News tip indicates sniper tied to Perry County; feds never show up

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 24, 2002

SPROTT &045;&045; The news flashes echoed across Alabama late Wednesday night.

In a search that began on Oct. 2, when a sniper took the first of many lives in the Washington, D.C., area, police began an extensive search in the nation’s Beltway.

No one ever expected that search would lead to Alabama’s Black Belt.

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Apparently, it did. Fox News first reported Tuesday night that federal authorities were on their way to a small town in Alabama with a warrant.

Regardless, media from across the state flocked to a site off Ala. Highway 175 in Sprott, less than 30 miles from Selma.

The only problem is, the local media &045; much less local law enforcement &045; knew no details.

Sgt. Carlton Hogue, a 10-year veteran of the Perry County Sheriff’s Department, arrived on the scene in Sprott. He wasn’t ordered by his boss to be there.

Besides fielding phone calls from citizens, Hogue knew nothing else.

A Marion Police spokeswoman said they had no information about any warrants that had been issued in the case.

Around 11 p.m., Marion Police Chief Tony Buford arrived at Ground Zero. He stayed less than five minutes and said nothing to reporters.

While the media &045; and apparently the media only &045; focused on camp zero, one media outlet reported that federal agents may have issued a search warrant at a home in Marion. That report could not be verified and was not released by named sources.

In Tacoma, Wash., FBI agents converged on a home with metal detectors and chain saws. A U.S. official in Washington said authorities were looking for two ”people of interest” &045;&045; one of them formerly connected to Fort Lewis, an Army base south of Tacoma.

Police hunting the serial sniper issued an arrest warrant Wednesday for a 42-year-old man they believe has information about the string of terrifying shootings that have left 10 people dead in the Washington suburbs.

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said the man, John Allen Muhammad, should be considered ”armed and dangerous” and that he was being sought on a federal weapons charge.

He also cautioned that the public should not assume Muhammad is involved in any of the shootings that have stricken the Washington area since Oct. 2.

Moose identified Muhammad as a black male who also goes by the name John Allen Williams. He also said a juvenile may be accompanying Muhammad.

He did not identify the juvenile, but a law enforcement source identified him as 17-year-old Lee Malvo.

A U.S. official in Washington said authorities were looking for two ”people of interest,” including one who was formerly connected to Fort Lewis, an Army base south of Tacoma, Wash., that provides some of the most intense sniper training in the U.S. military.

A Fort Lewis spokesman said the FBI had asked for help from the base but could say nothing else.

Moose also issued another cryptic message to the sniper:

The announcement came hours after the investigation jumped across the country. FBI agents converged on a rental home in Tacoma with metal detectors and chain saws, carting away a tree stump from the yard and other potential evidence in a U-Haul truck.

The FBI agents, acting on information from the sniper task force, were seeking evidence related to ammunition, a senior law enforcement official in Washington said on condition of anonymity.

FBI agents also visited Bellingham High School, 90 miles north of Seattle, on Wednesday. Mayor Mark Asmundson told the Bellingham Herald the agents were apparently seeking information on a male teenager who once attended the school and on an older man. He said both left the area about nine months ago.

FBI spokeswoman Melissa Mallon said the search was consented to by the property owner, but refused to say why agents were there.

The back yard was divided into grids, and agents swept metal detectors back and forth over the ground. Other crews used chain saws to remove a stump from the yard and load it onto a truck; a source said the stump would be returned to Washington, D.C., for analysis.

Pfc. Chris Waters, a Fort Lewis private who lives across the street from the home, said he called police after hearing gunshots in the neighborhood nearly every day in January.