“All Sniper, All the Time!” — so most of the cable outlets and many of the broadcast stations in the Washington metropolitan area might well trumpet their fare. They are obsessed with the activities of the murderer who began a rampage of random death on October 2 and to this writing has killed 10 and wounded 3. The latest victim, a county bus driver slain yesterday as he prepared to begin his run shortly before 6 a.m. in Montgomery County.
Coverage of the sniper’s deeds and speculation about his state of mind have become an electronic cottage industry, affording employment to dozens of former you-name-its willing to opine on camera on a subject still shrouded beyond their ken. News directors have deployed their forces from the central headquarters of the search in Rockville, Maryland, to the fringes of Richmond, Virginia, where a man was severely wounded Saturday night and a note presumably from the killer was found. Its contents were a secret closely-held by Chief Charles Moose, the Montgomery honcho who heads the manhunt.
But enough of its contents were revealed by authorities near Richmond to lead school officials to close all schools in five districts in the Richmond area. This has led parents in the killing field north of there to wonder if their schools should also be closed, but Chief Moose defiantly refused to address the subject until, yielding to pressure, he called a news conference on late afternoon Tuesday. He then revealed what he said is a postscript to the message: “Your children are not safe anywhere at any time.” Moose said he had conveyed the contents of that message to the appropriate authorities. He has also issued several cryptic messages to someone with whom he has been in some sort of contact, either the killer or someone who may have some valuable information.
Politicians — Sens. Sarbanes, Mikulski, D.C. Mayor Williams — who trooped to the Rockville microphones at the outset to issue at times belligerent billet-sours to the killer — now avoid that arena of dread tidings like the plague. The morose Moose rules the microphones now and has cut back his appearance schedule to once a day. He will of course rush back if there is a “this just in.” Zig-zagging citizens are restless, calling for the search to be federalized, although the FBI, the ATF and the surveillance planes of the Pentagon are all in the hunt already. The elusiveness of the sniper tells a quiet story of mutual dependence and vulnerability that should be told and retold when his reign is ended.
The shrieking headlines on paper and screen tell another story, one of relativity. In the span of time in which the sniper has killed 10 people, what detectives call “traditional homicides” have killed 21 in the same metropolitan district. It is what the Washington Post calls “everyday violence”: car-jackings, knifings, drive-by shootings. Backpage stuff, even the robbery-killing of a man whose mother was killed in the crash of the American Airlines plane into the Pentagon. But “traditional homicides” are old hat. There’ve been 203 in the District of Columbia so far this year. No Chief Moose to decry their deaths. No interest in the caliber or the degree of difficulty of the shot.
When the call goes out: “a fatal shooting in Prince Georges County,” a million people hold their breath, including police. And when the call comes back: “wrong caliber,” they exhale. Another back page story, not even TV filler, another “traditional homicide.”
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