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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Held in U.S. Sniper Hunt

RICHMOND, Virginia -- Authorities searching for the Washington-area sniper took two people into custody Monday, after surrounding a white van parked at a pay phone. They also confirmed that Saturday night's shooting at a steakhouse outside Richmond was the work of the sniper.

Hanover County Sheriff Stuart Cook said the two were being held for questioning in the attacks that have left nine people dead and three critically wounded since Oct. 2. He refused to describe them as suspects.

The developments came one day after police issued a public plea for the sniper to contact them at a phone number that was part of a message found near the latest shooting scene.

At least one of the people in custody was dragged out of a van parked near an Exxon gas station in the Richmond suburbs. Witnesses said the van was a Plymouth Voyager with a temporary Virginia license.

Keith Underwood, service manager at an Oldsmobile dealership next door, said officers converged on the van and pulled the driver out around 8:30 a.m. He said officers were screaming at the person behind the wheel and yanked several times on the door before getting it open.

"They basically surrounded him with their shotguns," said another witness, Pathenia Fields, a title clerk at the car dealer. She said she saw just one man in the van.

Police said they found a note in the woods near the Ponderosa restaurant in Ashland, a few kilometers north of Richmond, after the latest victim was shot and critically wounded.

Late Sunday, police urged whoever left the note to call them. Early Monday, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, who is in charge of the investigation, said authorities were "preparing our response." He refused to elaborate or answer questions.

"To the person who left us a message at the Ponderosa last night, you gave us a telephone number. We do want to talk to you. Call us at the number you provided. Thank you," Moose said.

A law enforcement source close to the investigation said investigators believe the person who left the message is probably the sniper.

Surgeons removed the bullet from the 37-year-old man shot in Ashland and turned it over to investigators. As in the previous shootings, the victim was felled by one shot.

The victim, whose name was not released, remained in critical condition Monday after six hours of surgery. Doctors were cautiously optimistic but said he would need more surgery.

In other developments:

• 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.

• Schools in the Ashland and Richmond areas stayed closed Monday, keeping more than 200,000 public students out of class.

• In Arlington, more than 200 mourners gathered Monday to remember Linda Franklin, the FBI analyst shot to death a week ago in Falls Church, as a spirited woman with a generous heart. The altar at Mount Olivet United Methodist Church held candles to represent prayers for each sniper victim.

• Bail was denied Monday for Matthew Dowdy, who was accused of lying to police by describing a cream-colored van with a burned-out taillight at the scene of last week's shooting in Falls Church.