ROCKVILLE, Md. - A former Fort Lewis soldier and a teenage companion were being held Thursday as suspects in a series of ruthless sniper shootings that left 10 people dead and terrorized Washington, D.C., and its suburbs for more than three weeks.
|Path of a Sniper|
John Allen Muhammad, 41, also known as John Allen Williams, and John Lee Malvo, 17, were arrested early Thursday after they were found sleeping at a secluded rest stop in Northern Maryland.
After ballistics tests, police said a rifle seized from the car in which the pair was arrested had been used in 11 of the 14 Washington-area shootings, including one in which no one was injured.
"We have the weapon," Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said at a news conference. "We feel very positive about where we are right now."
Muhammad and Malvo were arraigned amid tight security during separate closed hearings in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Neither was charged directly with the sniper slayings.
Instead, Muhammad was held on an outstanding federal warrant for a firearm violation and Malvo as a material witness in the sniper case.
"However, we now consider them suspects in the string of shootings in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia," Moose said.
Prosecutors from the various jurisdictions involved will meet today to discuss possible charges. Moose and others at the news conference declined to provide further details about the investigation.
For Moose and other members of a task force established to track the sniper, Thursday's developments were a relief, yet bittersweet. Moose met with some of the victims' families Thursday afternoon.
"We'll never know their pain, and we only wish we could have stopped this to reduce the number of victims," he said.
Moose also praised the public for its response to the sniper attacks.
"We have not given in to terror," he said. "We have all experienced anxiety, but in the end resilience won out."
Muhammad and Malvo were taken into custody before dawn Thursday at a rest stop along an interstate highway about 50 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., after police received several tips about a suspicious car that matched the description handed out by Montgomery County police only hours earlier.
The rifle found in the car with the suspects was described as a Bushmaster XM/15. In a complaint filed in federal court in Seattle on Wednesday, Muhammad was accused of possessing a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle in violation of a restraining order filed by his ex-wife.
The complaint quoted Robert Holmes, who owned a Tacoma house searched by FBI agents Wednesday, as saying that six months ago Muhammad had shown him several assault weapons, and four months ago Muhammad and another unidentified man showed him another rifle and said they were taking it to a firing range to "zero it." Holmes said he later saw Muhammad with a book about how to build silencers.
Police also reportedly seized a scope and a bipod, used to steady a rifle when shooting, from the car, a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice with New Jersey plates. The car had apparently been modified so a shooter could fire from inside the trunk.
Maj. Greg Shipley of the Maryland State Police said Muhammad and Malvo had been sleeping and offered no resistance, adding police approached the car "very quickly, very carefully."
A Cincinnati truck driver, Ron Lancz, blocked the exit from the rest stop to the freeway with his truck until police arrived.
"It was a long 15 minutes," said Lancz. "I'm no hero."
Muhammad, a gulf war veteran, qualified for an M-16 expert marksmanship badge while serving in the Army, CNN reported. Though not a highly skilled sniper, the badge showed Muhammad was proficient in handling rifles.
The Defense Department has refused to release details of Muhammad's military service, though it is believed he served for 10 years, including stretches at Fort Lewis and at Ford Ord, Calif. Muhammad was reportedly a machinist who reached the rank of sergeant and had nothing to do with the highly trained Rangers and Special Forces stationed at Fort Lewis.
Muhammad, who converted to Islam years ago, had lived most of his life in Baton Rouge, La., and in the Seattle-Tacoma area.
Muhammad was not believed to have any connection to al-Qaida or any other terrorist organizations. The Associated Press reported that a former neighbor of Muhammad's said the suspect had provided security at the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, D.C., organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Malvo, a Jamaican citizen, is believed to have known Muhammad for several years, but it's not clear when and how they met. Muhammad had a relationship with the boy's mother, but Malvo is not believed to be his stepfather, as he reportedly told school and immigration officials while living in Bellingham.
The arrests climaxed a massive investigation that stretched from Washington, D.C, and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, to southern Virginia, to Tacoma and Bellingham, and Montgomery, Ala.
The key break in the case came in a call to a police tip line last week from a man who may have been the sniper. The caller claimed he had killed someone during a robbery in the South. That in turn led police to Alabama, and then on to Washington state.
