|“||Don't say anything. Just listen. Dearest police, Call me God. Do not release to the press. Five red stars. You have our terms. They are non-negotiable. If you choose Option 1, you will hold a press conference stating to the media that you believe you have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose. Repeat every word exactly as you heard it. If you choose Option 2, be sure to remember we will not deviate. P.S.-Your children are not safe.||”|
— The Snipers
John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, a.k.a. "The Beltway Sniper", "The D.C. Sniper", and "The Washington Sniper", were a pair of American snipers, serial/spree killers, and robbers who murdered several people on the U.S. East Coast in October 2002.
Muhammad was born as John Allen Williams on December 31, 1960, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He and his parents, Ernest and Eva Williams, moved to New Orleans when Eva was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time of her death, he was three years old. After his father left him, he was mostly cared for by his grandfather and an aunt. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Louisiana Army National Guard and went on to volunteer for active duty in 1985. In 1987, he joined the Nation of Islam, changing his surname to Muhammad in 2001. During his time in the Army, he served as a mechanic, truck driver, and specialist metalworker and earned the Expert Rifleman's Badge, the highest possible marksmanship medal for a basic soldier in the U.S. Army. He was married twice. When his second wife, Mildred, divorced him, a bitter custody battle over their three children ensued, culminating with him taking them and moving with them to Antigua in the Caribbean in 1999. Muhammad tried to establish himself as a businessman there but ended up making a living selling false identity papers to locals who sought entry into the U.S.
Around 1999, Muhammad met Una Sceon James and her son, Lee Boyd Malvo, in Antigua. Una, who became a close friend of Muhammad, later moved to Fort Myers, Florida using false documents and left Malvo in his care. In 2001, Muhammad, who claimed Malvo to be his stepson, moved to Bellingham, Washington and tried to enroll him and his three children in a school and was caught up by the authorities, who returned them to their mother. Malvo was reunited briefly with his mother in Miami, but they were arrested by the Border Patrol. Malvo was released on a $1,500 bond the next year and caught up with Muhammad again.
While the two of them lived at a homeless shelter in Bellingham, Malvo enrolled in high school but made no friends. Muhammad could afford frequent flights around the U.S. One of those trips was to Tacoma, where they tried to kill one of Mildred's friends but ended up killing her niece instead. After a trip to Muhammad's relatives in Louisiana, the two bought a 1990 Chevy Caprice and began a series of robberies and shootings in Louisiana, Alabama, and Maryland. During this time, they are believed to have committed another murder followed by seven more by the end of September. In 2002, Malvo shoplifted a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle from a firearms shop. Muhammad took up target practice at a gun range near the shop.
On October 5, 2002, the duo began what became a full-scale spree of random shootings across Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. Over the course of 23 days, they shot and killed 10 people and injured an additional three. One of those days, they were pulled over, but, since Muhammad had no outstanding warrants, were let go. At the peak of the rampage, people were afraid to leave the house. It was initially believed that the shootings were the work of a single man. The day after the last shooting, the police, acting on a phone tip, searched a house in Tacoma where Muhammad and Malvo had once lived. In January the same year, neighbors had complained that he had used the backyard for target practice. When the yard was searched, police found bullets and shell casings which were matched to those of the victims of the Beltway shootings. A nationwide alert for Muhammad and Malvo's car was issued.
On October 24, they were found sleeping in the car and arrested. A month-long trial with hundreds of pieces of evidence, including a series of pictures implicating the two as being terrorists, took place. In the end, Muhammad was sentenced to death in September 2003 and executed by lethal injection on November 10, 2009. He declined to make a final statement. Malvo was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole in October 2003, a sentence he is currently serving at the Red Onion State Prison. Since then, he has made apologies to Cheryll Witz, the daughter of victim Jerry Taylor, and survivor John C. Gaeta for his role in the shootings. In 2012, he was interviewed by The Washington Post, expressing remorse for his crimes. Eventually, Malvo appealed to the court, saying that his sentence is inapplicable to him because he was seventeen at the time of the shootings. In May 2017, a judge agreed and overturned the sentence, with a new trial on Malvo's new sentencing being scheduled.
During the Beltway shootings, Muhammad and Malvo killed their victims with the .223 semi-automatic Bushmaster XM-15 sporting rifle stolen by Malvo. The victims were all completely random and of different ages and sexes and were killed with single shots from a distance of 50-100 yards, and many of them were shot at or near gas stations. The shots were fired from their car, which had been fitted with a small hole in the trunk just above the license plate from which they aimed. They left tarot cards as calling cards at several crime scenes. One notable one, the Death card, had the phrase "Call me God" written on the front, and "For you mr. Police", "Code: Call me God" and "Do not release to the press" on the back. At some point, they also left a ransom note demanding ten million dollars. Prior to the Beltway shootings, they used different guns to attack their victims.
Muhammad's personal history showed many aspects which are common in individuals who later become spree/mass killers or assassins. He grew up in a poor and dysfunctional entourage, was extremely narcissistic, paranoid, obsessive, and controlling. Despite his tendency to gravitate towards positions of authority, he just couldn't cut in structured environments (such as the National Guard and the Army), lacked long-term goals, and was either self-employed or unemployed on a regular basis. He was also speculated by many to have been a psychopath/sociopath, and indeed seemed to fit this diagnosis very well: he was artificially and superficially charming, promiscuous, prone to misdemeanors and criminal behavior, lying, and apparently lacking of empathy (though he cried when a family friend talked about his relationship with his children, at his trial).
