Beltway sniper attacks

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Beltway sniper attacks
Locations of the fifteen sniper attacks in the D.C. area numbered chronologically.
Locations of the fifteen sniper attacks in the D.C. area numbered chronologically.
Location Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
Date October 2, 2002 (2002-10-02)  –
October 22, 2002 (2002-10-22) (Eastern Time Zone)
Target Civilians
Attack type
Spree killing
Weapons Bushmaster XM-15 rifle
Deaths 17 total:
  • 10 in the Beltway sniper attacks
  • 7 in preliminary shootings
Non-fatal injuries
10 total:
  • 3 in the Beltway sniper attacks
  • 7 in preliminary shootings
Assailants John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo

The Beltway sniper attacks were a series of coordinated shootings that took place over three weeks in October 2002 in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Ten people were killed and three other victims were critically injured in several locations throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and along Interstate 95 in Virginia. The rampage was perpetrated by John Allen Muhammad (then aged 42) and Lee Boyd Malvo (then 17), driving a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice sedan. Their crime spree began in February 2002 with murders and robberies in the states of Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Washington, which resulted in seven deaths and seven injuries, bringing the ten month shooting spree total to 17 deaths and 10 injuries.[1]

In September 2003, Muhammad was sentenced to death. One month later, Malvo was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. On November 10, 2009, Muhammad was executed by lethal injection at the Greensville Correctional Center near Jarratt, Virginia.

Preliminary shootings

On February 16, 2002, Keenya Cook was shot and killed at the front door of her home in Tacoma, Washington. Several other deaths and injuries followed in several other states from March to August 2002.

On August 1, 2002, John Gaeta was changing a tire at a parking lot in Hammond, Louisiana, and was shot in the neck by Malvo.[2] The bullet exited through Gaeta's back, and he pretended to be dead while Malvo stole his wallet. Gaeta ran to a service station after the shooter left and discovered that he was bleeding; he went to a hospital and was released within an hour. On March 1, 2010, he received a letter of apology from Malvo.[3]

On September 5, 2002, at 10:30 p.m., Paul LaRuffa, a 55-year-old pizzeria owner, was shot six times at close range while locking up his Italian restaurant in Clinton, Maryland. LaRuffa survived the shooting, and his laptop computer was found in John Allen Muhammad's car when he and Malvo were arrested.[4]

On September 21, 2002, at 12:15 a.m., 41-year-old Million A. Woldemariam was fatally shot in the head and back with a .22-caliber pistol in Atlanta, Georgia. Woldemariam was helping the owner of a Sammy's Package Store close up for the night when the shooting occurred.[5]

Nineteen hours later on the same day, Claudine Parker,[6] a liquor store clerk in Montgomery, Alabama, was shot and killed during a robbery. Her co-worker, Kellie Adams, was injured but survived. Evidence found at the crime scene eventually tied this killing to the Beltway attacks and allowed authorities to identify Muhammad and Malvo as suspects,[7] although this connection was not made until October 17.

On September 23, 2002, at 6:30 p.m., 45-year-old Hong Im Ballenger was shot in the head and killed with a Bushmaster rifle in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Muhammad and Malvo were linked to the killing.[8]


Listed in chronological order are the identified victims who were murdered or wounded prior to the Beltway sniper attacks.[9] This list does not include two victims who were not publicly identified; one man was shot and killed in a robbery in Los Angeles, California, in either February or March 2002, and the other man, a 76-year-old from Tucson, Arizona, was shot non-fatally on a Clearwater, Florida, golf course on May 18, 2002.[10]

Name Age Status Date of Attack Location
Keenya Cook[11] 21 Killed February 16, 2002 Tacoma, Washington
Jerry Ray Taylor 60 Killed March 19, 2002 Tucson, Arizona
Billy Gene Dillon 37 Killed May 27, 2002 Denton, Texas
John Gaeta 52 Survived August 1, 2002 Hammond, Louisiana
Paul LaRuffa 55 Survived September 5, 2002 Clinton, Maryland
Rupinder Oberoi 22 Survived September 14, 2002 Silver Spring, Maryland
Muhammad Rashid 32 Survived September 15, 2002 Brandywine, Maryland
Million Woldemariam 41 Killed September 21, 2002 Atlanta, Georgia
Claudine Parker 52 Killed September 21, 2002 Montgomery, Alabama
Kellie Adams 24 Survived September 21, 2002 Montgomery, Alabama
Hong Im Ballenger 45 Killed September 23, 2002 Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Wright Williams, Jr.[10] 55 Survived September 26, 2002 Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Attacks in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area

A hole was cut at the rear of the blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice driven by Muhammad and Malvo, as a firing port to be used during their attacks.[12] This allowed them to remain hidden and escape the scene following their attacks.

