Manassas Journal Messenger | Suspects’ path stretched far, as did wave of violence and terror

John Allen Muhammad was asleep in the back seat of the worn Chevy Caprice, his young companion, Lee Boyd Malvo, dozing in the front when SWAT team members smashed the car’s windows.

Officers bearing assault rifles flooded the car’s interior with blinding light. Overhead, a police helicopter illuminated the pre-dawn assault at the Maryland rest stop off Interstate 70.

Police yanked the startled suspects from the car, threw them to the ground and handcuffed them.

Later that day, Oct. 24, 2002, police announced that ballistics tests matched the Bushmaster assault rifle found in the car to .223-caliber bullet fragments from the string of shootings that had terrorized residents from the Washington suburbs to the Richmond area during the previous three weeks.

The manhunt was over, authorities said.

Yet the investigation of the pair accused of paralyzing a population by cutting down people going about everyday chores — Muhammad and Malvo are accused of shooting 13 people, killing 10, during those three weeks last October — was only beginning.

In the ensuing days and weeks, police would link the suspects to several earlier shootings, including several more killings, around the country. Relatives and acquaintances would help piece together how the two suspects’ paths converged.

And although Muhammad apparently was less forthcoming, Malvo would begin to shed light on their alleged deeds.

John Allen Muhammad’s disregard for the law was evident in March 2000, when he took his three children by his second wife, Mildred, to the Caribbean nation of Antigua. Mildred Muhammad, who was separated from Muhammad and had custody of the children, told authorities he kidnapped them.

It was in Antigua that Muhammad met Lee Boyd Malvo, then 15, and the boy’s mother, Una James, both of whom had arrived on the island from Jamaica about a year earlier.

Muhammad, then 39, allegedly supported himself by forging passports and other documents to help people, many of them Jamaicans, illegally enter the United States. James came to America in December 2000 with the help of fake documents provided by Muhammad, who authorities say charged $3,000 for the paperwork and a one-way ticket to the United States.

By some accounts, James and Muhammad were involved in a relationship. However, she recently said she knew he was a bad influence immediately. “I said to my son, ‘This is a demon,’ ” she told NBC’s “Dateline.”

James said she left Malvo with friends in Antigua when she headed for the United States. Antiguan officials, however, said she left Malvo alone in a rental house, where he lived by himself for about three months. No rent was paid, and the landlord eventually disconnected all utilities, officials said.

“Malvo took care of himself and went to school for those three months. Finally, in an apparent fit of frustration, he trashed the inside of the house and moved in with Muhammad,” wrote John Fuller, head of the Antiguan government task force investigating the suspects’ activities.

Antiguan officials say Muhammad might have kept the teen as temporary payment from Malvo’s mother for the forged documents.

In any event, the bond between Muhammad and Malvo grew. Muhammad took the boy under his wing. Later, he would refer to the teen as his son and begin calling him John Lee Malvo.

Muhammad’s own father had abandoned him. Born John Allen Williams on Dec. 31, 1960, in New Orleans, Muhammad was raised by relatives in Baton Rouge, La., after his mother died when he was young.

In 1981, he married childhood sweetheart Carol Kaglear in Baton Rouge. They had one son, Lindbergh.

Friends described Muhammad as a stern but caring father, a handsome and charismatic man given to flashes of anger and a compulsion to embellish, or flat-out lie.

“Everything had to go his way,” Kaglear said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” shortly after the suspects’ arrest. Their son “couldn’t actually be a child. Everything had to be military,” she said.

“He [had to] stand up straight, [say] yes sir, no sir,” she said. “He had to run. He had to exercise.”

The marriage dissolved because Muhammad was having an affair with Mildred Denise Green, according to court records. He divorced Kaglear in 1987.

Muhammad, who had joined the Army in 1985, was sent to Fort Lewis, Wash., where he married Green in 1988.

Along the way, he and Green joined the Nation of Islam. He began using the name Muhammad, though he did not legally adopt it until early 2001.

Muhammad served in the first Gulf War. He left the Army in 1994 with an honorable discharge and joined the Oregon National Guard for a year.

He and Green moved to the Tacoma, Wash., area and raised their three children there. He started a karate school and an auto repair business, both of which failed.

Felix Strozier, Muhammad’s partner in the school, said Muhammad’s life seemed to be imploding, perhaps because of marriage problems. He says Muhammad borrowed $500 from the business but never repaid it.

“He felt he wasn’t getting a fair shot in life. He didn’t think it was any fault of his own. He was frustrated,” Strozier said in an interview last week. He recalled last seeing Muhammad, alone, in a Tacoma-area grocery store in early 2001.

Muhammad’s second marriage went bust. The couple separated in September 1999.

