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Ten years later, sniper saga still defies comprehension
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By The ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ten years later, sniper saga still defies comprehension
A manhunt of exhausting proportions that stretched coast-to-coast in the end proved to be a search for a boy gunman and his jaded mentor, both found at last, fast asleep at a highway rest stop in their car.
It was Oct. 24, 2002, 3:30 a.m. The rest stop was off Interstate 70 near Frederick, Md. Inside the dull blue Chevrolet Caprice with New Jersey plates and no hubcaps were Lee Boyd Malvo, far more youthful-looking than his 17 years, and Army veteran John Allen Muhammad, 42.
The trunk contained a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle and tripod stand that would be linked to 11 of 14 shootings.
A few hours earlier, just before midnight outside the Montgomery County, Md., police headquarters in Rockville, Police Chief Charles Moose publicly announced for the first time that Muhammad was a suspect in shootings that had labeled him and his accomplice the Beltway Snipers.
The reference was to the 64-mile roadway circling Washington, but the moniker was factually misleading. The crimes of Muhammad and his young partner stretched from Washington state to Alabama, and then, in a terrifying burst of violence, to the Washington suburbs and deep into Virginia.
From Oct. 2 to Oct. 22, 10 people died; three more were shot and wounded. And the assassinations were marked by utterly random targets – from a 13-year-old schoolboy in Bowie, Md., on Oct. 7 to four victims Oct. 3 in Montgomery, to a 53-year-old man pumping gas outside Fredericksburg, to final victim Conrad Johnson, 35, a bus driver shot Oct. 22 as he exited his commuter bus in Maryland.
And on Oct. 19 in tiny Ashland, a Melbourne, Fla., couple strolled together and kissed briefly as they left a Ponderosa Steakhouse. Then a .223-caliber slug drilled into Jeffrey Hopper’s midsection – forever changing Hopper, instilling in Ashland and its emergency responders an incredible sense of small-town pride, and in a remarkable set of coincidences helping to put Malvo in prison for life and to send Muhammad to the death chamber.
Investigators would later say that at least 12 other people died in Muhammad-linked shootings across the country.
The Army sharpshooter, scarred by a failed marriage, the Gulf War and the lost custody of his three children, had taken Malvo under his wing and trained him to be a killer. Malvo was so deceptive that after his capture he tried to escape jail crawling through air ducts.
Muhammad, carrying an ego inflated beyond words, served as his own lawyer and never acknowledged complicity in the killings.
He was sentenced to serve multiple life terms and received a death sentence for the Oct. 9, 2002, slaying of Dean Harold Meyers, 53, a civil engineer shot in the head at a Prince William County gas station where he had stopped on his way home from work. The execution was carried out Nov. 10, 2009, at 9:11 p.m.
“Given a chance to make a last statement, Muhammad stared stoically at the ceiling and did not move a muscle,” Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Frank Green wrote in the next morning’s newspaper. Family members of victims who sought to attend the execution at Greensville Correctional Center were so numerous that some were turned away.
Beyond the brutality of slayings of innocent people chosen at random and gunned down without reason was a string of crime that barged its way into the workaday lives of millions of people.
Throughout the region, schools closed, athletic games were canceled and the snipers left tantalizing, goading messages near the bodies of some victims. “To whom it may concern, call me God,” read one message tacked to a tree near the Ashland shooting.
And in a bizarre effort possibly designed to show their control over Chief Moose, the snipers had him read a portion of an old fable, transmitted to a task force headquarters by telephone.
Moose said this at a nationally televised press conference: “The second portion of this briefing is a message. You asked us to say, ‘We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose,’ ” Moose said to dozens of reporters before him. “We understand that hearing us say this is important to you.”
Motive always remained a mystery. Malvo, his mind warped by Muhammad’s controlling presence, said that his mentor wanted to extort millions of dollars from the government so he could train orphaned boys to be assassins. But prosecutors and other authorities never revealed a motive beyond the pure sensation of the sudden death of innocent people.
Muhammad’s former wife said she feared that Muhammad was trying to create a smokescreen of death in the region beyond her Clinton, Md., home in order to provide himself an opportunity to kidnap his children after murdering her.
While Muhammad died without comment or apparent remorse, Malvo remains incarcerated in seclusion at Red Onion State Prison, the state’s most secure facility.
Even there, Malvo has managed to become a commodity. He is the subject of a new book and has appeared by telephone on a talk show hosted by “Star Trek” actor William Shatner.
The questions have hardly been penetrating: “So, Lee, how are you doing in there?” Shatner asked, opening his interview.
“I’m doing OK,” Malvo answered.
Oct. 2, 2002: James D. Martin, 55, of Silver Spring, Md., shot and killed in grocery store parking lot in Wheaton, Md.
Oct. 3, 2002: James L. “Sonny” Buchanan, 39, of Arlington, Va., killed while mowing grass in White Flint, Md.
Oct. 3, 2002: Cabbie Prem Kumar Walekar, 54, shot and killed at a gas station in Rockville, Md.
Oct. 3, 2002: Sarah Ramos, 34, killed outside post office in Silver Spring, Md.
Oct. 3, 2002: Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, of Silver Spring shot and killed as she vacuumed her car at gas station in Kensington, Md.
Oct. 3, 2002: Pascal Charlot, 72, of Washington, shot and killed on a Washington street.
Oct. 4, 2002: Caroline Seawell, 43, shot and wounded in the parking lot of Spotsylvania Mall outside Fredericksburg.
Oct. 7, 2002: A 13-year-old boy wounded as he is dropped off at school in Bowie, Md.
Oct. 9, 2002: Dean Harold Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg, Md., shot and killed at the Sunoco station on Va. 234 outside Manassas.
Oct. 11, 2002: Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, of Philadelphia killed at an Exxon station on U.S. 1 outside Fredericksburg.
Oct. 14, 2002: Linda Franklin, 47, of Arlington, killed in the parking garage of Home Depot in Falls Church.
Oct. 19, 2002: A 37-year-old man was wounded outside a steakhouse in Ashland.
Oct. 22, 2002: Bus driver Conrad Johnson, 35, fatally wounded on bus in Aspen Hill, Md.