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Pressure Mounting on Moose

As the frontman for hundreds of local and federal officers, Charles Moose's grim expression and weary eyes have become the face of the task force trying to catch the Washington-area sniper.

At most of his news briefings, the Montgomery County police chief has tried to calm fears. "This is a strong nation," Moose said Oct. 14, "and we will not be intimidated."

But his tone changed Tuesday after the sniper gunned down a bus driver just a half-mile from where the rampage began Oct. 2. It was the 10th slaying by the sniper, who has also critically wounded three others.

After that, Moose conceded: "We have not been able to assure anyone, any age, any gender, any race — we've not been able to assure anyone their safety in regards to this situation."

And later that afternoon, Moose delivered a message directly from the suspect: "Your children are not safe, anywhere at any time."

The public has appeared supportive of Moose and fellow investigators so far. But Leander Mouzon of Baltimore noted, "It's frustrating to watch. They're not getting any closer ... I would pray for them. They're dealing with the devil."

Those who know Moose call him an emotional, passionate leader. It was his tears over the shooting of a 13-year-old boy Oct. 7 that put Moose on front pages around the country.

"Shooting a kid — it's getting to be really, really personal now," Moose, the married father of two adult sons, said at the time. "Kids are so helpless and innocent."

Cecil Pearson, a former police hostage team commander in Nevada, suggested whoever sent the message targeting children has found Moose's weak point.

The sniper is "pushing his buttons. He's messing with him." Pearson said.

Earlier this week, Moose's hands shook as he read a message left at one of the shooting sites. Douglas Gansler, the county's chief prosecutor, said Moose has seemed slightly "unnerved" on television.

"He has got be emotionally and physically drained from this," Gansler said Wednesday. "It is an uncomfortable position for him to be in, yet he understands his role."

Moose criticized reporters at one briefing for disclosing that investigators had found a tarot death card near one of the shootings, though he has largely restrained his temper.

During his six years as Portland, Ore., police chief, Moose clashed with reporters when a suspected marijuana grower shot at three police officers, killing one. He blamed reporters for endangering officers' lives with live television coverage of the raid.

He left for Maryland in 1999.

Moose, 49, grew up in Lexington, N.C., and graduated from the University of North Carolina. In Lexington, he became one of the first black students to integrate Lexington Middle School. Neighbors said he found support in his father, a biology teacher, and his mother, a registered nurse.

In Portland, he was promoted through the ranks after becoming one of the department's first black officers in the 1970s. With a doctorate in urban studies from Portland State University, he was credited with raising academic standards for new hires by requiring a four-year college degree.

He was known for his tireless police work. In 1999, he helped close a case in which a man was convicted of strangling three prostitutes in a Portland park.

Portland Mayor Vera Katz, who promoted Moose to chief there in 1993, was confident he will prevail.

"I want the world to know that this chief will do whatever he needs to do" to catch the killer, she said.