Maryland bus driver shot, killed

ROCKVILLE, Md. – In a startling and unusual turn of events, authorities said Tuesday morning that a Silver Springs, Md. man was shot and killed.

Conrad Johnson, 35, was shot as he stood at the top of the steps on a bush. As of press time, Montgomery County officials had not linked the recent killing to the sniper striking terror in the Washington area.

The shooting comes two days after the sniper may have planted a secret message for police near a steakhouse where he shot a 37-year-old man, critically wounding him.

The nature of the killer’s message remained a mystery, and a subsequent statement by police indicated a cryptic dialogue may be occurring between law enforcement officials and the sniper, who has killed nine people and wounded three others since Oct. 2.

Police Chief Charles Moose of Montgomery County, Md., who heads a regional task force hunting the sniper, exhorted the media “to carry this statement, carry it clearly, and carry it often.”

Then Moose said: “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.”

Moose answered no questions, and a spokeswoman, Joyce Utter, did not explain what Moose meant by the perplexing statement, only that the message bore a communication that police wanted conveyed to the sniper.

“This should make sense to the person who left the message,” Utter said.

Once before, in a wooded area near a school where the sniper wounded a 13-year-old on Oct. 7, police found a Tarot card with a statement from the sniper, pronouncing “I am God” and apparently including another message for police.

Moose’s statement appeared to confirm that the man shot in the stomach Saturday night outside a steakhouse about 90 miles south of Washington was the latest victim of the sniper.

The victim, who was not identified, was shot as he and his wife walked out of a Ponderosa restaurant in Ashland, along Interstate 95, a major north-south artery on the East Coast. His wife was not injured. The couple was traveling through the area and had stopped for food and gasoline.

The shooting marked the first time that the assailant has hit on a weekend and the farthest the attacks have occurred from the nation’s capital. Saturday’s attack broke a lull of five days since a fatal shooting in Falls Church, Va., a Washington suburb, and intensified the fear that has plagued Washington, Maryland and northern Virginia since Oct. 2.

The attack also brought new urgency to a hunt for a furtive killer who has struck victims of a variety of ages, genders and ethnic groups. The sniper has kept area schools in lock-down mode with children unable to play outside, and it has forced many residents indoors, afraid even to pump gas.

Police said the gunman appeared to have fired from a distance, concealing his position in a wooded area behind the Ponderosa restaurant’s rear parking lot. The distance from the woods to the spot where the victim fell was about 57 yards.

The attacker also fired a single bullet, and had his choice of highway escape routes, as has been the pattern. The restaurant sits within a half mile of Interstate 95 and is only a few blocks from Route 1, another major north-south artery. Police said roadblocks went up within 10 minutes of the emergency call notifying them of the shooting.

Police are asking anyone with information about the shootings to call the sniper hotline at 1-888-324-9800.