Fairfax County the sixth locale in and around Washington, D.C. where the sniper has struck. Other shootings took place in Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland, in Spotsylvania and Prince William counties in Virginia and in Washington. (Living in fear)

In other developments:

Federal investigators plan to question suspected al Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere to see if any of them have any information about the sniper attacks in the Washington area, even though officials say there has been no indication of a link between organized terror and the shootings. (Full story)

An undetermined number of people are under surveillance as officials try to track possible leads in the sniper investigation, law enforcement sources said Wednesday. The sources stressed that the individuals are not suspects. (Tips for tipsters)

Officials said Wednesday the condition of the 13-year-old boy wounded October 7 at a Bowie, Maryland middle school has been upgraded to serious. He had been listed in critical but stable condition.

Hundreds of local, state and federal agents are working the case, and the Pentagon has authorized the use of Army surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft in the hunt for the killer, who has left nine people dead and two wounded since October 2. (Federal resources and military role) The aircraft to be used are the RC-7 and the U-21. (Aircraft profiles)

Leaders of the investigation continue to urge people to call the hot line, 1-888-324-9800, or use the FBI Web site,, to leave tip information. A $500,000 reward has been posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the sniper.

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