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
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
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
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
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.