- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

Ballistics tests yesterday confirmed that two men arrested in a pre-dawn raid at a Maryland rest stop had the rifle used in 11 of 13 sniper attacks during a three-week rampage in communities from Aspen Hill to Ashland, Va.
The suspects, John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, were asleep in their 1990 Chevrolet Caprice when heavily armed federal and state agents tipped by a truck driver burst into the rest stop off Interstate 70 near Myersville, Md., shortly before 3:30 a.m.
The men were taken into custody without incident. They are being held on separate federal arrest warrants pending the filing of murder charges as soon as today in the shootings.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) supervisor Michael Bouchard told reporters last night during a press briefing that ballistics tests proved that the rifle found in the suspects' car killed eight victims and wounded three.
Mr. Bouchard said test results in two other shooting deaths were inconclusive, although tests in those cases would continue.
The random shootings had instilled fear in persons going about their daily routines and ignited a massive manhunt. No motive for the killing spree has yet been established.
"It's over. Thank God, it's all over," said one law-enforcement official involved in the investigation.
During the briefing, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose said the investigation was continuing, although he did not elaborate. At one point, the chief, who has served as the face and voice of the investigation, fought back tears as he remembered the victims of the sniper attacks and their families.
"We will never know their pain, and we only wish we could have stopped this to reduce the number of victims," Chief Moose said.
Prosecutors from Maryland, Virginia and the District are expected to meet today to discuss murder charges against the men, law-enforcement sources said.
A semiautomatic .223-caliber rifle, scope and tripod were found by task force members in Mr. Muhammad's car. Investigators also discovered a 3-inch-diameter hole drilled in the trunk that may have been used as a "gun port." They said the vehicle's rear seat had been removed so a prone shooter could have used the trunk to fire at victims undetected.
The weapon, a Bushmaster XM-15 E2S Shorty A3, is the civilian version of the military M-16 assault rifle. It was rushed to an ATF laboratory in Rockville, where the ballistics tests were conducted. The vehicle also was taken that laboratory for tests.
Authorities said the suspects, who are believed to be homeless, had been living in the car.
Mr. Muhammad, also known as John Allen Williams, is a former Army sergeant and Gulf war veteran who recently converted to Islam. He had been stationed at Fort Lewis, just south of Tacoma, Wash., where he was a combat engineer. He also received a marksmanship badge with an expert rating in use of the M-16 rifle.
Mr. Malvo is a Jamaican citizen and attended a high school in Bellingham, Wash. He initially was identified as Mr. Muhammad's stepson, but police later said the two are not related.
Authorities said Mr. Muhammad had recently expressed anti-American sentiments, although a U.S. official said the CIA has checked intelligence reports and sources and found no link between him and al Qaeda. He also was described as a devotee of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and reportedly served as part of the security force at the Million Man March in Washington in 1995.
A duffel bag left at the site of Tuesday's 5:56 a.m. fatal shooting of bus driver Conrad Johnson in Aspen Hill has been tentatively identified as belonging to the suspects, authorities said. They said investigators believe the bag was mistakenly left behind and the shooter was unable to find it in the darkness before he fled.
Mr. Muhammad was taken into custody on a federal firearms charge and was arraigned yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before U.S. Magistrate Judge Beth Gesner, who ordered him held without bail. According to divorce papers filed by his ex-wife, Mildred Denise Williams, a restraining order she obtained against him in Pierce County, Wash., prevented him from possessing a firearm.
The former soldier, in handcuffs and wearing a green prison jump suit, waived his right to an identity hearing and requested a preliminary hearing before facing the charges in Washington state. That hearing was set for Tuesday. His responses during the 15-minute hearing were polite, but short.
Federal authorities, in obtaining the arrest warrant, said in court papers that he told a friend about the damage he could cause with a .223-caliber rifle.
Mr. Malvo also was arraigned yesterday in the Baltimore court as a material witness to the shootings in a closed hearing before Magistrate Judge James R. Bredar. The judge named two court-appointed attorneys to represent the teenager.
The two suspects had been taken to the Baltimore court under heavy security precautions, which included officers with automatic weapons and a police helicopter. They had been held at an undisclosed location in Maryland, where they were questioned separately about the sniper attacks that began Oct. 2 in Montgomery County with the shooting death of James D. Martin, 55, of Silver Spring.
The Chevrolet Caprice was spotted at the rest stop 12 miles west of Frederick at 12:47 a.m. by truck driver Ron Lantz, after an announcement by Chief Moose that the task force wanted to talk with Mr. Muhammad and was looking for that vehicle.
Mr. Lantz dialed 911. Maryland State Police arrived, confirmed that the vehicle was the one being sought, and contacted the task force.
Authorities had issued an alert for the Caprice with New Jersey license plates, which was registered to Mr. Muhammad at an address in South Camden, N.J.
