"Dear policeman, I am God," the message said. It was written on a Tarot card representing death in fortune-telling, police said.
The card was discovered in a wooded area near Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Md., where a 13-year-old boy was shot in the chest Monday morning. He suffered significant damage to several of his vital organs and remains in critical condition.
The Tarot card message was first reported Tuesday night by WUSA-TV in Washington. Detectives found the spot where the sniper apparently waited in ambush, the report said. The grass was matted down, and a shell casing was found there. But police said it is also possible that the tarot card was left by a prankster, or is not related to the case.
The sniper has killed six people and wounded two others. The killer is a skilled shooter with a high-powered rifle who strikes during rush hour, stays near easily accessible escape routes and targets unsuspecting victims doing everyday tasks, say police. He is also a coward, adds Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening.
They or he or she -- the police are not yet sure of the number or gender of the perpetrators -- is a coldly calculating sniper, shooting to kill, whose surviving victims only live because of the swift action of medical rescue workers. In six shootings, the victims died soon after they were hit with a single round.
"We're talking about a person here who is basically a coward," said Glendening at a news conference Tuesday. "This is a person who is shooting elderly men, shooting women, and now shooting little children. And I really think if there is any message, it is for this individual to turn himself in, to stop this insane killing."
Soon after the boy was shot, police served a search warrant at an apartment in Bowie, according to Prince George's County Police. They conducted the search early Tuesday morning in response to a lead that came in through the hot line police had set up for tips from the public, authorities said.
Police would not comment on whether any information was obtained from the search but said no arrests were made.
The reward offered for information leading to the capture and conviction of the killer or killers reached about $235,000 as of Tuesday evening.
Police said they are also investigating links between the recent shootings and the wounding of man outside a liquor store that occurred on Sept. 14. A 22-year-old male was shot once outside of Hillandale Beer and Wine, on New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring, Md., some 10 miles from the more recent killings, according to police.
With no one in custody and few witnesses, police are conducting their investigation with fragments of information.
As the pieces come together, police will be using psychological and geographical profilers to find patterns to the locations and nature of the crime, in hopes of narrowing their search.
"They were all in daylight ... Does it mean they have an eyesight problem?" Officer Derek Baliles, spokesman for the Montgomery County Police, told United Press International. "We just don't know."
Also, the locations of the shootings are always near major roadways, some of them at busy intersections, he pointed out.
"All of our cases have been in public areas where there's easy access to allow this person to escape easily," said Baliles. "We need to concentrate our attention to the major interstates."
In eight of the nine cases, the sniper or snipers struck in the middle of rush hour traffic.
On Wednesday, James D. Martin, a 55-year-old father, was shot and killed in a suburban Maryland parking lot at 6:04 p.m., just as area residents were on their way home from work and less than an hour before sundown. Just minutes earlier, a shot had shattered the window of a nearby craft store.
Thursday, four people were killed at the height of the busy morning commuting time and within a span of two and a half hours. James Buchanan, or "Sonny," as he was called, was shot at 7:41 a.m. as he was mowing a lawn in the White Flint area. Forty minutes later, Premkumar Walekar, a taxi driver, was shot and killed at a gas station in Aspen Hill. Less than 30 minutes after that, the sniper or snipers targeted Sarah Ramos. The 24-year-old woman was killed as she sat on a bench in front of a post office in Silver Spring. Then, at 9:58 a.m., a 25-year-old mother, Lori Lewis Rivera, was shot in the back and killed while vacuuming her minivan at a nearby gas station.
On Friday at 2:30 p.m., a woman was shot and wounded while loading packages into her car in Virginia's Spotsylvania County. Though nearly 80 miles south of the Montgomery County shootings and 50 miles south of Washington, the shopping center shooting in Spotsylvania County has been linked by ballistic evidence to the other attacks. A spokeswoman for Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church says the woman was discharged Tuesday.
The 13-year-old boy whose shooting has brought the fear level in the Washington area to new heights, was shot in the morning, as he arrived at the busy parking lot of the middle school where his aunt dropped him off.
What these details reveal about the shooter or shooters, investigators are keeping close to their chest.
Another detail, and perhaps the most frightening, is that every victim was in public, doing everyday tasks when targeted -- a young mother vacuuming her car at a gas station, a man mowing his lawn, a woman sitting on a bench near a shopping center waiting for a ride.
"No one was shot walking through the woods," said Baliles, no one in a lonely or remote spot where they might have been on the watch against danger.
As they were going about their daily lives, these victims were all hit with one bullet, according to witnesses who recalled hearing a single shot.
Police know that the sniper or snipers are using a .223 caliber bullet, which can be used in hunting or assault rifles. These guns have a range of up to 600 meters, about 1,800 feet, or nearly one-third of a mile, according to police.
Also, investigators are still searching for a small, white box truck with black lettering on the side. At one of the shootings, a witness saw the truck matching this description leaving the scene at a high rate of speed.