Police: Bus driver’s death could be linked to sniper

Associated Press

SPEN HILL, Md. — A bus driver was shot and killed early Tuesday, and a police task force was investigating as if the shooting was related to the serial sniper who has killed nine people this month.

Police put a widespread dragnet into place immediately after the shooting, clogging traffic on Connecticut Avenue, one of the main arteries into Washington, D.C., just as the morning commute began.

The 40-year-old man was shot as he stood at the top of the steps of the bus, Montgomery County Police Capt. Nancy Demme said.

“We don’t know if this is related but, we’re treating this as if it is,” Demme said.

The victim, identified as Conrad Johnson, a 10-year county employee, was taken to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. County Police Chief Charles Moose said at midday that he had died.

The shooting happened shortly before 6 a.m. near an apartment building and wooded area along Connecticut Avenue. The bus was parked at a staging area where drivers get ready for their morning runs, state police spokesman Cpl. Rob Moroney said. He didn’t know if anyone else was on the bus.

The location, some 15 miles north of downtown Washington, is less than a half-mile from where the rampage began Oct. 2. In all, 12 people have been shot by the sniper in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.; three were critically wounded.

“We remain concerned about the safety of all the people in our region,” Moose said Tuesday. “We realize that the person or the people involved in this have shown a clear willingness and ability to kill people of all ages, all races, all genders, all professions, different times, different days and different locations.”

Agents for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms combed the area. A police dog searched near a basketball court in a park, and police helicopters flew over the scene.

“I was getting ready to leave for work this morning. I heard a loud bang,” said Kim Roberts, a carpenter who lives nearby. “It wasn’t a pop like a handgun. If it was a gun, it was a high-powered weapon.” He said he knew about the sound of weapons from his military service.

Within minutes, police closed many roads around the shooting scene and set up roadblocks at points along the Capital Beltway. Teams of officers were stopping all cars driven by men, not just white minivans or box trucks which have been the focus of earlier sniper shootings. By late morning, the roadblocks were largely being lifted, police said.

On Monday, the hunt for the sniper turned into a case of high-stakes phone tag.

The most recent shooting blamed on the sniper critically wounded a 37-year-old man Saturday night outside a steakhouse in Ashland, Va. On Monday, police said they received a call about the attack, hinting it was from the sniper, but that the call was muddled.

“The person you called could not hear everything you said. The audio was unclear and we want to get it right. Call us back so that we can clearly understand,” said Moose, who has been leading the hunt.

Schools in the Richmond area, near Saturday’s shooting, remained closed a second day Tuesday.

Moose did not disclose who received the muddled phone call, when it was made or other details. But investigators believe the call may have come from the sniper and that the caller was the person who left a note and phone number at the scene of Saturday night’s shooting, a law enforcement source told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.