Investigators began to target the two suspects on Tuesday after a call to the task-force hot line suggested a link between the sniper and a slaying and robbery at a liquor store in Alabama. Investigators said Mr. Malvo's fingerprint was matched to one found in the Alabama crime. They then traced the youth to Tacoma and to the former soldier.
Early yesterday, more than a dozen Maryland troopers were dispatched to the rest stop, setting up a perimeter and moving other vehicles out of the area. Task-force members arrived, and they rushed the vehicle about 3:30 a.m., breaking out two windows and taking the suspects into custody.
"There was no resistance, there was no problem," said Maj. Greg Shipley, spokesman for Maryland State Police. He said authorities approached the vehicle "very carefully, very quickly."
Police and FBI agents took almost three hours after getting the rest-stop tip before they arrested the two suspects. Authorities said task-force members took the time to clear the area and set up a wide perimeter in case the two had slipped out or may have been sleeping in the woods.
About 100 officers from the state police, Frederick County, Washington County and the FBI encircled the rest area and then moved on the car. The FBI also watched the vehicle from a high-flying airplane equipped with sophisticated night-vision and heat-sensing technology.
Authorities evacuated others from both the westbound rest stop, where the car was located, and the eastbound rest area across I-70.
"They got all the other vehicles away. They evacuated everyone in the rest areas, but no one could tell if there was anyone in the vehicle or not," said a police source involved in the arrest.
"When they actually made their move, these guys were asleep," the source said. "It was the two people they were looking for."
Authorities said police approached the rest stop cautiously because they could not tell if there was anyone inside the car. They were not sure if the men had abandoned the car or were sleeping in the woods. Officers used night-vision goggles to check the inside of the car from a distance and could not see anyone.
"They deployed their SWAT teams quietly. It is a pretty rugged area, and they were afraid these guys would take off into the woods," authorities said.
Earlier in the day, Chief Moose told reporters that Mr. Muhammad might have information "material to our investigation."
The arrest came after federal agents had searched a house in Tacoma once rented by Mr. Muhammad, and after the call to the task force from a man believed to be the sniper who said he also had committed a slaying and robbery in the South.
It was the Sept. 21 killing and robbery at a Montgomery, Ala., liquor store that led investigators to Tacoma. The Alabama incident resulted in the death of one woman and the critical wounding of another woman.
At the Tacoma house, federal authorities spent more than nine hours searching for bullets, casings and weapons. Using metal detectors and chain saws, they dug up one tree stump from which investigators pulled bullet fragments for comparison with .223-caliber fragments taken from the Washington-area shootings.
The tree, according to authorities, had been used for target practice. The stump also was taken to the ATF laboratory in Rockville. Authorities declined to elaborate on the search but said it was related to the sniper attacks.
At a press conference in Montgomery, Ala., Police Chief John Wilson said his department was cooperating with the task force and had sent evidence from the liquor store killing and robbery to task force investigators.
Chief Wilson also said a composite sketch of a suspect from the Alabama killing showed "some very good similarities" to Mr. Malvo, although he declined to elaborate. He also said ballistics evidence from the gun used in the Alabama shooting did not match the one used in the sniper attacks in Maryland, Virginia and the District.
"It's way too early for any of you to say there is an absolute connection," he said, but added that his detectives were "very interested in [talking to Malvo]."
Chief Wilson also would not confirm whether evidence in the Alabama shooting included a fingerprint on a magazine, but he denied other reports that a credit card and a note had been found at the scene.
In Bellingham, Wash., Police Chief Randy Carroll described Mr. Malvo as "quiet" and said he "spent a lot of time in the library studying, and was not openly gregarious with the other students."
Armed with a federal subpoena, the FBI confiscated several documents from Bellingham High School, which the teenager attended for at least one year. Chief Carroll did not say what information the documents contained but said the young man arrived at the school in October 2001 without transcripts or documents.
"We were unable to determine where he came from," Chief Carroll said, adding that the two men appeared to be acting on their own and not with a group or organization.
Authorities also said Montgomery County officials, on the advice of the FBI, withheld some information about a tarot card found at the site of the Oct. 7 shooting of a 13-year-old boy in Bowie.
New Jersey authorities said the license plates on the Chevrolet Caprice were issued to Mr. Muhammad on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. They said Mr. Muhammad listed an address in South Camden, N.J. Later that day, a caller phoned in a bomb threat to the Department of Motor Vehicles, they said.
The authorities said the license plates had been issued for a 1990 four-door blue Cadillac. They said the South Camden address given by Mr. Muhammad is a second-floor apartment over a defunct tavern, now operating as a restaurant with a Caribbean theme. They described the neighborhood as plagued by violence and drugs.
Audrey Hudson, David Boyer, Rowan Scarborough, Arlo Wagner, S.A. Miller and Judie Pearson contributed to this report.

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