Listed below are the names of the victims who were murdered or wounded in the Beltway sniper attacks.

Name Age Status Date of Attack Location
James Martin 55 Killed October 2, 2002, 6:04 PM Wheaton, Maryland
James Buchanan 39 Killed October 3, 2002, 7:41 AM Rockville, Maryland
Premkumar Walekar 54 Killed October 3, 2002, 8:12 AM Aspen Hill, Maryland
Sarah Ramos 34 Killed October 3, 2002, 8:37 AM Silver Spring, Maryland
Pascal Charlot 72 Killed October 3, 2002, 9:20 PM Washington, D.C.
Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera 25 Killed October 3, 2002, 9:58 AM Kensington, Maryland
Caroline Seawell 43 Survived October 4, 2002, 2:30 PM Fredericksburg, Virginia
Iran Brown 13 Survived October 7, 2002, 8:09 AM Bowie, Maryland
Dean Harold Meyers 53 Killed October 9, 2002, 8:18 PM Manassas, Virginia
Kenneth Bridges 53 Killed October 11, 2002, 9:40 AM Fredericksburg, Virginia
Linda Franklin 47 Killed October 14, 2002, 9:19 PM Falls Church, Virginia
Jeffrey Hopper 37 Survived October 19, 2002, 8:00 PM Ashland, Virginia
Conrad Johnson 35 Killed October 22, 2002, 5:55 AM Aspen Hill, Maryland

Montgomery County, Maryland

At 5:20 p.m. on October 2, 2002, a shot was fired through a window of a Michaels craft store in Aspen Hill. The bullet narrowly missed Ann Chapman, a cashier at the store. Since no one was injured, no serious alarms were raised.[13] However, one hour later, at 6:30 p.m., James Martin, a 55-year-old program analyst at NOAA, was shot and killed at 2201 Randolph Road in the parking lot of a Shoppers Food Warehouse grocery store, located in Wheaton.[14]

On the morning of October 3, four people were shot dead within a span of approximately two hours in Aspen Hill and other nearby areas in Montgomery County. Another was killed that evening in the District of Columbia, just over the border from Silver Spring.

  • At 7:41 a.m., James L. Buchanan, a 39-year-old landscaper known as "Sonny", was shot dead at 11411 Rockville Pike near Rockville, Maryland. Buchanan was shot while mowing the grass at the Fitzgerald Auto Malls.
  • At 8:12 a.m., 54-year-old part-time taxi driver Premkumar Walekar was killed in Aspen Hill in Montgomery County, while pumping gasoline into his taxi at a Mobil station at Aspen Hill Road and Connecticut Avenue.
  • At 8:37 a.m., Sarah Ramos, a 34-year-old babysitter and housekeeper, was killed at 3701 Rossmoor Boulevard at the Leisure World Shopping Center in Norbeck. She had gotten off a bus, and was seated on a bench, reading a book.[14]
  • At 9:58 a.m., in what was to be the last killing of the morning, 25-year-old Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera was killed while vacuuming her Dodge Caravan at the Shell station at the intersection of Connecticut & Knowles Avenues in Kensington, Maryland.
  • The snipers then waited until 9:20 p.m. before shooting Pascal Charlot, a 72-year-old retired carpenter, while he was walking on Georgia Avenue at Kalmia Road, in Washington, D.C. Charlot died less than an hour later.

In each shooting, the victims were killed by a single bullet fired from some distance and in each case, the killers struck and then vanished. This pattern was not detected until after the shootings occurred on October 3.[15]

Fear quickly spread throughout the region as news of the shootings spread. At a press conference that meeting, Charles Moose informed parents that schools were on a code blue alert; keeping children indoors and that for the time being the schools were safe. Many parents went to pick up their children at school early, not allowing them to take a school bus or walk home alone. Montgomery County Public Schools, District of Columbia Public Schools, and private schools went into a lockdown, with no recess or outdoor gym classes. Other school districts in the area also took precautionary measures, keeping students indoors.[16]

Police only had a few pieces of evidence to work with; including one initial report that during the Silver Spring attack someone had reportedly seen a white box truck. After the murder in Washington DC, witnesses then began telling police that they had seen a blue Chevrolet Caprice instead of the white box truck. They also had initially believed that all the murders were carried out with the use of a .223 caliber rifle.

