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of Va. shooting may link to sniper
Victim remains in critical condition after surgery
Victim remains in critical condition after surgery
ASHLAND, Va. -- Authorities believe the Washington-area sniper left a message with a telephone number at the scene of the latest shooting in Virginia, The Associated Press learned Sunday. Police appealed to the person who left the message to contact them.
"To the person who left us a message at the Ponderosa last night. You gave us a telephone number. We do want to talk to you. Call us at the number you provided. Thank you," Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose said in a televised briefing.
Moose made his cryptic statement as sniper task force investigators said they were working on the assumption that the sniper has expanded his geographic reach after shooting 11 people, nine fatally, in the Washington area since Oct. 2.
Surgeons succeeded Sunday night in removing the bullet from the 37-year-old man shot at the Ponderosa in Ashland, Va., on Saturday night, and turned it over to investigators for testing. Hospital spokeswoman Pam Lepley did not know the bullet's condition.
The victim remained in critical condition after three hours of surgery. Lepley said doctors were cautiously optimistic but expect the man will need more surgery.
Public schools in the Ashland and Richmond area will be closed Monday, affecting more than 200,000 students, "based on the volume of parent and community concern," school officials announced late Sunday. After the earlier sniper slayings, schools restricted activities but did not close.
Moose refused to elaborate or take questions about the message left at the steakhouse or how it was left. But he asked the news media to "carry it clearly and carry it often."
After the briefing, Officer Joyce Utter, spokeswoman for Montgomery County police, said Moose's statement "should make complete sense" to the person who left the message.
"That is the only person Chief Moose wants to talk to," she said.
A law enforcement source close to the investigation said the person who left the message is probably the sniper who is responsible for the Washington area shootings.
Investigators who combed the area outside the Ponderosa finished their search Sunday but said little about what, if anything, they had found.
Some witnesses said they heard a shot coming from a wooded area near the restaurant, but nobody reported seeing the shooter.
If the shooting is linked to the sniper attacks, it would be the first weekend attack and the farthest the sniper has traveled -- about 85 miles south of Washington.
The longest previous distance from the Washington area was Spotsylvania County, about 50 miles south of Washington. It would also break the longest lull between shootings, about five days.
Former FBI profiler Clinton Van Zandt said Saturday's shooting, if related, could show the killer's approach is changing in response to law enforcement tactics. For instance, reports last week that military surveillance planes would be used in the Washington suburbs probably prompted the sniper to move farther away, he said.
And since much had been made about the weekend lulls, "I think he reacted to that," Van Zandt said.
The most recent confirmed sniper attack was the Monday night slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin outside a Home Depot store in Falls Church.
Residents were on edge in Ashland, a town of about 6,500. At the Virginia Center Commons mall, about seven miles from the shooting, a normally busy food court sat half-empty Sunday. Shopper Nancy Elrod said she almost had been too afraid to come.
"We certainly felt sorry about all the people up north who were nervous and now it's down here and we're nervous too," said Elrod, 45.
Police said the victim of Saturday's shooting, whose name was not released, and his wife were traveling and stopped in Ashland for gas and food. His wife told authorities the shot sounded like a car backfiring and said her husband took about three steps before collapsing.
The victim underwent surgery for three hours Saturday night at MCV Hospitals in Richmond, Lepley said.
Doctors had to remove part of the man's stomach, half of his pancreas and his spleen, said Dr. Rao Ivatury, the hospital's director of trauma and critical care. The man was conscious but unable to talk because he was on a ventilator.
"The prognosis is still guarded, but since he is a very healthy man and he is very young, the chances are fair to good, I would say," Ivatury said.
Authorities in Maryland, meanwhile, continued testing a shell casing found in a white rental truck to determine if it could be linked to the sniper attacks. Police said it would be at least Monday before they could announce whether the casing is connected to the shootings.
A source close to the investigation, however, said Sunday that "it has nothing to do with this case." The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, would not confirm reports that the shell was .30-caliber, a different size from the sniper's bullets, but said: "It's got caliber problems, it's got age problems."
The shell casing was found in a car seized at a rental agency near Dulles International Airport in Virginia, authorities said.
AP Writer Stephen Manning in Rockville, Md. contributed to this report.