“I’m afraid of John,” Green wrote in an application for a restraining order to protect her and her children from Muhammad in early March 2000. “He was a demolition expert in the military. He is behaving very, very irrational. Whenever he does talk to me, he always says that he’s going to destroy my life.”

Three weeks later, he fled to Antigua with their children.

Muhammad and his children arrived on the Caribbean island on March 28, 2000, documents show. He entered using a driver’s license, a practice that the tourist-dependent nation permits for citizens of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

His license appeared to be from Wyoming and bore his photo, but it was in the name of Thomas Lee Allen and listed Michigan as his birthplace, noted Gertel Thom, Antigua’s attorney general.

Initially, they stayed at the home of Janet Greer, whose cousin Muhammad had met in Tacoma. After a month, though, she asked him to leave. She suspected he had kidnapped the children. He showed her a document purportedly signed by the children’s mother, giving him permission to travel with them outside the United States. Still, Greer insisted they go.

They moved into a house next to Greenville Primary School, where he enrolled the children using the last name Lee and giving them false first names. “He had been so helpful at the school and seemed very honest,” wrote Fuller, head of the Antiguan task force.

Muhammad had worked odd jobs as a painter and mechanic on the island. However, Antiguan officials say he primarily supported himself by forging passports and helping Jamaican nationals enter the United States illegally.

Officials also allege he concocted schemes to kidnap Antiguan Prime Minister Lester Bird and hold him for ransom, as well as blow up a bank. One acquaintance in Antigua, Keithley Nedd, told investigators that Muhammad told him he was an expert shot and could easily shoot a man from a great distance.

At some point, Malvo began stopping by the Rose Street house where Muhammad and his children lived. Malvo routinely passed the house on his way to classes at the Seventh-day Adventist high school in Ottos near St. John’s, the island’s capital of about 30,000 people.

Officials at the school have declined to comment about Malvo’s time there. But school officials in Jamaica described him as a quiet, studious and artistic boy.

“He had been a model student here,” Joy Bailey, an official at York Castle High School in Jamaica, said in a telephone interview last month.

“We are shocked. He was a good boy. He is a good boy,” she said earlier. “We just feel here that he was manipulated.”

Malvo’s parents agree.

“Him say the man forced him to do,” his father, Leslie Malvo, said in a telephone interview with The Times-Dispatch from Jamaica last month.

In Antigua, the relationship between Muhammad and the young Malvo strengthened after the teenager’s mother left for the United States.

Keshna Douglas, who also lived in the Rose Street house, said Malvo began studying the Islamic holy book, the Quran. Muhammad also bought Malvo items that the teen’s mother could not have afforded and allowed Malvo to look after some of his money, Douglas said.

“It seemed to me like financially, things that he never had, he now has the opportunity to get it, you know, just like that,” she told NBC. “A lot of name-brand shoes, bags, whatever. You just name it. And he had a handle over [Muhammad’s] money. He would keep [Muhammad’s] money.”

Malvo, who has referred to Muhammad as his father and friend, has said he and the man 24 years his senior were not involved in a homosexual relationship.

“We Jamaicans don’t play that,” Malvo allegedly told a Maryland prison guard who asked him about the subject after his arrest.

Malvo referred to meeting “my friend” in a “search for knowledge,” according to a transcript of a police interview.

“I know when my friend is around; I can feel his energy. I know when he’s close,” Malvo allegedly said, adding that he learned to meditate by reading books.

Malvo told police he wanted to be a pilot and thought about joining the military, but his mother frowned on that because she did not want him to die. He listed some of his favorite movies: “The Matrix,” “We Were Soldiers” and “Platoon.”

His lawyers contend Malvo was brainwashed by Muhammad, who, they say, programmed the teen with books and movies about war and the oppression of black men in the United States.

After the pair’s arrest, Malvo allegedly told a Maryland prison guard that the shooting rampage was motivated by racial hatred. He allegedly blamed white people for plotting to assassinate Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Malvo said people of different races were targeted during the shootings to throw off police, the guard recalled. Prosecutors also allege that Muhammad once remarked after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that “America got what it deserved.”

After appearing subdued at earlier court appearances, Malvo last month smiled and joked with his attorneys and sheriff’s deputies. Afterward, his lawyers said the happier Malvo is more his true self.

“What you are seeing is a young man we have recovered from Mr. Muhammad. He was a happy-go-lucky child before he met Mr. Muhammad,” said Michael S. Arif, one of Malvo’s attorneys.

But Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who is prosecuting Malvo, contends the teenager is a smart, mature, free-thinking individual who knew what he was doing, even laughing about some of the shootings later.

