Worried parents sent their children off to school with extra-tight hugs and others kept their youngsters home Wednesday, one day after police revealed a chilling warning from the sniper that children are not safe ``anywhere, at any time.''
As expected, investigators confirmed that a bus driver shot to death on Tuesday was the sniper's 13th victim in the three-week rampage. They also urged immigrants to come forward with any information without fear of deportation, and the governor raised the possibility of posting National Guardsman at Maryland polls on Election Day next month.
Ballistics and other evidence connected Tuesday's shooting of bus driver Conrad Johnson, 35, to the fatal shootings of nine other people and wounding of three in the Washington area, said Michael Bouchard of the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Investigators waited three days to reveal the threat against children. The message was found after a shooting Saturday in Ashland, Va.
Bouchard sought to assure residents that vital information was not being withheld.
``We're all parents and are certainly concerned about the safety of our kids and of our co-workers,'' he said. He said if information is released too early, ``it inhibits our ability to do the job we need to be doing.''
Tensions remained high. Authorities briefly shut down an interstate near Germantown, northwest of Washington, after a report that two men in a white box truck had pointed a gun at a school bus. Police said no shots were fired and they could not confirm whether the driver saw a gun.
Officials urged witnesses to come forward without fear of getting in trouble because of their immigration status. On Monday, police detained two men for questioning and later turned them over to federal authorities for deportation.
``We just have concerns that some people in the immigrant community didn't come forward,'' Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said. He said immigrant status is not a concern of the sniper task force.
Earlier this week, Moose implored the sniper to contact authorities and continue a dialogue, suggesting police were having trouble complying with undisclosed demands.
The latest message believed to be from the killer was a letter found near the scene of Tuesday's shooting, two law enforcement sources told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The letter reportedly demands $10 million — the same request sources say was made in Saturday's note.
Gov. Parris Glendening said the state may post National Guardsmen at polling places if the sniper is not caught by Nov. 5. ``I'm hoping the person is brought to justice long before Election Day,'' the governor said.
But he said putting the National Guard at schools would be too disruptive.
Schools across the region reported below-average attendance Wednesday.
There was no bus service for 3,800 special education students in Washington, and the overall attendance rate was just 75 percent, down from the average 85 percent. In Prince George's County, Md., attendance was about 91 percent, down from 95 percent on an average day.
And in Montgomery County, where the shootings began Oct. 2 and where Johnson was slain Tuesday, attendance dropped to 89 percent. Attendance had been running about 95 percent, even as the school district joined others in ``code blue'' security status — meaning no outdoor activities or field trips.
``I'm not afraid of the sniper,'' said 17-year-old Heather Willson, a senior at Albert Einstein High School. ``My school's fairly closed in, and we're pretty good at our code blue. I mean, I don't see any reason why he's going to change his tactics now and come inside and start shooting up students.''
Schools in the Richmond, Va., area opened Wednesday for the first time this week, but attendance was lighter than usual. The Henrico County district, for example, said nearly a quarter of all students were absent.
Kim Arthur decided to walk 8-year-old son Stephen to John M. Gandy Elementary School in Ashland. ``We can't keep our kids from doing what they usually do,'' Arthur said. ``That would scare them even more.''
At Rock View Elementary in Kensington, physical education teacher Terry Dorfman stood on the sidewalk, swinging his arm like a traffic cop to urge children to move quickly inside.
``Now he's starting to talk about kids, and the targets are schools,'' Dorfman said as he patted children on the shoulder. ``And it's a teacher's job to protect the kids.''