Virginia and other areas

The Bushmaster XM-15 rifle used by Muhammad and Malvo during their attacks. It was fitted with an EOTech holographic weapon sight, a bipod, and a 20-round STANAG magazine at the time of their capture.

At this point Malvo and Muhammad started covering a wider area and taking two or three days between shootings.

  • On October 4, 43-year-old homemaker Caroline Seawell was wounded at 2:30 p.m. in the parking lot of an MJ Designs Craft Store (now Michaels) at Spotsylvania Mall in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, while she was loading purchases into her minivan. By this point, hundreds of journalists had converged to cover the unfolding events. Schools officials reassured the public that they were taking every measure possible to protect children: by tightening security and cancelling all outdoor activities.
  • On October 7, at 8:09 a.m., Iran Brown, a 13-year-old boy, was shot in the abdomen and critically wounded as he arrived at the Benjamin Tasker Middle School at 4901 Collington Road in Bowie, Maryland, in Prince George's County[17] (Brown's name was concealed from the public but was later revealed). His aunt, a nurse who had just brought him to school, rushed him to a hospital emergency room. Despite serious injuries, including damage to several major organs, Brown survived the attack and ultimately testified at Muhammad's trial.[18] At this crime scene the authorities discovered a shell casing as well as a Tarot card (the Death card) inscribed with the phrase, "Call me God" on the front and, on three separate lines on the back, "For you Mr. Police." "Code: 'Call me God'. Do not release to the press."[17][19]
  • On October 9 at 8:18 p.m., 53-year-old civil engineer Dean Harold Meyers was shot dead while pumping gasoline at a Sunoco gas station at 7203 Sudley Road in Prince William County, Virginia, near the city of Manassas.
  • On the morning of October 11 at 9:30 a.m., 53-year-old businessman Kenneth Bridges was shot dead while pumping fuel at an Exxon station off Interstate 95 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near Fredericksburg.[20][17]
  • On October 14, at 9:15 p.m., 47-year-old Linda Franklin (née Moore), an FBI intelligence analyst who was a resident of Arlington County, Virginia, was shot dead at Arlington Boulevard and Patrick Henry Drive after she finished shopping at a Home Depot with her husband in Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside Falls Church at Seven Corners Shopping Center.[17] The police received what seemed to be a very good lead after the October 14 shooting, but it was later determined that the witness was inside the Home Depot at the time and was lying. The witness was subsequently arrested for interfering with the investigation.

By this point, gas stations had begun to put tarps up to conceal their customers (see Public reaction, below). Malvo and Muhammad did not commit any more shootings for five days.

On October 19 at 8:00 p.m., 37-year-old Jeffrey Hopper was shot in a parking lot near the Ponderosa steakhouse at State Route 54 in Ashland, Virginia, about 90 miles south of Washington, near Interstate 95. Hopper later died.[17] Authorities discovered a four-page letter from the shooter in the woods that demanded $10 million and made a threat to children.

On October 21, Richmond-area police arrested two men, one with a white van, outside a gas station. The men turned out to be undocumented immigrants with no connection to the shooter and they were remanded in the custody of what was then the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently deported them.

The next day, October 22, bus driver Conrad Johnson was shot at 5:56 a.m. while standing on the steps of his bus at the 14100 block of Grand Pre Road in Aspen Hill, Maryland. Chief Moose released part of the content of one of the shooter's letters, in which he declares, "Your children are not safe, anywhere, at any time". Johnson later died of his injuries[17]

While no shootings occurred on October 23, the day is significant for two events. First, ballistics experts confirmed Johnson as the tenth fatality in the Beltway shootings. Second, in a yard in Tacoma, Washington, police searched with metal detectors for bullets, shell casings, or other evidence that might provide a link to the shooters. A tree stump believed to have been used for target practice was seized.

Public reaction

With seven separate shooting victims, including six deaths, in the first 15 hours of the D.C. area spree, the North American media soon devoted enormous coverage to the shootings. By the middle of October 2002, all news television networks provided live coverage of the aftermath of each attack, with the coverage often lasting for hours at a time. The Fox show America's Most Wanted devoted an entire episode to the shooters in hopes of aiding in their capture. Much of the coverage of the case in The New York Times was written by Jayson Blair and subsequently found to be fabricated; the ensuing scandal led the newspaper's two top editors, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, to resign.

