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John Allen Muhammad
Photo: Virginia Department of Corrections via Getty Images

John Allen Muhammad

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John Allen Muhammad became an infamous figure as part of a sniper team that terrorized the Washington, D.C., area for several weeks in October 2002.

Who Was John Allen Muhammad?

John Allen Muhammad became an infamous figure in American culture as part of a sniper team, with Lee Boyd Malvo, that terrorized the Washington, D.C., area for several weeks in October 2002. Making a sniper nest out of the trunk of his car, he and Malvo killed 10 people and injured three. Muhammad was executed in November 2009.

Early Life and Military Career

Muhammad was born John Allen Williams on December 31, 1960, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was raised by his aunt in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after his mother died when he was four.

After high school, Muhammad got married to Carol Kaglear and joined the Louisiana Army National Guard. They had a son named Lindbergh. At first, his military career seemed promising. He was described as personable and outgoing by one of his commanders, but by the early 1980s cracks were beginning to show in his facade. He got into trouble twice—once for failing to report for duty and another time for hitting an officer.

Muhammad turned his life around in 1985. He separated from his wife, converted to Islam and joined the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Washington State and later married Mildred Green. The couple had three children. The army seemed to be a good fit for Muhammad, at least for a time. He became a skilled marksman and served in Germany and the Middle East during the Gulf War.

Family Troubles

Becoming restless, Muhammad left the military in 1994. He tried to start his own business twice, first with an auto mechanic shop and then a karate school, but both ventures failed. In 1999, his second wife Mildred filed for divorce, and the next year she got a restraining order against Muhammad because of the threats he made against her.

Shortly after the order was issued, Muhammad fled to Antigua with the couple's three children. It is believed that this is also where met his future accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo. Muhammad later returned to the United States settling in Bellingham, Washington, with his children. Soon, however, police officers found him and returned the children to their mother's custody. She moved with them to Maryland.

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Meeting Lee Malvo and Tormenting Washington, D.C.

Enraged over the loss of his children, Muhammad began to fixate on Malvo who had moved to Bellingham with his mother, Una James, that October. They together lived in a homeless shelter and developed a disturbing father-son dynamic. Muhammad seemed to control every aspect of Malvo's life, imposing an exercise program and a special diet, one that reportedly consisted of just honey and crackers at one point.

Malvo and James were taken into custody by immigration officials in December 2001 for being in the country illegally. But they were released while waiting for a hearing, and Muhammad was soon reunited with Malvo. He began to teach Malvo how to use a gun, and they used a tree stump in a friend's yard for target practice.

By the fall of 2002, Muhammad and Malvo had moved on from tree stumps to real-life victims. They were involved in a liquor store shooting in Alabama before beginning their assault on the Washington, D.C. area in October. Muhammad's ex-wife Mildred and his three children lived in nearby Maryland and there were reports that Muhammad stalked the family around the time of sniper attacks.

A skilled mechanic, Muhammad put his talents to evil use, making a sniper nest out of the trunk of his car. He and Malvo worked as a team in the shooting with one man firing the rifle while the other watched the victims. They often targeted people doing simple, everyday tasks, such as pumping their gas or leaving a store. In total, they killed 10 people and injured three others in the D.C. area.

After several killings, Muhammad and Malvo began to taunt the police. They left a note on a tarot card that read: "Mister policeman, I am God" after one shooting. The police were stumped as there seemed to be no motive or pattern to the attacks. Then the snipers demanded $10 million to stop shooting. But the real break in the case came from phone calls to a tip line and to two priests from someone claiming to be the sniper. He pointed them in the direction of an earlier Alabama shooting. At the scene of that crime, Malvo had dropped a brochure, which had one of his fingerprints on it. That fingerprint was matched on file with the immigration records, giving the authorities their first suspect.

End of the Rampage and Death

On October 24, 2002, more than 20 days after the rampage began, the authorities surrounded the vehicle in which Muhammad and Malvo. They were taken into custody and arrested. Since they committed their crimes in several states, the authorities had to decide where the pair should be tried first. Muhammad and Malvo had separate trials. In Muhammad's defense, his lawyers pointed to Malvo as the sole triggerman. Still, a 2003 jury for the murder of Dean Harold Meyers recommended that he be sentenced to death. Muhammad was convicted on six counts of murder in another trial in Maryland in 2006. Malvo testified against Muhammad during the trial, saying that Muhammad had pulled the trigger on the first six shootings.

Muhammad served his sentence at Sussex I State Prison in Virginia, until his death by lethal injection on November 10, 2009.

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