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Manhunt for Sniper Continues in Washington Area, Clues Remain Sketchy - 2002-10-16

Investigators involved in the massive manhunt for an elusive serial sniper stalking the Washington D.C. area have uncovered the most detailed clues yet toward helping them identify the killer who has murdered nine people, seemingly at random. The search for the killer is expanding and now includes help from the U.S. military.

For the past two weeks, a lack of solid leads, as well as the sniper's apparent randomness in selecting targets, has left investigators with little evidence to establish a profile of the killer.

But at least one witness has now told police of seeing the sniper take aim at his latest victim, a female employee of the FBI shot dead outside a home improvement store in suburban Virginia Monday night.

"Unfortunately, because of darkness and distance and perhaps excitement and adrenaline at the time, they are unable to come up with a composite," said Captain Nancy Demme of Maryland's Montgomery County Police which is leading the regional investigation. She told reporters the only certain bit of evidence is that the sniper is a male.

"But is his motivation political, religious, does he have a message that he's sending that we're not getting yet? We don't know," she went on to say.

Still, it's the first time someone actually claims to have seen the killer as he shot dead one of his victims. Experts say every time the sniper strikes, the chances increase that he will leave clues that lead to his capture.

Retired FBI agent Candice Delong, who in her 20 years at the bureau worked on such high profile cases as the Unibomber and the Oklahoma City bombing, believes the killer has now left enough clues that he'll be caught in a matter of days.

"I believe the killer will be caught or dead by the end of the weekend because he has really made a big mistake in his sloppiness in the most recent shooting Monday night by allowing himself to be seen," she said. "As a result of D.C. being on such high alert, every subsequent shooting is going to be more and more risky for him. If he stopped right now, I still believe he's going to be identified and apprehended or die in a shootout with police or kill himself."

With life in the Washington area being increasingly disrupted over anxieties about where the sniper may strike next, the U.S. military has been called to join in the hunt. The Pentagon has agreed to assist the FBI by patrolling the skies over Washington with specially-equipped military surveillance planes the kind used to track drug dealers in Colombia in an intensified effort to track the sniper.