During the weeks when the attacks occurred, fear of the apparently random shootings generated a great deal of public apprehension, especially at service stations and the parking lots of large stores. People pumping gasoline at gas stations would walk around their cars quickly, hoping that they would be a harder target to hit. Some stations put up tarps around the awnings over the fuel pumps so people would feel safer. Also, many people would attempt to fuel their vehicles at the naval base of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, as they felt it was safer inside the guarded fence. Various government buildings such as the White House, U.S. Capitol, and the Supreme Court building, and memorial tourist attractions at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. also received heightened security. For the duration of the attacks, United States Senate pages received a driven police escort to and from the United States Capitol every day and were not allowed to leave their residence hall for any reason except work. Drivers of white vans and box trucks were viewed with suspicion from other motorists as initial media reports indicated the suspect may be driving such a vehicle.[21]

After the specific threat against children was delivered, many school groups curtailed field trips and outdoors athletic activities based upon safety concerns. At the height of the public fear, some school districts, such as Henrico County Public Schools and Hanover County Public Schools, after the Ponderosa shooting, simply closed school for the day. Other schools such as the MJBHA, cancelled all outdoor activities after the shooting at the Connecticut and Aspen Hill intersection. Others changed after-school procedures for parents to pick up their kids to minimize the amount of time children spent in the open. Extra police officers were placed in schools because of this fear. In addition to this, Joel Schumacher's film Phone Booth was deemed potentially upsetting enough that its release was delayed for months.[22]


The investigation was publicly headed by the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) and its chief, Charles Moose. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and police departments in other jurisdictions where shootings took place, provided assistance in the investigation.[23]

Police responded within minutes to reports of attacks during the three weeks of the sniper attacks, cordoning off nearby roads and highways and inspecting all drivers, thereby grinding traffic to a halt for hours at a time. Police canvassed the area, talking to people, and collected surveillance tapes.[23]

By Friday night, October 4, the five shootings on October 3 and two on October 2 were forensically linked to the same gun.[24]

Eyewitness accounts of the attacks were mostly confused and spotty. Hotlines set up for the investigation were flooded with tips. Early tips from eyewitnesses included reports of a white box truck with dark lettering, speeding away from the Leisure World shopping center, with two men inside. Police across the area and the state of Maryland were pulling over white vans and trucks.[13] A gray car was spotted speeding away after the October 4 shooting in Spotsylvania.[24]

The shooter attempted to engage the police in a dialogue, compelling Moose to tell the media cryptic messages intended for the sniper. At several scenes Tarot cards were left as calling cards, including one Death card upon which was written "Call me God" on the front and on the back on three separate lines the words, "For you mr. Police." "Code: 'Call me God'." "Do not release to the press."[19] This information was leaked to the press and misquoted often as "I am God" or some similar misquote of the actual words on the tarot card.[25] Later scenes had long, handwritten notes carefully sealed inside plastic bags, including a rambling one that demanded $10,000,000 and threatened the lives of children in the area.

A telephone call from the shooter(s) was traced to a pay telephone at a gasoline station in Henrico County, Virginia. Police missed the suspects by a matter of a few minutes, and initially detained occupants of a van at another pay telephone at the same intersection.

On the phone call, the sniper, boasting of his cleverness, also mentioned a previous unsolved murder in "Montgomery".[26] This was identified as the September 21 shooting at a liquor store in Montgomery, Alabama. On October 17 authorities said they matched Malvo's fingerprint found at the Benjamin Tasker Middle School site with one lifted from the liquor store scene.[27] After further research into Malvo's background it was discovered he had close ties to John Allen Muhammad.

Difficult progress

Despite an apparent lack of progress publicly, federal authorities were making significant headway in their investigation and developed leads in Washington state, Alabama, and New Jersey. They learned that Muhammad's ex-wife, who had obtained a protective order against him, lived near the Capital Beltway in Clinton, a community in suburban Prince George's County, Maryland. Information was also developed about an automobile purchased in New Jersey by Muhammad.

Much to their shock, police discovered that the New Jersey license plates issued to Muhammad on the blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice had been checked by radio patrol cars several times near shooting locations in various jurisdictions in several states, but the car had not been stopped because law enforcement computer networks did not indicate that it was connected to any criminal activity and they were focused exclusively on the "white van".

On October 3, 2002, police in Washington, D.C. stopped the Caprice for a "minor traffic infraction", two hours prior to the shooting of Pascal Charlot, after which witnesses reported seeing a Caprice near the scene.

On October 8, 2002, Baltimore Police Department investigated a dark blue Chevrolet Caprice with a person sleeping inside parked near the Jones Falls Expressway at 28th St. in Baltimore. The officers were concerned that the driver's license was from Washington state and the vehicle tag was from New Jersey. Although the vehicle was suspicious enough for them to investigate, and it fit the description of a vehicle associated with the shooting in Washington, D.C. five days earlier, the officers did not question the occupants extensively, nor did they search the vehicle.

