President Bush credited law enforcement Thursday night with lifting "a shadow of fear for many families" by capturing two suspects in the sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington area for three weeks.
"The hunt for a merciless killer has been difficult — and America greatly appreciates all the good men and women who fight crime and uphold justice across this great country," Bush said in a written statement that also praised citizen tipsters.
"We will keep the victims and their families and friends in our prayers," Bush said. The White House released the statement shortly after he arrived here for a meeting Friday with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
The president, who made political stops in three Southern states en route to Texas, was briefed three times by telephone as the investigation wound down. The last call came from FBI Director Robert Mueller, who told Bush aboard Air Force One that ballistics tests on the weapon found in the suspect's car allegedly showed it had been used in the killing spree.
John Allen Muhammad, 41 — arrested with 17-year-old John Lee Malvo — appeared in court, and was ordered held without bail.
After talking to Mueller, Bush watched Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose's news conference from the Air Force One's conference room. A few minutes later, upon landing in Texas, the president boarded Marine One and telephoned Moose during the brief flight to his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
"You have lifted a shadow of fear for many families. God bless you and may God bless the victims," Fleischer quoted Bush as telling Moose.
Later, the White House released the statement from Bush in which he commended police for working with "great urgency" and with "such little rest" to crack the case.
Fleischer said Bush, under advice from the FBI, had tried to limit his public comments about the attacks during the ordeal.
"One of the messages that he heard from law enforcement was one of the last things you do is give a killer a sense of empowerment in thinking that if he kills more people, he'll be able to start communicating with the president of the United States," Fleischer said.
"So the president was guided by a desire to listen to law enforcement efforts to be circumspect so the killer could be caught," Fleischer said.
The spokesman said no evidence has been brought to his attention of a connection between the suspects and any international terrorist group. He would not comment on a potential motive for the crimes or any other evidence against the men.
But he said Bush was relieved to see the crisis end.
"This gripped the entire nation and affected everybody," he said.