- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

John Allen Muhammad had flirted for years with slipping into a lifestyle detached from normal society.

But it wasn't until he got caught in February stealing a pack of vegetarian burgers and a box of tea from a grocery store in Washington that he took the final step.

With sidekick John Lee Malvo, the teenage son of an ex-girlfriend, Mr. Muhammad jumped bail on the shoplifting charge and headed east on a trail that would end six months later after one of the worst killing sprees in U.S. history.

Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo were arrested early Thursday morning and charged with six counts of murder in Montgomery County. They could also face charges in six other jurisdictions in connection with the 13 sniper shootings that terrorized D.C., Maryland and Virginia residents beginning Oct. 2. Prosecutors want the death penalty for Mr. Muhammad.

Their lives seemed to fit together, the energetic boy filling the void in Mr. Muhammad's life.

Mr. Muhammad had legal trouble seeing his children from his two previous marriages. He taught Mr. Malvo to play chess and fix cars. They lifted weights together like any father and son, said an acquaintance.

By midsummer, they were rambling across the country from Washington state where Mr. Malvo reportedly left his mother at a women's shelter after she fought with Mr. Muhammad.

"I think he and the kid were trying to impress each other," said Richard Wiebe, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University.

Acquaintances of Mr. Malvo, 17, recall him as quiet and eager to learn. And he likely found a teacher In Mr. Muhammad, a 41-year-old former soldier and Persian Gulf war veteran.

Transcripts show Mr. Malvo had an unremarkable career at Bellingham High School in northwest Washington state. However, classmates told the Los Angeles Times that he knew more about U.S. history than his teacher.

Mr. Malvo arrived there in October 2001 with no transcripts, saying he lived in a homeless shelter. He was admitted as a junior based on his promise to get the transcripts from a former school in the Southeast. But when Mr. Malvo failed after two months to provide the records, school officials notified the police.

On. Dec. 19, one day after Mr. Malvo had left school and his mother had fought with Mr. Muhammad, he was arrested by a Border Patrol agent and taken to immigration officials in Seattle. He was detained for about a month at a juvenile center in Spokane, Wash., then released.

He likely grew closer to Mr. Muhammad in the following months, and by midsummer Mr. Muhammad was introducing the teenager to distant relatives as his son.

Still, a former sister-in-law of Mr. Muhammad's told the Associated Press that Mr. Muhammad dealt with the boy in the same controlling manner he purportedly use on his own children and that the teenager appeared troubled and "very, very quiet."

"You could tell he didn't like the way he was living," she said.

Though reporters and investigators have uncovered many details of Mr. Muhammad's life, he remains a complex and confusing man.

Some residents around Tacoma, where Mr. Muhammad spent much of his adult life, said he was a do-gooder and a caring father who was involved in civic activities and loved to fix cars and flirt with waitresses, according to the local newspaper.

Others said he was a hard man an irrational Islamic convert and a competitive soldier who was indifferent and unfeeling.

Both marriages ended in divorce and bitter custody battles. Neighbors said the bad marriages and a failed karate school in the mid-1990s drove Mr. Muhammad to drifting.

Mr. Muhammad's second wife, Mildred, with whom he lived with three children in Tacoma, was granted a restraining order against him in 2000.

She wrote in the application: "I am afraid of John. He is a demolitions expert." The children were aged 10, 8 and 6. She also wrote that Mr. Muhammad "wasn't going to let me raise these children."

Proof of Mr. Muhammad's uneven temper is evident in two courts-martial while he served in the Louisiana National Guard. He was fined $100 for disobeying a command and not showing up for duty, and was found guilty of striking an officer in the head and sentenced to seven days in a military jail, according to newspaper reports.


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