Authorities were quick to issue a media alert to the public to be on the lookout for a dark blue Chevrolet Caprice sedan. For the public, as well as for law enforcement agencies throughout the region, this was a major change from the mysterious "white box truck" earlier sought based upon reported sightings.

The Chevrolet Caprice was also later revealed to have formerly been used as an undercover police car in Bordentown, New Jersey.[28]


The rest area in which Muhammad and Malvo were captured; the blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice driven by them is visible.
The blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice driven by Muhammad and Malvo, at the rest area where they were captured. Glass shards on the ground are a result of the shattering of the car's windows during the capture.

The incident came to a close at 3:15 a.m. on October 24, 2002, when Muhammad and Malvo were found sleeping in their car, a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice (which had been dismissed earlier in the investigation), at a rest stop off of Interstate 70 near Myersville, Maryland, and arrested on federal weapons charges. Police were tipped off by Whitney Donahue, who noticed the parked car. (Four hours earlier, Montgomery County police chief Charles Moose had relayed this cryptic message to the sniper: "You have indicated that you want us to do and say certain things. You have asked us to say, 'We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose'. We understand that hearing us say this is important to you". Moose asked the media "to carry the message accurately and often".[29] This mysterious and arguable reference to a Cherokee fable has never been explained.)

Trooper First Class D. Wayne Smith of the Maryland State Police was the first to arrive to the scene and immediately used his light blue unmarked police vehicle to block off the exit by positioning the car sideways between two parked tractor-trailers. As more troopers arrived at the scene the rest area was effectively sealed off at both the entrance and exit ramps without the suspects being aware of a rapidly growing police presence. Later, as truck driver Ron Lantz was attempting to exit the rest area, his tractor-trailer was commandeered by troopers who used the truck, in place of the police car, to complete the roadblock at the exit. With the suspects' escape route sealed off, the SWAT officers then moved in to arrest them. A Bushmaster .223-caliber weapon and bipod were found in a bag in Muhammad's car. Ballistics tests later conclusively linked the seized rifle to 11 of the 14 shootings, including one in which no one was injured.[30]

Conclusions of investigations

Logistics and tactics

The attacks were carried out with a stolen Bushmaster XM-15 (AR-15 style) semiautomatic .223 caliber rifle equipped with an EOTech holographic weapon sight which is effective at ranges of between 50 and 550 yards (46 and 503 m) found in the vehicle.[31] The trunk of the Chevrolet Caprice was modified to serve as a "rolling sniper's nest". The back seat was modified to allow a person access to the trunk. Once inside, the sniper could lie prone with shots taken from a small hole near the license plate created for that purpose.[32]


Investigators and the prosecution suggested during pre-trial motions that Muhammad intended to kill his second ex-wife Mildred, who had estranged him from his children. According to this theory, the other shootings were intended to cover up the motive for the crime, since Muhammad believed that the police would not focus on an estranged ex-husband as a suspect if she looked like a random victim of a serial killer. Muhammad frequented the neighborhood where she lived during the attacks, and some of the incidents occurred nearby. Additionally, he had earlier made threats against her. Mildred herself made the claim that she was his intended target. However, Judge LeRoy Millette, Jr. prevented prosecutors from presenting that theory during the trial, saying that a link had not been firmly established.

While imprisoned, Malvo wrote a number of erratic diatribes about what he termed "jihad" against the United States.[33] "I have been accused on my mission. Allah knows I'm gonna suffer now", he wrote.[33] Because his rants and drawings featured not only such figures as Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, but also characters from the film series The Matrix, these musings were dismissed as immaterial.[33] Some investigators reportedly said they had all but eliminated terrorist ties or political ideologies as a motive.[34][35][36] Nonetheless, in at least one of the ensuing murder trials, a Virginia court found Muhammad guilty of killing "pursuant to the direction or order" of terrorism.[37]

A series of trial exhibits suggested Malvo and Muhammad were motivated by an affinity for Islamist Jihad.[38]