Muhammad was a drifter who went from group to group, from cause to cause (he joined the Nation of Islam), and, in the end, when his wife managed to find a way to evade his authoritarian grip, preventing him from having contacts with their children, he collapsed. The shootings were ultimately meant to be a way, for him, to re-acquire control over his life. Like many other similar offenders, Muhammad choose to employ a large police-type sedan, representing strength and power, during the course of his killing spree.
Malvo suffered from severe abandonment issues, he was searching for a father figure and eventually found Muhammad, who was searching for someone to control and upon whom exercise power.
- The Snipers are very similar to (may have even been inspired by) The Zebra Killers - Both were teams of African-American serial/spree killers who attacked victims in numerous public places using firearms and had similar ideologies.
To date, there have been two killers who emulated the Beltway shootings:
- Shawn Lester
- Shot and killed three people in a four-day span on August 2003
- Operated in West Virginia
- Used a .22-caliber rifle to kill at least two of his victims
- Was arrested on 2011 and indicted on all three murders
- Pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of one of his victims, while charges for the other two victims were dropped
- Sentenced to 40 years in prison
- Charles McCoy, Jr.
- Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1996
- Committed a total of 24 sniper shootings along the sides of highways in Ohio
- Hit only one person, 62-year-old Gail Knisley, who died
- Shootings began on May 2003 and lasted for several months, causing widespread fear
- Arrested on March 2004 and stood trial the next year
- Sentenced to 27 years in prison on August 2005 after legal complications
On Criminal Minds
- Season One
- "Extreme Aggressor" - The first reference to the duo was when they were mentioned (but not by name) as one of the cases previously studied by the BAU.
- "L.D.S.K." - Malvo and Muhammad were then mentioned by name, where the BAU dealt with another sniper, Phillip Dowd. When the profile is given, the screen shows images of a Death Tarot card, just like the one the Beltway Snipers left behind. Muhammad, in particular, may have also been an inspiration for Dowd - Both were narcissistic, paranoid, and sociopathic snipers and spree killers (budding in Dowd's case) who were former soldiers, and shot numerous victims with rifles in public places from the cover of their vehicles.
- Season Two
- "The Perfect Storm" - The duo was referenced again.
- Season Three
- Season Eight
- Season Nine
- "Final Shot" - Yet another notable reference to them was where the BAU compared them to the episode's unsub, Colin Bramwell, who seems to have been based on them - All were L.D.S.K.s with ex-wives as targets (The Beltway Snipers, one at least, had an ex-wife as a target, meanwhile Bramwell was hired to kill someone else's ex-wife), and used the additional murders of innocent people to cover up their true intentions, and they also committed a shooting at a gas station.
- "The Return" - While not not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, the duo appears to have been an inspiration for Wayne Gulino and his 'soldiers' - All were killers with a certain vendetta (Gulino wanted revenge against the Chicago PD, while Muhammad wanted to kill his ex-wife), recruited minors (Malvo in Muhammad's case, teenagers abducted and tortured in Gulino's), and went on killing sprees involving shootings and mass murders. This seems to be based on Muhammad's original plan to recruit orphan boys and train them to commit shooting sprees.
- Season Twelve
- "Unforgettable" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, the duo (or Muhammad at least) appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Sara McLean - Both were killers with a specific M.O., targeted and killed random people, and used these murders to cover up the attempted murder of their true target: their spouses. Both McLean and Muhammad also died at the end of their attacks (though under different circumstances). This seems to be based on the aforementioned theory mentioned previously.
- Season Fourteen
- "Twenty Seven" - The duo was referenced again, and appear to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsubs, The Wells Brothers - Both teams consisted of African-American spree killers (budding at least) who attacked random victims in public areas, used specific weapons in their crimes (rifles in Muhammad and Malvo's case, a machete in the Wells'), and were motivated by a personal vendetta (the Wells killed out of grief for their deceased brother, while the snipers killed because they wanted to kill Muhammad's ex-wife).
On Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior
On Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders
- Season One
- "El Toro Bravo" - While the Snipers were never directly mentioned or referenced on Beyond Borders, they appear to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsubs, Xavi and Simon Alonso - Both were serial killing teams formed by a dominant father (stepfather in Muhammad's case) and submissive son who targeted people in one city, the dominant partner left "calling cards" in which they demanded to be seen as gods (speculated in Alonso's case), were initially speculated to have had a political motivation, and the submissive partner expressed remorse and contacted a Catholic priest during their spree, who in turn provided the critical clue to identifying the killers.
- Evil Beyond Belief's article about Muhammad
- Murderpedia's article about Muhammad
- Radford University's summary of Muhammad's life
- Clark County Prosecutor's website about Muhammad and Malvo
- Seattle PI article about Muhammad and Malvo
- Huffington Post article about Muhammad and Malvo
- CNN Law article about Muhammad and Malvo
- CBS News article about Muhammad and Malvo
- CNN article about Oberoi
- Los Angeles Times article about Waldemariam
- The News Tribune article about the shootings
- Northern Virginia article about the shootings
- Baltimore Sun article about the shootings
- FOX 5 DC article about the overturning of Malvo's sentence
- Find a Grave:
- Time of shooting unknown