"I Could Take a Small City and Terrorize it": DC Sniper Told Ex-Wife

Ex-wife maintains she was the target of sniper's attacks

By Nafeesa Syeed
|  Sunday, Sep 27, 2009  |  Updated 11:45 AM EDT
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"I Could Take a Small City and Terrorize it": DC Sniper Told Ex-Wife

AP

DC sniper John Allen Muhammad is scheduled to die by lethal injection in November.

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When the ex-wife of the notorious D.C. sniper learned he was the suspect, she recalled his chilling warning: "You know I could take a small city and terrorize it and they would think it would be a group of people. But it would only be me."

John Allen Muhammad's words scared Mildred Muhammad, so she wrote them down in her journal. It was how she coped with the fear and emotional abuse that began when her husband returned from the Gulf War. 

"The paper don’t talk back," the 49-year-old told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "It just lets you write down your thoughts and you’re able to express anger, shame and guilt."  

They were all emotions that Muhammad, who is Muslim, had to purge during a 30-day fast in July 2004, just as her ex-husband’s second trial was beginning. She had to understand everything she poured into the journals so she could finally move on.

Those journals became the genesis for her new memoir, "Scared Silent: When the One You Love ... Becomes the One You Fear," due out Oct. 13 from Simon & Schuster imprint Strebor Books International, based in Largo, Md.

In her narrative, Muhammad documents her ex-husband’s dismissive retorts: "I don’t mind because you don’t matter," she writes. At one point, he told her: "You have become my enemy and as my enemy, I will kill you."

With the book, she has emerged as a survivor who’s taken her fight as an anti-domestic abuse advocate public. Even with her husband’s scheduled Nov. 10 execution, she still carries the protective order against him as a reminder of her freedom.

Muhammad, who now lives in Prince George’s County, Md., maintains she was the target when her abusive ex-husband and his teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, killed 10 people in Maryland, Virginia and Washington. After their 12-year marriage fell apart in 2000, he secretly took the children to the Caribbean.

"I have come home many times and seen her in a fetal position, not knowing where her children are," said Maisha Moses, Muhammad’s older sister, who took Muhammad in at her suburban Maryland home after the children were taken.

During the 18 months the children spent with their father in Antigua, Muhammad stayed in a shelter for a time and struggled financially. A Tacoma, Wash., court eventually granted her custody of the children in 2001.

Muhammad said her ex-husband threatened to kill her and she lived in constant fear that he was after her, until he was caught and convicted. John Allen Muhammad was sentenced to death for shooting and killing Dean Meyers at a Manassas, Va., gas station during the three-week killing spree.

Her faith anchored her, and as she cleansed herself by fasting, she was able to forgive her ex-husband, forgive herself and move forward.

"I was declaring my independence," Muhammad said. "I was not going to allow him to have that kind of power over me."

Muhammad played a similar role for her children. First, she painstakingly rebuilt her relationship with them after their stay with their father, fighting their sense of abandonment and the notion she didn’t love them.

The family tried counseling, but she said it turned out the counselors wanted to write a book about her family’s high-profile case. She then got counseling books from a library, and served as her children’s informal therapist.

The eldest, John, is now a 19-year-old student at Louisiana Tech University. Her daughters, Salena, 17, and Taalibah, 16, attend a performing arts school where they sing opera. Muhammad now laughs at how her kids beg her to stop studying their every smile and tear.

"I think overall they like that because they know I’m paying attention to them, and they feel secure and safe," she said.

Muhammad speaks passionately about the nonprofit she formed last year, After the Trauma Inc. She says she wants the Maryland-based group to become a national network for domestic violence victims.

Muhammad thought sharing her story would help raise awareness about the issue. She also wanted to set the record straight about her relationship with her husband.

In the book, Muhammad describes how she fell for her ex-husband. Photos show him as a once-loving father, feeding his newborn son at the hospital with a bottle and playing with all three kids.

However, his behavior became erratic after returning from the first Gulf War with the Army, as he grew distant and angry.

"His dark mood was evolving into a permanent fixture. His old 'get up and go' was missing. He seemed to have lost interest in not just in me, but in life itself," she writes.

After the couple separated in 1999, she explains how he taped her phone conversations and changed her phone number without her permission, convinced she was having an affair.

But now, Muhammad is no longer scared, her sister said.

Moses, who’s in her early 50s, said her sister has "become whole again."

"Sometimes, I just sit back and admire her as a baby sister. I get strength from her," she said. "It's like she has this thirst and hunger to help anyone."

Muhammad has moved on: She remarried two years ago and plans to study criminal justice.

She plans to be at home with her children when he is put to death, much like the time she sat told them about his death sentence.

"We deal with everything in truth and honesty, and we deal with our emotions as they come, and we depend on each other and we are here for each other," she said. "We deal with what is, instead of what we would like it to be or what we want it to be."
 

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