  • Exhibit 65-006: A self-portrait of Malvo in the cross hairs of a gun scope shouting, "ALLAH AKBAR!" The word "SALAAM" scrawled vertically. A lyric from Bob Marley's Natural Mystic "Many more will have to suffer. Many more will have to die. Don't ask me why."
  • Exhibit 65-016: A portrait of Saddam Hussein with the words "INSHALLAH" and "The Protector," surrounded by rockets labeled "chem" and "nuk".
  • Exhibit 65-043: Father and son portrait of Malvo and Muhammad. "We will kill them all. Jihad."
  • Exhibit 65-056: A self-portrait of Malvo as sniper, lying in wait, with his rifle. "JIHAD" written in bold letters.
  • Exhibit 65-067: A suicide bomber labeled "Hamas" walking into a McDonald's restaurant. Another drawing of the Twin Towers burning captioned: "85 percent chance Zionists did this." More scrawls: "ALLAH AKBAR," "JIHAD," and "Islam will explode."
  • Exhibit 65-103: A lion accompanies chapter and verse from the Quran (Sura 2:190): "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you and slay them wherever ye catch them."
  • Exhibit 65-109: Portrait of Osama bin Laden, captioned "Servant of Allah."
  • Exhibit 65-117: The White House drawn in crosshairs, surrounded by missiles, with a warning: "Sep. 11 we will ensure will look like a picnic to you" and "you will bleed to death little by little."
  • Exhibit 65-101: Malvo's thought for the day: "Islam the only true guidance, the way of peace."

At the 2006 trial of Muhammad, Malvo testified that the aim of the killing spree was to kidnap children for the purpose of extorting money from the government and to "set up a camp to train children how to terrorize cities",[39] with the ultimate goal being to "shut things down" across the United States.[40]



The victims for the shootings prior to those in the D.C. area can be seen in a list at each respective section.

Criminal prosecutions

Virginia trials

Before the trial, Chief Moose engaged in a publicity tour for his book on the sniper investigation, including appearances on Dateline NBC, The Today Show, and The Tonight Show. Assistant Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney James Willett told The Washington Post, "Personally, I don't understand why someone who's been in law enforcement his whole life would potentially damage our case or compromise a jury pool by doing this."[41]

Change of venue requests by defense attorneys were granted, and the first trials were held in the independent cities of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach in southeastern Virginia, more than 100 miles (160 km) from the closest alleged attack (in Ashland, Virginia).

During their trials in the fall of 2003, involving two of the victims in Virginia, Muhammad and Malvo were each found guilty of murder and weapons charges. The jury in Muhammad's case recommended that he be sentenced to death, while Malvo's jury recommended a sentence of life in prison without parole instead of the death penalty. The judges concurred in both cases. Alabama law enforcement authorities allege that the snipers engaged in a series of previously unconnected attacks prior to October 2 in Montgomery, Alabama. Other charges are also pending in Maryland and other communities in Virginia.

After the initial convictions and sentencing, Will Jarvis, the Assistant Prince William County prosecutor, stated he would wait to decide whether to try Malvo on capital charges in his jurisdiction until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on whether juveniles may be subject to the penalty of execution. While that decision in an unrelated case was still pending before the high court, in October 2004, under a plea agreement, Malvo pleaded guilty in another case in Spotsylvania County, for another murder to avoid a possible death penalty sentence, and agreed to additional sentencing of life imprisonment without parole. Malvo had yet to face trial in Prince William County.

In March 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons that the Eighth Amendment prohibits execution for crimes committed when under the age of 18. In light of this Supreme Court decision, the prosecutors in Prince William County decided not to pursue the charges against Malvo. Prosecutors in Maryland, Louisiana, and Alabama were still interested in putting both Malvo and Muhammad on trial. As Malvo was 17 when he committed the crimes, he could no longer face the death penalty but still could be extradited to Alabama, Louisiana, and other states for prosecution. At the time of the Roper v. Simmons ruling, Malvo was 20 years old and was held at Virginia's maximum security Red Onion State Prison in Pound in Wise County.

"Muhammad, with his sniper team partner, Malvo, randomly selected innocent victims," Virginia Supreme Court Justice Donald Lemons wrote in the decision. "With calculation, extensive planning, premeditation and ruthless disregard for life, Muhammad carried out his cruel scheme of terror."

Muhammad's death penalty was affirmed by the Virginia Supreme Court on April 22, 2005, when it ruled that he could be sentenced to death because the murder was part of an act of terrorism. This line of reasoning was based on the handwritten note demanding $10 million. The court rejected an argument by defense lawyers that Muhammad could not be sentenced to death because he was not the triggerman in the killings linked to him and Malvo.

On September 16, the circuit court judge Mary Grace O'Brien set an execution date by lethal injection for November 10, 2009.[42] His attorneys petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution, but it was denied.[43] They also requested clemency from current Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, but this was denied as well.[44] The execution began shortly after 9 p.m. on November 10, and he was pronounced dead at 9:11 p.m.[45]

Maryland trials

In May 2005, Virginia and Maryland announced that they had reached agreements to allow Maryland to proceed with prosecuting charges there, where the most shootings occurred. There were media reports that Malvo and his legal team were willing to negotiate his cooperation, and he waived extradition to Maryland.

