John Allen Muhammad & Lee Boyd Malvo: The DC Snipers

John Allen Muhammad during his time in the army | Early 1990s | US Army | Courtesy of Wikipedia

The shootings that took place in October 2002 led to a surge of panic, fear, and terror, creating one of the most chaotic months that the Washington DC metropolitan area had ever experienced. During this time, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, known as “The DC Snipers,” shot people throughout the region. This event would have a long lasting impact on the residents of the Washington DC area.1

It all began on October 2, 2002, at around 5:20 PM, when shots were fired into an arts and crafts store in Aspen Hill, Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC. The bullet narrowly missed Ann Chapman, a cashier at the store. No one was injured, and no serious alarms were raised at the time. An hour later, the DC snipers shot and killed James Martin, a 55-year-old program analyst at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This was one of the first few killings in the Washington DC area, but the shootings didn’t stop there. The next day, October 3rd, four people were shot dead over the span of two hours. The first victim was James “Sonny” Buchanan, shot dead at 7:41 AM while landscaping at an auto dealership. Two more people were shot while doing normal activities such as pumping gas or sitting on a bench. The last victim shot that morning was Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera. She was killed while vacuuming her Dodge Caravan at a Shell gas station.2

Map of the locations of the Beltway sniper attacks | 2005 | User:Tom | Courtesy of Wikipedia

John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo then moved their operations to Virginia. On October 4th, 43-year-old Caroline Seawell was wounded in the chest in Spotsylvania at a crafts store. Hundreds of journalists and reporters converged to cover the events taking place. School officials reassured the public that they were taking precautions for the safety of children. Up until this point, there had not been no children hurt or killed until Iran Brown who was shot outside of his middle school on October 7th in Bowie, Maryland. This shooting was significant because not only did they kill a child, but at this shooting site, John Allen Muhammad left a tarot card with a note to law enforcement. No demands were made, but the note read “call me god” and “do not release to press.”3 Another significant shooting was the shooting of Jeffery Hopper on October 19th, 2002, in which the snipers left a four-page note that demanded ten million dollars and made numerous threats to children. On October 22, 35-year-old bus driver Conrad Johnson was shot in Aspen Hill, Maryland, and part of the letter left at this site was released to the public, which read “Your children are not safe, anywhere, at any time.”4

Charles Moose| circa 1999-2002 | Courtesy of Wikipedia

This chaos drove Washington DC area residents into a frenzy. Most of the shootings were random; anyone could have fallen victim to them.  This created a great deal of public apprehension. Residents were especially vulnerable in large parking lots and gas stations. Some gas stations even resorted to putting tarps around the awnings of the gas station. Government buildings also resorted to having heightened security. Most schools took precautions for the safety of children after the threats against children were made. Outdoor activities like recess were canceled, and extra police officers were placed at schools.5

A side view of the 1990 Chevrolet Caprice driven by the D.C. snipers | October 2002 | FBI | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Charles Moose, chief of the Montgomery County Police Department, headed the investigation into the DC snipers. Early in the investigation, they believed the vehicle the suspects were using to be a white boxy van. Later, authorities received a call from a pay phone in Henrico County, Virginia, in which the shooters bragged about their cleverness in an unsolved murder in Montgomery, Alabama. Authorities matched the fingerprints of the Montgomery, Alabama murder and the Bowie, Maryland middle school shooting to Lee Boyd Malvo. Authorities gained an edge in the investigation. Police matched the New Jersey license plate on the 1990 Chevy Caprice to John Allen Muhammad. Authorities sent out an alarm for a dark blue 1990 Chevy Caprice. Ultimately, this led to the arrest of both suspects. Police arrested John Allen Muhammed and Lee Boyd at a rest stop in Frederick, Maryland after a witness tip-off.6

Photograph of the firing port on the Chevy Caprice| October 2002 |FBI |Courtesy of Wikipedia

Authorities found a Bushmaster XM-15 semiautomatic rifle in the car during the arrest. They found that the trunk of the Chevy Caprice was modified so that there was a snipers nest and a firing port to allow the shooter to shoot from a prone position. The firing port explained why authorities didn’t have any leads on the shooter for a number of days or an understanding of where the shots were coming from.7

