Fear in Washington D.C. – The Story of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo

In 2002, two snipers terrorized Washington D.C. They would aim at random people, leaving millions in fear. For three weeks, the coordinated shootings left 10 dead and 3 injured. The criminal duo then went on to commit murders and robberies, resulting in seven deaths.

Lee Boyd Malvo / Witness in court / John Allen Muhammad.
Source: Getty Images

Over 10 months, the snipers killed 17 and injured 10 more. Their murders led to one of the biggest manhunts in American history. John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were finally caught and convicted.

Revenge on His Ex

When the shootings were first reported, the question was why are they engaging in such killings? People assumed that these two were obviously insane. But both John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were regular individuals.

A mugshot of John Allen Muhammad / A mugshot of Lee Boyd Malvo.
Photo by Bureau of Prisons, Getty Images / Kevin Clark, The Washington Post, Getty Images

John Muhammad, a former soldier, lost his kids in a custody battle to Mildred, his ex-wife. He was devastated, furious, and threatened to kill her. His threats forced her to flee to Washington D.C. with their kids. She thought it was safe there…

The Anonymous Sniper

She didn’t know her ex would follow her there and start killing random people in the street. Many people say the killing spree was Muhammad’s way to kill his ex-wife and get his children back. He believed the police wouldn’t focus on him as an estranged ex-husband if Mildred seemed like a random victim of an anonymous serial killer.

A newspaper box headline reading ‘’Sniper Caught’’ on the street.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Mildred said that Muhammad began plotting as soon as she won custody of their kids in 2001. But the divorce wasn’t the first time he showed his ugly side.

The Target

For years, he told Mildred that he hated her – that she was a bad mother. In 1999, they separated, and he kidnapped the kids. He ran off with them for 18 months. But she never suspected that she would become the target of the “Beltway Sniper.” Then the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives knocked on her door.

A portrait of Mildred Muhammad.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

“Ms. Muhammad, didn’t you know he was shooting people around you?” They told her about a victim down the street from her.

A Twisted Scenario

“You were the target,” they told Mildred. Muhammad thought if a crazy gunman killed her, he would gain custody of their kids and get the money owed to them as victims.

Mildred Muhammad testifies in court.
Photo by Tracy Woodward-Pool/Getty Images

“His endgame scenario was to come in as the grieving father,” Mildred said. “He would have been called the father of the year.” Mildred claimed that her ex wanted to kill her for years, but no one listened.

A Different Person

After they separated, she became a marked woman. He even broke into her house and woke her up with a terrifying message: “You have become my enemy, and as my enemy, I will kill you.” Their 12-year marriage was full of abuse.

John Allen Muhammad sits in court.
Photo by Davis Turner-Pool/Getty Images

Everything changed after Muhammad came back from the Gulf War. He was once well-liked by everybody, but he became a paranoid, and depressed man. Mildred said she doesn’t know what made him into a monster…

Scared to Silence

She said she tried to tell her friends and neighbors about the abuse, but no one believed her since she didn’t have signs on body. She wrote a book to tell her story, Scared Silent, hoping it can help victims break their silence and escape abuse.

Mildred Muhammad poses with her daughters.
Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post/Getty Images

“What would have made a difference for me is that when John came back from Saudi Arabia that he would have been debriefed.” She believes that the rampage could have been averted if he had counseling after the war, before returning to real life.

A Random Rampage

During the random shootings, there was public panic. Service stations and parking lots seemed to be targeted. Pizza places saw a surge in deliveries as people were too scared to leave their front door.

Police pass by the house of John Allen Muhammad’s arrest.
Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

People tried to avoid being a target. They were advised to crouch down when filling their cars with gas and urged to walk in zigzags to avoid being a target.

The 13-Year-Old Victim

13-year-old Iran Brown became the youngest victim of Muhammad and Malvo. Brown was kicked off the school bus for eating candy that day. His aunt drove him to school in Bowie, Maryland.

Iran Brown testifies in court.
Photo by Dave Ellis-Pool/Getty Images

When he got out of her car, he dropped to the ground with a shot to his chest. He pulled himself up and went back into his aunt’s car. She took him to a local hospital.

Luckily, He Lived

He received surgery, where they removed his spleen, parts of his liver,  and his pancreas. Luckily, he made it alive and lived to tell his tale. He would have been the 7th fatality in the spree.

The mother of Ira Brown watches her son testify in court.
Lisa Brown. Photo by Dave Ellis-Pool/Getty Images

At the scene of that shooting, cops discovered an area in the shrubs where one of the snipers had been lying in wait. They also found some more pieces of evidence.