Muhammad and his legal team responded by fighting extradition to Maryland. Muhammad's legal team was ultimately unsuccessful, and extradition was ordered by a Virginia judge in August 2005.

Maryland agreed to transfer Muhammad and Malvo back to the Commonwealth of Virginia after their trials. A date for Muhammad's pending execution in Virginia had been set for November 10, 2009.[46]

Malvo pleaded guilty to six murders and confessed to others in other states while being interviewed in Maryland and while testifying there against Muhammad. Malvo was sentenced to six consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.

On May 30, 2006, a Maryland jury found John Allen Muhammad guilty of six counts of murder in Maryland. In return, he was sentenced to six consecutive life terms without possibility of parole on June 1, 2006.

On May 6, 2008, it was revealed that Muhammad had asked prosecutors in a letter to help him end legal appeals of his conviction and death sentence "so that you can murder this innocent black man." An appeal filed by Muhammad's defense lawyers in April 2008 cited evidence of brain damage that might render Muhammad incompetent to make legal decisions, and that he should not have been allowed to represent himself at his Virginia trial.

Malvo testimony

In John Allen Muhammad's May 2006 trial in Montgomery County, Maryland, Lee Boyd Malvo took the stand and confessed to the 17 murders.[47] He also gave a more detailed version of the pair's plans. Malvo, after extensive psychological counseling, admitted that he was lying at the earlier Virginia trial where he had admitted to being the trigger man for every shooting. Malvo claimed that he had said this in order to protect Muhammad from a potential death sentence, and because it was more difficult to obtain the death penalty for a minor. Malvo said that he wanted to do what little he could for the families of the victims by letting the full story be told. In his two days of testimony, Malvo outlined detailed aspects of all the shootings.

Part of his testimony concerned Muhammad's complete multiphase plan. His plan consisted of three phases in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro areas. Phase one consisted of meticulously planning, mapping, and practicing their locations around the D.C. area. This way after each shooting, they would be able to quickly leave the area on a predetermined path, and move on to the next location. Muhammad's goal in Phase One was to kill six white people a day for 30 days. Malvo went on to describe how Phase One did not go as planned due to heavy traffic and the lack of a clear shot or getaway at locations.

Phase Two was meant to take place in Baltimore, Maryland. Malvo described how this phase was close to being implemented, but was not carried out. Phase Two was intended to begin by killing a pregnant woman by shooting her in the stomach. The next step would have been to shoot and kill a Baltimore police officer. Then, at the officer's funeral, they planned to create several improvised explosive devices complete with shrapnel. These explosives were intended to kill a large number of police, since many police would attend another officer's funeral.

The last phase was to take place during or shortly after Phase Two, which was to extort several million dollars from the United States government. This money would be used to finance a larger plan, to travel north to Canada. Along the way, they would stop in YMCAs and orphanages recruiting other impressionable young boys with no parents or guidance. Muhammad thought he could act as their father figure as he did with Malvo.

Once he recruited a large number of young boys and made his way up to Canada, he would begin their training. Malvo described how John Muhammad intended to train boys in weapons and stealth as he had been taught. Finally, after their training was complete, John Allen Muhammad would send them out across the United States to carry out mass shootings in many other cities, just as he had done in Washington and Baltimore. These attacks would be coordinated and be intended to send the country into chaos that had already been built up after 9/11.

Civil and regulatory actions

According to The Seattle Times in a story of April 20, 2003, Muhammad had honed his marksmanship at Bull's Eye's firing range. The newspaper also reported that Malvo told investigators that he shoplifted the 35-inch-long carbine from the "supposedly secure store."[48]

According to U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) officials, the store and its owners had a long history of firearms sales and records violations and a file 283 pages thick. In July 2003, the ATF revoked the federal firearms license of Brian Borgelt, a former Staff Sergeant with the U.S. Army Rangers and owner of Bull's Eye Shooter Supply. Later that month he transferred ownership of the store to a friend and continued to own the building and operate the adjacent shooting gallery.[49]

On January 16, 2003, the Legal Action Project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, on behalf of the families of many of the victims of the sniper attacks both in and out of the D.C. area who were killed (including Hong Im Ballenger, "Sonny" Buchanan, Jr., Linda Franklin, Conrad Johnson, Sarah Ramos, and James L. Premkumar Walekar) as well as two victims who survived the shooting (Rupinder "Benny" Oberoi and 13-year old Iran Brown) filed a civil lawsuit against Bull's Eye Shooter Supply and Bushmaster Firearms, Inc. of Windham, Maine, the gun distributor and manufacturer that made the rifle used in the crime spree, as well as Borgelt, Muhammad, and Malvo. Muhammad, who had a criminal record of domestic battery, and Malvo, a minor, were each legally prohibited from purchasing firearms.

