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Sniper shows how domestic violence hurts us all

"You have become my enemy and as my enemy, I am going to kill you." So said D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad to his then-wife of a dozen years, Mildred, in 1999.

Muhammad and his young accomplice, Lee Malvo, would kill 10 Washington-area residents and wound three before police realized that Mrs. Muhammad was the intended target of the snipers' "elaborate scheme" to make good on her husband's threat, she said.

"It wasn't random ... the police said didn't I notice that he was shooting people all around me ... He was going to kill me and come to get the children as the grieving father," she said of Muhammad's plan to collect survivor's benefits. "I'd been dead, and no one would have known."

Mrs. Muhammad, who writes a monthly newsletter and published a journal for domestic violence victims, knows firsthand that "in a traumatic situation, victims don't know where to look [for help] or what to do. What they need most is legal representation and counseling."

Well, one place they can look to get information is the third Forum on Domestic Violence. Founded and coordinated by D.C. community activist Cherita Whiting, the event will be held tomorrow evening at the Lamond Riggs Recreation Center in Northeast. Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier is a scheduled speaker.

Mrs. Muhammad, speaking on the eve of a busy schedule in the Washington area this week during which she will recount her harrowing experiences as "a survivor of domestic violence," yesterday recalled those scary weeks in October 2002.

"Other people were looking for two white men in a van, but when I stepped out my door, I was looking for two white men in a van and John, too," she said.

Law-enforcement officers staked out her Maryland suburban home for a week before they informed her that her ex-husband was the suspected sniper. They were acting on a tip they received from Muhammad's best friend, Robert Holmes, who told them that Mildred was the target.

Mrs. Muhammad pointed out that she couldn't get help from the police when she tried to file domestic abuse complaints or when she got a restraining order after her husband kidnapped their children for 18 months. When he was captured, the only thing police had to hold him on until they could secure more evidence was a weapons charge that stemmed from her restraining order.

What makes Mrs. Muhammad's survivor story unique is her passion for providing assistance to women who silently suffer the more insidious mental, psychological and financial forms of domestic violence, such as forced starvation. That's the kind that "no one listens to" and bares "no physical scars," she said.

That's the kind the sinister abuse John Muhammad inflicted on her.

"People can't see that manipulation and terror that the abuser put the victim under. You can put all the words in the dictionary together, and you cannot match that kind of fear," she said. "You don't have to have scars to be a victim of domestic violence. I had to protect myself because other people didn't believe me."

It has taken the 48-year-old Mrs. Muhammad more than five years to recover. In the interim, she founded After the Trauma, a nonprofit group with an online support and referral service.

If ever a there was a dynamic duo to stump for a good cause, it's got to be Ms. Whiting and Mrs. Muhammad.

Ms. Whiting has been honored for her many outstanding contributions "that have made the District a stronger, better place."

"Being involved and running my mouth is just what I did," Ms. Whiting said, but not before "always doing my homework and research first."

Ms. Whiting — president of McKinley Technical High School's PTA, a former Ward 4 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and a member of the Commission for Women — organized the domestic violence forum when she learned that the District had the highest rate of domestic violence in the nation, according to Women Empowered Against Violence.

Last month, the Metropolitan Police Department recorded 2,700 calls for domestic violence, with two households in Ward 4 logging 30 of those calls alone, Ms. Whiting said she was told by Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes.

"I did not know that and I was upset to hear it, so I wanted to educate teens and young ladies to let them know that they shouldn't put up with or allow [domestic violence] to happen to you," Ms. Whiting said.

The daughter of the District's own go-go music icon Chuck Brown, Ms. Whiting said, "My dad was old-fashioned and he believed women should be treated a certain way, and my brothers are the most respectful men in this city."

At the first Ward 4 Education Council domestic violence forum, Ms. Whiting invited Yvette Cade, the Prince George's County woman who was burned by her estranged husband, to speak. Ms. Cade brought Mrs. Muhammad, who has been participating ever since.

"One of the first things I do is ask the survivors, who have never stood up, to stand so other's can know what a victim looks like. Then I tell them that you shouldn't be ashamed. You are blessed because God saved them to do something good," Mrs. Muhammad said.

For information about the Ward 4 Education Council and D.C. Commission on Women Forum on Domestic Violence, call 202/487-5926. To contact Mrs. Muhammad, visit www.afterthetrauma.org.

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