Horan also cites a friend of Muhammad’s, an ex-Navy man named Earl Dancy, who accompanied Malvo to a Tacoma shooting range and told investigators that the teen “was really pumped up about shooting.”

“As a matter of fact,” Horan said, “Earl Dancy says that [Malvo] is the shooter, that Muhammad can’t shoot worth a lick.”

In late May 2001, Muhammad, his three children and Malvo left Antigua on an American Airlines flight bound for Puerto Rico. Malvo traveled as Lindbergh Williams, the name of Muhammad’s son by his first marriage.

That summer, Malvo joined his mother in the United States. She worked at a Red Lobster seafood restaurant in Fort Myers, Fla., and he enrolled at Cypress Lake High School on the first day of the school year.

Meanwhile, Muhammad had returned to Washington state, where his lengthy visit with his three children finally ended. Based on a tip, authorities located the children in Bellingham and returned them to their mother in late August, 17 months after she had last seen them.

Malvo stayed in school in Florida until mid-October. When he next enrolled, it was across the country at Bellingham High School, where he again met up with Muhammad, who was living at a homeless shelter. Muhammad had called Malvo repeatedly in Florida, his mother recalled.

Malvo’s mother says she caught up with her son and Muhammad by telephone that fall and was troubled by what Muhammad told her — and would not tell her.

“I said to him, ‘Why is it you need my child?’ ” Una James said, adding that Muhammad told her he had a job to do and he could not rely on a “coke-head” to do it. “He said, ‘I gotta use a intelligent child to do what I have to do.’ ”

In mid-December 2001, James arrived in Bellingham and enlisted police to help get her son back. Malvo and his mother were detained by U.S. immigration officials for a short time and were released pending a deportation hearing.

James says her son feared Muhammad and had told her that he had to go back to Muhammad or her life would be in danger.

Archer said Muhammad and Malvo left the shelter in January 2002. They apparently went to Tacoma to stay with Muhammad’s old Army buddy, Robert Edward Holmes, whom he had met when the two were stationed at Fort Lewis, and other acquaintances.

The shootings of October 2002 paralyzed a swath of the East Coast and transfixed the nation. But police believe that Muhammad and Malvo began their killing quest in Washington state in February of that year.

Tacoma police believe that one of the suspects shot Keenya Cook, 21, as she answered the door of her aunt’s apartment on Feb. 16, 2002. Police believe that the intended target was actually Cook’s aunt, Isa Nichols, who had worked for Muhammad in his failed auto-repair business and who had sided with his second wife in the child-custody dispute.

The following month, John Ray Taylor, 60, was killed by a rifle shot as he chipped golf balls at a Tucson, Ariz., golf course. Investigators are probing the possibility that the March 19, 2002, killing was the work of Muhammad and Malvo, who police say were in Tucson visiting Muhammad’s sister at the time.

Police also suspect that the two are responsible for shooting at Temple Beth El synagogue in Tacoma in early May of last year. Authorities initially had suspected vandals in the incident, which did not result in injury.

Two months later in Louisiana, Muhammad and Malvo arrived by bus in Baton Rouge and visited Muhammad’s relatives. Malvo was introduced to the family as Muhammad’s son.

Muhammad’s relatives recall Malvo as quiet and obedient. They thought it odd that he ate mostly crackers and honey.

“He seemed to listen to him,” Charlene Anderson, a cousin of Muhammad, recalled in an interview last month.

Anderson said Muhammad arrived at her house late one night in late July or early August 2002, looking destitute but claiming to have flown into Baton Rouge. He told her he had retired from the Army but had been recruited into a secret military unit and assigned to find 500 pounds of C-4 explosives that were stolen from the Army in New Orleans, she recalled.

“He told me that [Malvo] was his son. Then he told me that it wasn’t his son.”

That night, Anderson said, Muhammad sat in her kitchen while Malvo watched television in her living room. “See that boy? He’s highly trained,” she recalled Muhammad telling her.

He did not mention that Malvo had been trained as a shooter, she said. Instead, he said the teenager was trained “to fit in with, like, the younger crowd.”

Anderson, a campus police officer at Southern University, said Muhammad undid a combination lock on his Army duffel bag and opened a suitcase inside, revealing a rifle. He showed her two boxes of ammunition, she said, and asked her where he could get more.

Anderson said she grew suspicious and asked the pair to leave the next day. She agreed to hold the rifle and ammunition for safekeeping, she said, and Muhammad picked it up about a week later.

In early September 2002, Muhammad and Malvo were in New Jersey, where Muhammad bought a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice with tinted windows.

At some point, a soda-can-size hole was cut in the rear of the car and part of the back seat was altered, which authorities say would allow a shooter to fire from inside the vehicle. A blue sock allegedly was used to conceal the hole.