Montgomery, Ala., Police Chief John Wilson said Thursday that two women were shot outside a liquor store the evening of Sept. 21. One of the women was killed, the other is recovering from a head wound and has been helping police.
Wilson said there were "some very good similarities" between Malvo and an artist's sketch of the Montgomery attacker. But Wilson cautioned the weapon used in Montgomery was different from the one used by the sniper in the Washington, D.C., area.
Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright said a fingerprint on a magazine about weapons found at the scene of the Montgomery shooting matched that of Malvo, who, along with his mother, had a run-in with local authorities in Bellingham.
The investigation then led to Tacoma as police linked Malvo to Muhammad. On Wednesday, FBI agents spent hours searching the back yard of a duplex, looking for any signs the two may have used the yard as a target range. A large tree stump was chain-sawed off and sent to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms lab in Rockville to check for any bullets or bullet fragments that may be lodged in it.
Muhammad and Malvo had previously lived in the house.
Residents of Washington, D.C., were relieved when word of the arrests spread Thursday. Since the first shooting Oct. 2, schools had been on lockdown with outdoor activities canceled, and skittish residents found even such daily chores as pumping gas and going to the grocery store to be nerve-wracking ordeals.
"Tonight people in the Washington region are breathing a collective sigh of relief at this news," said Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, who somberly read the names of those killed.
All told, 13 people were shot in the sniping spree, including a 13-year-old boy outside his middle school. Of the 13, three survived. Two of the three survivors, including the boy, remain hospitalized with serious wounds.
No one was injured in the first shooting, at a Michaels crafts store in Montgomery County. The next five shootings came in Montgomery County in Maryland, followed by shootings in the District of Columbia, Maryland's Prince George's County, in the Virginia suburbs and as far south as the outskirts of Richmond, Va.
The final shooting, a fatal attack on a bus driver, came Tuesday morning in Montgomery County.
During the spree, police sought to open a dialogue with the sniper, who left a tarot card at one of the shooting sites inscribed, "Mister Policeman, I am God," and rambling letters at two other sites, including one that directly threatened children. Police and the sniper also reportedly communicated by telephone.
The Washington Post contributed to this report.
Suspects held in the sniper case
John Lee Malvo, 17
Jamaican citizen characterized as Muhammad's stepson.
Attended high school last year in Bellingham, where he raised a flag with local police when he arrived without transcripts or other papers.
His fingerprint was reportedly found at the scene of a Sept. 21 liquor store robbery in Montgomery, Ala., in which two employees were shot, one fatally.
John Allen Muhammad, 41
Born as John Allen Williams in Louisiana, 12-31-60.
Legally changed his name to Muhammad in April 2001.
17-year military career includes stints in the Louisiana National Guard, active duty at Fort Lewis, and service in the Persian Gulf War. Trained as a combat engineer.
Started auto repair business.
Married, divorced twice.
Open arrest warrant in Tacoma for shoplifting from a store.
Father of four children.
SOURCE: The News Tribune, Associated Press
KEY DATES IN SNIPER PROBE
Dec. 31, 1960: John Allen Williams is born in New Orleans.
1978-1985: Williams serves in the Louisiana Army National Guard.
Feb, 18, 1985: John Lee Malvo is born in Kingston, Jamaica.
1985-1994: Williams serves in the U.S. Army. He is stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Fort Lewis and Fort Ord in California. In 1991, he serves in the Persian Gulf War.
1994: Williams and wife Mildred move into house at 7302 S. Ainsworth Ave. in Tacoma. They divorce Oct. 6, 2000.
April 23, 2001: Williams changes name to John Allen Muhammad in Pierce County Municipal Court.
2001: Muhammad and Malvo live at the Lighthouse Mission in Bellingham. Malvo briefly attends Bellingham High School.
Feb. 12, 2002: Authorities cite Muhammad and a 17-year-old identified as John Muhammad Jr. for shoplifting at a grocery store in Tacoma.
Sept. 21, 2002: One woman is killed and one wounded at a liquor store in Montgomery, Ala. Muhammad and Malvo are thought to be involved.
Oct. 2, 2002: Killings in Washington, D.C., area begin.
Oct. 23, 2002: Acting on a tip, authorities search yard of a Tacoma home for bullets. Authorities in Maryland issue an alert for Muhammad.
Oct. 24, 2002: Authorities arrest Muhammad and Malvo at a rest stop in Maryland.