Police investigating the Beltway Sniper attacks publicly urged the person they believe to be the killer to "call back" on Monday.
Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, who is in charge of the investigation, disclosed for the first time that a call had been received from someone of high interest to investigators -- but the call was somehow muddled.
"The person you called could not hear everything you said. The audio was unclear and we want to get it right. Call us back so that we can clearly understand," Moose said.
He did not disclose who received the call, when or where it was made or other details.
But investigators believe the call may have come from the sniper and that the caller was the same person who left a note and phone number Saturday night at the scene of the latest shooting, a law enforcement source told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The announcement came hours after Virginia authorities surrounded a white van parked at a pay phone in Richmond, Va., and seized two men. Police later said the men had nothing to do with the case and would be deported for immigration violations.
For the second consecutive day, Moose seemed intent on establishing a dialogue with the killer. On Sunday, he publicly pleaded with the note writer to call authorities.
Early Monday, he said: "The message that needs to be delivered is that we are going to respond to a message that we have received. We are preparing our response at this time."
Moose said he could not discuss the message further.
The flurry of activity raised hope there had been a break in the search for the sniper who has killed nine people and critically wounded three others in Virginia, Maryland and Washington since Oct. 2.
The latest attack came Saturday night in a steakhouse parking lot in Ashland, just north of Richmond. The victim, a 37-year-old man, was felled by a single shot to the stomach.
He remained in critical but stable condition at a Richmond hospital Monday after having his spleen and parts of his pancreas and stomach removed. Surgeons removed the bullet from the victim, and authorities said Monday that ballistics tests had linked the slug to the sniper.
Surgeon Rao Ivatury said the man is conscious and responding to wife's voice, but will need additional surgery in the next few days.
"He still has a long way to go," Ivatury said.
Through the hospital, the wife issued a statement saying the care and prayers she and her husband have received "have been a bright ray of hope and comfort."
"Please pray also for the attacker and that no one else is hurt," she said.
Schools in Richmond and three nearby counties were shut down Monday, idling 141,000 students. Authorities there -- and in three additional area counties -- said they would close schools Tuesday as well.
Henrico County superintendent Mark Edwards said police information and parents' concerns played equal roles in the decision. "We have been in contact throughout the day, many times throughout the day" with police, Edwards said Monday night.
Ed Barber, a physical education teacher at Crenshaw Elementary, said closing was the right choice.
"I have five daughters and four of them are with me today, watching TV, talking a lot about human nature and what it means to go through this," he said. "For the kids, it's consumed the day."
The white van, which had 30-day Virginia tags and a small Marine Corps sticker on the back window, had been idling beside the pay phone in suburban Richmond for some time, said David Dunham, a mechanic at a nearby car dealership.
Witnesses said officers in bulletproof vests converged on the van and dragged out a man before slapping him in handcuffs. Authorities did not say how the second man was arrested.
Hours later, the lead fell apart. Officials said the 24-year-old Mexican and 35-year-old Guatemalan were being turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
"They'll go through deportation proceedings," said INS spokesman Russell Bergeron Jr. He said the process could take up to several months.
Meanwhile, the sniper's latest fatal victim was laid to rest.
FBI analyst Linda Franklin, 47, was killed by the sniper Oct. 14 outside a Home Depot in Falls Church while loading packages with her husband. Franklin had survived breast cancer and was awaiting the birth of her first grandson.
"Whoever this perpetrator is has surrendered himself to darkness and evil," minister Larry Tingle told about 200 mourners at Mount Olivet United Methodist Church in Arlington, Va.
In other developments Monday:
-- France alerted Interpol about a French army deserter who is known as a marksman and is missing in North America. A Defense Ministry spokesman said there was speculation of a link to the sniper.
-- The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that police have found more than one tarot card during the investigation. A tarot death card was reported found Oct. 7 outside a Bowie, Md., middle school where the sniper wounded a 13-year-old boy. It had the words "Dear Policeman, I am God" written on it.
-- Bail was denied for Matthew Dowdy, who is accused of lying to police about a van description at the scene of last week's shooting in Falls Church.
-- Authorities said tests had failed to link a shell casing found in a rental truck to the attacks. The shell turned up Friday at a rental agency near Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia. Authorities said it was .223-caliber round, the same kind used by the sniper.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.