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NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN BELTWAY SNIPER INVESTIGATION

Police Say Their Investigation Is In "Sensitive Stage"

Richmond, Va. -- The man leading the investigation into the Washington-area shootings issued a new plea Monday to the person who called police with a sniper-related message.

"The person you called could not hear everything that you said. The audio was unclear and we want to get it right. Call us back so that we can clearly understand," said Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Chief Charles Moose.

The chief said getting that message out was the most important thing he had to do Monday afternoon. He asked the media to "carry the message often."

He would not elaborate, saying to do so "would be inappropriate and detrimental to our investigation."

Earlier Monday, police spokeswoman Lucille Baur called the situation "very fluid."

"We're in a very sensitive stage in the investigation," she said.

It was the third statement from Moose in two days in which he has tried to communicate with the messenger about the sniper blamed in the killings of nine people and wounding of three others in the Washington area since October 2.

Moose first sought contact Sunday after a handwritten note was found behind the Ponderosa Steakhouse where the latest sniper victim was shot Saturday. Moose addressed that plea to "the person who left us a message at the Ponderosa."

Sources said the note "hinted at a demand for money.

Sources said investigators found the note after a caller to the sniper tip line indicated there was a note for police in the woods near the restaurant. Sources said the caller was a man with "an accent of unknown origin."

It was the first time police acknowledged finding a communication during the course of their investigation. According to law enforcement sources, investigators found a Tarot card near the scene of a shooting October 7 at a middle school in Bowie, Maryland.

Two men detained

Authorities took two men into custody Monday morning near the area where the tipster's phone call originated in Richmond and questioned as part of the sniper shootings probe.

One man was in a white van parked at a pay telephone at an Exxon gas station. The other was at another nearby location.

Neither man was charged with a crime. Federal law enforcement sources said no evidence was found linking either man to the shootings.

They described the men as undocumented workers -- one Mexican and one Guatemalan -- who may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

After searches of the van and the undisclosed location where the second man was picked up failed to produce any evidence, their cases were turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the men will be detained until placed in removal hearings.

Victim's wife urges prayer

The latest shooting was linked to the other sniper cases after the bullet removed from the victim in surgery Monday morning was taken to a federal laboratory in Maryland for testing.

"The ballistics evidence uncovered during our investigation has been matched with the other shooting cases," said Hanover County Sheriff Stuart Cook.

Saturday's victim, described as 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, had just dined with his wife before he was gunned down with a single shot. He remained in critical but stable condition Monday at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond.

His wife issued a statement Monday urging well-wishers to continue praying for her husband as well as "for the attacker and also that no one else is hurt."

Other developments

•Funeral services were held Monday for the victim most recently killed in the series of shootings. Linda Franklin, 47, of Arlington, Virginia, was gunned down in a shopping center parking garage last week in nearby Falls Church.

•Public school superintendents in Richmond and Chesterfield, Goochland, Henrico and Hanover counties closed their schools Monday, and encouraged other districts to follow suit. They also urged parents to monitor their children's activities and routines.

•The man charged with giving false information to police after Franklin's shooting was arraigned Monday in Fairfax County and denied bond. Matthew Dowdy, 37, claimed to have seen a man with a gun just before the shooting and told police he saw a cream-colored van with a malfunctioning taillight. If convicted, he faces up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

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