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Sniper probe seeks answer from messenger

Messenger: 'Your children are not safe'

Shooting victim Conrad Johnson
Shooting victim Conrad Johnson

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Police read part of a message reportedly from the sniper, threatening area children
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Chief to messenger: Request 'not possible'
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CNN's Bob Franken reports on the fatal shooting of a bus driver.
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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, Maryland
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
Is the person who police are communicating with the D.C.-area sniper?


SILVER SPRING, Maryland (CNN) -- Hours after revealing a threat against children in a message found at a previous shooting, the man leading the investigation into the Washington-area sniper attacks reached out for the fourth time to that messenger Tuesday night.

"In the past several days, you have attempted to communicate with us. We have researched the option you stated and found it is not possible electronically to comply in the manner that you requested," Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose read in his communication.

"However, we remain open and ready to talk to you about the options you have mentioned. It is important that we do this without anyone else getting hurt," the chief said.

"Call us at the same number you used before to obtain the 800 number that you have requested. If you would feel more comfortable, a private post office box or another secure method can be provided.

"You indicated that this is about more than violence. We are waiting to hear from you," Moose said. (Communicating with a suspect)

Sources close to the investigation said a handwritten letter, believed to have been left by the sniper at the scene of Saturday's shooting in Ashland, Virginia, demanded $10 million. The note was found in the woods behind the Ponderosa steakhouse. (More on the letter)

It was not immediately clear whether that $10 million demand was what Moose referred to when he said it was impossible "electronically" to comply with the sniper's wish.

Earlier Tuesday, Moose said a postscript to the message found in Virginia warned: "Your children are not safe anywhere, at any time."

Moose revealed the threat, he said, because, "We recognize the concerns of the community." The chief also said law enforcement officials were aware of the warning and were taking it into consideration when making safety decisions. (A massive investigation)

A new shooting Tuesday morning prompted officials to order all Montgomery County schools to operate under Code Blue, said Brian Porter, director of communications for the schools. Under Code Blue, all exterior doors are locked, all entrances and exits are monitored and all staff maintain a higher level of vigilance than usual, said Porter.

Saturday's shooting in Ashland, about 80 miles south of the nation's capital, led authorities there to close 10 Richmond-area school districts Monday and Tuesday. But all 10 districts planned to reopen Wednesday, said Laura Neff-Henderson, a representative of the Petersburg Public Schools who spoke on behalf of the region. (Schools', parents', students' reactions)

The note behind the Virginia restaurant was recovered after a phone call to the tip line alerted authorities where they could find it. Officials say they believe the note is authentic.

The note is undergoing analysis at an FBI lab for DNA, handwriting and other details that might help determine who wrote it. (What is known about the sniper)

Law enforcement sources said the handwritten note also threatened more killings and contained a timeline for authorities to act, and if they failed, then there would be more attacks.

Moose pointed out that no one is safe until the shooter is caught.

"The person or people have demonstrated a willingness and ability to shoot people of all ages, all races, all genders. And they've struck at different times of the day, different days and different locations," he said.

'That could have been me'

Authorities have not said whether the fatal shooting Tuesday morning of a bus driver in Montgomery County, Maryland, was connected to the sniper attacks that have left nine dead and three wounded in the Washington area.

Police said the driver was standing on the top step platform of a commuter bus when he was shot in the chest. The bus was sitting in a staging area where buses begin or end their routes.

The driver was taken to a trauma center in Bethesda, where he died.

Authorities identified the victim as Conrad Johnson, 35, a married father of two and a 10-year employee of the county's Ride On bus service.

"He loved basketball, he loved his kids -- very large extended family. And he's going to be missed greatly," said Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan. (A family's anguish)

Moose said police had not received any descriptions of vehicles or suspects from Tuesday's shooting. He urged citizens to remain vigilant.

Bus rider Nicole Collins believes she came close to being a victim of the sniper.

Police chief reveals message: "Your children are not safe anywhere, at any time."

"I usually get on that bus," she said. "God was with me today. That could have been me -- just dead."

The shooting was reported at 5:56 a.m. EDT in the Aspen Hill neighborhood of Silver Spring, an area close to the scenes of several of the previous sniper attacks.

Police in cars and helicopters converged on the shooting scene, which is near a basketball court surrounded by woods. Major roadways in and around the Washington metro area were blocked as police hunted for clues. Bloodhounds were being used to comb the woods near the scene. (Gallery)

The first six sniper shootings took place in Montgomery County. No one was injured in the first, when a window was shot out at a Michaels craft store in Aspen Hill on October 2. Five people were subsequently killed in the county October 2 and 3. (Trail of a killer)

The discovery of the note behind the Ponderosa steakhouse in Ashland, Virginia, prompted Moose on Sunday to make his first plea to the sniper to contact authorities. (Account of response to note)

Investigators believe the sniper called authorities Monday morning using a voice-disguising device, a source close to the investigation told CNN.

It was that phone call, this source said, that first prompted Moose to urge the possible sniper to "call us back."

"The person you called could not hear everything that you said. The audio was unclear, and we want to get it right," Moose said at a midday Monday news conference. (Full story)

Other developments

•The victim of the shooting outside the Ponderosa restaurant, a 37-year-old man from Melbourne, Florida, was in critical but stable condition at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. Officials linked the shooting to the other sniper cases after analyzing the bullet that doctors removed from the man.

•Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday he did not foresee the FBI taking over the sniper investigation, but he did not rule out the possibility. (Full story)

-- CNN correspondents Kelli Arena, Jason Carroll, Patty Davis and Jeanne Meserve, and producer Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.

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