- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2009

As the ex-wife of the notorious D.C.-area sniper reflected during a 30-day fast five years ago, one question tormented her: Why did he want to kill her?

Mildred Muhammad wrote about that isolation and torment for years in her journals. She began when her ex-husband, John Allen Muhammad, took their three young children from her nearly a decade ago. She continued when he was convicted of the 2002 sniper attacks in the Washington area and still jots down her emotions as her ex-husband awaits his scheduled Nov. 10 execution.

“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 Ms. Muhammad had to purge during that 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.

In her narrative, Ms. 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 ex-husband’s death imminent, she still carries the protective order against him as a reminder of her freedom.

Ms. Muhammad, who now lives in Prince George’s County, maintains she was the target when her abusive ex-husband and his teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, killed 10 people in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. 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, Ms. Muhammad’s older sister, who took Ms. Muhammad in at her suburban Maryland home after the children were taken.

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

Ms. 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. Muhammad was sentenced to death for shooting and killing Dean Meyers at a Manassas gas station during the three-week killing spree.

Her Muslim 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,” Ms. Muhammad said. “I was not going to allow him to have that kind of power over me.”

Ms. 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.

Her 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. Ms. Muhammad now laughs at how her children 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.

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