On the evening of Oct. 2 last year, a shot was fired through the window of a Michaels crafts store in Aspen Hill, Md. No one was injured, but the shootings that followed in Maryland, Virginia and the nation’s capital would leave 10 people dead and three wounded.

The cluster of shootings in the Maryland suburbs and Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2 and 3, 2002, baffled police initially.

Five people were shot and killed from the evening of Oct. 2 through the following morning, four of them within 2? hours of one another. Authorities put out a description of a white, box-style truck, based on witness reports. Another man was killed in Washington the night of Oct. 3.

Panic spread on Oct. 4 when Caroline Seawell, 43, was shot and wounded as she loaded her minivan outside a Michaels craft store in Spotsylvania County near Fredericksburg, about 50 miles south of the nation’s capital.

Police had little to go on until the next shooting, when 13-year-old Iran Brown was wounded Oct. 7 outside Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Md. In woods near the school, police found a tarot card scrawled with a handwritten message that read, in part, “Call me God.”

Moose, a tear rolling down his cheek, also said the shooter was “stepping over the line” by targeting a child. Malvo allegedly told a prison guard after his arrest that the shooting was meant especially to unnerve Moose.

Despite Moose’s direct plea, the shootings didn’t stop.

Dean H. Meyers, 53, was gunned down the night of Oct. 9 at a gas station near Manassas. Prosecutors would later say that a map recovered at the scene bears fingerprints belonging to Muhammad and Malvo.

Fear spread on Oct. 19, when Jeff Hopper, 37, of Florida, was shot and wounded outside a Ponderosa restaurant in Ashland, between Richmond and Fredericksburg.

At the Ashland scene, police recovered a four-page handwritten note enclosed in a plastic bag and tacked to a tree in woods adjoining the restaurant parking lot.

The note offered a clue of a possible motive, a demand for $10 million to stop the shootings, and instructed police to await a phone call the next morning, Oct. 20.

Moose publicly asked for more time to address the demand. Police planned to trace the call, which was to be placed to the Ponderosa. Officers were positioned near pay phones throughout the Richmond area so that they could swoop in on the suspects when the call was made the next morning, Oct. 21.

But confusion arose at the moment of tracing, and police swept in on two Hispanic men, one of whom was using a pay phone at an Exxon station at West Broad Street and Parham Road in Henrico County. The men, both undocumented workers, were detained and later forced to return to their native countries.

The Ashland note had mentioned a call to a priest there on Oct. 18, the day before the Ashland shooting. The note also made references to “us,” indicating more than one suspect, and mentioned that investigators had failed to follow up on earlier calls made to the police tip line. Later, police would acknowledge that they had stopped the Chevy Caprice or run its plates on several occasions during the manhunt, but authorities had no reason to suspect or detain the occupants.

Investigators showed up at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Ashland on Sunday, Oct. 20, and waited for Monsignor William Sullivan to finish morning Mass.

The priest told them he had received a rambling call from someone who said, “Call me God,” and mentioned a shooting in Montgomery, Ala. The priest had dismissed the call as a prank and had not contacted police.

Authorities contacted Montgomery police, who told them of the Sept. 21 double shooting at the liquor store. Police there had been unable to trace a fingerprint that had been recovered from a gun catalog at the scene. Now, the fingerprint was loaded into a much larger, federal database. Police say it matched a print taken from Malvo when he had been detained, and later released, by immigration officials 10 months earlier.

Investigators connected Malvo to Muhammad. They also interviewed Holmes, Muhammad’s Army buddy, who had already contacted authorities about his suspicions.

In the meantime, Maryland bus driver Conrad Johnson was shot and killed the morning of Oct. 22 as he prepared for his route.

On Oct. 23, the day after they interviewed Holmes, authorities combed his property for evidence. Television cameras captured the scene as agents swept the back yard with metal detectors and removed a tree stump, which one or both of the suspects allegedly used for target practice.

That same night, heeding the instructions first made in the Oct. 21 call to police, Moose confounded the public by stepping to the microphones and saying, “We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.”

The phrase is drawn from an American Indian fable about a rabbit that attempts to catch a duck in a noose. The duck flies away, dragging the rabbit into the air. The rabbit, no longer able to hold onto the rope, falls into a tree stump and is trapped.

Authorities issued a police lookout for Muhammad and Malvo late that night, leaking some of the details to the media.

Whitney Donahue, a refrigerator repairman, spotted the Chevy Caprice parked at a rest stop off I-70 near Frederick, Md., sometime after 12:30 a.m. Oct. 24. He called 911 from his cellular phone.

More than 100 officers, some fitted with night-vision goggles, took their positions in woods surrounding the area. Commanders called for radio silence. The tactical team moved in at 3

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