The suit claimed that Bull's Eye Shooter Supply ran its gun store in Tacoma, Washington, "in such a grossly negligent manner that scores of its guns routinely "disappeared" from its store and it kept such shoddy records that it could not account for the Bushmaster rifle used in the sniper shootings when asked by federal agents for records of sale for the weapon." It was alleged that the dealer could not account for hundreds of guns received from manufacturers in the years immediately prior to the Beltway sniper attacks. It was also claimed that Bull's Eye continued to sell guns in the same irresponsible manner even after Muhammad and Malvo were caught and found to have acquired the weapon there. Bushmaster was included in the suit because it allegedly continued to sell guns to Bull's Eye as a dealer despite an awareness of its record-keeping violations.

The case had been set for trial in April 2005; however the parties settled before then. Bushmaster said it settled because of escalating legal fees and the dwindling amount of insurance money it had left for the case. Bull's Eye contributed $2 million and Bushmaster contributed $500,000 to an out-of-court settlement. Bushmaster also agreed to educate its dealers on safer business practices.[50]

After the settlement was announced, WTOP radio in Washington, D.C., reported that Sonia Wills, mother of victim Conrad Johnson, said her family took part in the lawsuit more to send a message than to collect money. "I think a message was delivered that you should be responsible and accountable for the actions of irresponsible people when you make these guns and put them in their hands," she said.[51]

Execution of John Allen Muhammad

In the days leading up to his execution, John Allen Muhammad spent time with his lawyer working out a final appeal to the Supreme Court. It was reported that the two had become close friends, with Muhammad telling his lawyer, "I love you, brother", and granting him permission to write a book about the trial.[52]

Muhammad was executed by lethal injection at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia on November 10, 2009.[53] The execution procedure began at 9:06 p.m. EST; Muhammad was pronounced dead five minutes later. It was reported that when asked if he had any last words, Muhammad made no reply. Twenty-seven people, including victims' family members, witnessed his execution.[citation needed]


A memorial to the victims of the D.C. area sniper attacks is located at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.[54] An additional memorial was constructed in 2014 in the government plaza of Rockville, Maryland.

In popular culture

Film and television

  • On October 17, 2003, the USA Network's U.S. cable station aired D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear, a television movie based on the 2002 sniper attacks.
  • During the fall of 2007, BET showcased a documentary on the Beltway snipers in its American Gangster series.
  • In June 2008, Barbara Kopple released her documentary The D.C. Sniper's Wife, which told the story through the eyes of Mildred Muhammad, wife of John Allen Muhammad. Mildred was to appear on CNN's Larry King Live on November 9, the day before her ex-husband's execution.
  • An episode of Serial..., a TLC show about serial killers, also covered the shootings.
  • The 2009 film, D.C. Sniper, directed by Ulli Lommel, is based on the attacks.
  • On January 3, 2011, Canadian actor William Shatner spoke at length with three survivors of the sniper shootings—Paul LaRuffa, Kellie Adams, and Caroline Seawell—on The Biography Channel's Aftermath with William Shatner.
  • The 2013 film Blue Caprice, also known as The Washington Snipers in some regions, is based on the attacks, focusing heavily on the father-son relationship between Muhammed and Malvo.
  • The attacks were mentioned in the TV show Castle by Richard Castle in S4E9 "Kill Shot"
  • On July 22, 2015, an episode of the Lifetime Movie Network's Monster in my Family featured Mildred Muhammad meeting with then injured victims along with family members of the deceased with Lee Malvo also appearing in the episode while in prison.[55][56]


  • In 2003, former Montgomery County police chief Charles Moose, the primary official in charge of the Beltway sniper attacks, published Three Weeks in October.
  • Diary of the D.C. Sniper, by Lee Boyd Malvo and Anthony Meoli, M.A., J.D., describes the stressors within Malvo's early life that led him to become one-half of the Beltway snipers. (2012, Meoli Forensic Consulting, LLC)

Spoken word

  • "Interview with the D.C. Sniper," released in 2013, this hour-long audio CD interview with criminal profiler, Anthony Meoli, details the events of the shootings in Lee Malvo's own voice.

See also


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  52. Quote taken from an article in the Baltimore Sun, since republished in other Tribune newspapers:
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External links