John Allen Muhammed faced trials in both Maryland and Virginia. Ultimately he was given the death penalty in Virginia. Muhammad made one last final appeal but it was denied. He was executed by lethal injection on November 10th, 2009. Lee Boyd Malvo was spared from execution in a 2005 Supreme Court case that ruled out the death penalty for juveniles, since he was only 17 at the time of the attacks. Lee Boyd Malvo pled guilty to murder, terrorism, and firearms charges, and he received a sentence of life without parole.8

People have remembered the case of the DC Snipers for a long time because the victims of this vicious string of killings were randomly selected and shot down in broad daylight. Residents were afraid to go about their normal activities. They were scared to go to the grocery store, take their kids to school, and pump gas. They had immense fear to go about the activities that we do with such ease in our everyday life. People will also forever remember looking for a van while the real vehicle was a Chevy Caprice and their worries they felt with the minimal leads authorities had to catch the perpetrators. There were no leads for a long time, and so people of the area began to get inpatient and fear for their lives. Everyone seemed to be affected, like a ripple effect. The names of John Allan Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo remain infamous to all in the area and will forever be lodged in the memory of those who were affected. The tragic events of October 2002, will always be remembered.

  1. Sari Horowitz and Michael Ruane, Sniper Inside the Hunt for The Killers Who Terrorized the Nation (New York:Ballantine Books, 2004), 1-6.
  2. Wikipedia, s.v. “D.C. Sniper Attacks.”
  3. Encyclopædia Britannica,November 10, 2016, s.v. “D.C. Sniper Sttacks of 2002,” by Rachel Philofsky.
  4. Wikipedia, s.v. “D.C. Sniper Attacks.”
  5. Wikipedia,s.v. “D.C. Sniper Attacks.”
  6. Wikipedia,s.v. “D.C. Sniper Attacks.”
  7. Wikipedia, s.v. “D.C. Sniper Attacks.”
  8. Encyclopædia Britannica, November 10, 2016, s.v. “D.C. Sniper Attacks of 2002,” by Rachel Philofsky.

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This Post Has 28 Comments

  1. The ugly truth is that these type of situations still happen today. I think that this was a really well written article that highlighted an unfortunate event in the United States. The reason behind these killings was never mentioned in the article but I believe that there was none. These men were generally making a tour of the country and killing whoever they saw. It must of been terrifying for the civilians at the time and I would not of even wanted to leave my house. Imagine going about your day normally, putting gas in your car like you do any other day and then be murdered. The pain that the families must of felt is unbearable and I am so glad that they were eventually found.

  2. I will never understand what drives people to kill and what pleasure they gain from it. This is my first time hearing about this crime, but even then the motive behind anything like this is incomprehensible. I liked this article but I think some more background information is necessary. I think where these people come from and who they are is essential to what happened after.

  3. I remember the DC Snipers and wish the author had focused on the killers rather than the crimes . What drove the two of them is a much more complex and interesting story than this.
    The relationship between Muhammad and Malvo would have been an interesting story in itself.
    Maybe all of this is best left to another author with more interest in crime and the psychology which causes crimes?

  4. It saddens me that some people could take the decision to kill another human being for fun or anger. Although I was two when this tragic event happened, this story repeats itself with everything that’s going around in the United States. I think it’s time that the United States takes action over gun regulation, because many people have lost their loved ones due to a gun shot.

  5. Very interesting article but it would be nice to know what are they starting acting this way? did they have a rough childhood? any type of depression growing up? Something that shows why they became to hurtful towards people. To know that even a young middle school kid was shot is also sad because he never had the chance to live his life. Having people be scared to walk outside is terrible.

  6. Clarissa Gonzalez

    This reminds me of a Criminal Minds episode where there was a sniper also killing people doing such regular activities. I don’t understand people who have the capability to do these things, but it’s just the flower of an unkempt mind. This article was very well written and gave extremely good information on the foundation of solving this case. I’m glad that a good team was responsible in solving this case.

  7. Very interesting article. I would have liked if the writer included a little more background information since it was such a short and brief article. Other than that, despite its size, it was very informative. Still, to know and learn a little bit about the motive and the person as a whole would have been nice. Anyway, very good article!

  8. It’s crazy what goes on across the world and many don’t have the slightest clue about it. I, personally have never heard of this case and had me reading from beginning to end. What was the cause behind their random acts? What was there reasoning to destroy loved ones and ruin lives of others? I wish I knew a little more about their background information, maybe they had a tough childhood and wanted revenge. They definitely had their killing spree all planned out considering they even had a firing port for their gun in the trunk of their vehicle. This was an interesting article!

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