In October of 2002, the Beltway Sniper attacks paralyzed the Washington, D.C., area with fear. A shooting and killing spree conducted by two men with sniper rifles was unfolding in front of the eyes of the nation, thanks to television media. There were so many terrifying aspects of the 2002 sniper killings, from the tarot cards left as killer calling cards to the unconnected nature of the D.C. sniper victims. And then there was the scope of the event itself. After the two shooters were caught, authorities learned that John A. Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo had likely shot people in seven states, as well as the D.C. area.
The facts of the case became more bizarre as authorities searched for answers as to why 17-year-old Malvo would participate in such heinous crimes. As the trial for Malvo unfolded, the young man's lawyers claimed that he was brainwashed by Muhammad. The defense didn't work; ultimately, Malvo was sentenced to life in prison, while Muhammad was executed.
The horrific shootings may be over, but the dark legacy of the Beltway Snipers lives on.
While the shootings in and around Washington, D.C. are most identified with the attacks, they were actually part of a nationwide crime spree. John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo began the shootings in Washington state, and then moved east. All told, the two men shot people in Washington, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, and D.C. They were definitively linked to 10 deaths and three injuries, though they likely caused many more during their rampage across the country.
One of the most chilling aspects of the shooting spree is the random nature of the attacks. The victims had nothing in common other than their deaths. They were different ages, races, and genders.
On October 2, 2002, 55-year-old James Martin was killed exiting a grocery store in Glenmont, MD. Then, the spree seemed to begin in earnest: on October 3, the snipers killed four more people in just over 12 hours in Montgomery County, MD. James L. "Sonny" Buchanan, a 39-year-old, was shot while mowing a lawn; 53-year-old Premkumar Walekar was killed while pumping gas. Shortly thereafter, 34-year-old Sarah Ramos was gunned down while sitting on a bench, and 25-year-old Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera was shot while vacuuming a car. The rampage lasted until October 22.
The attacks rattled the community. As one woman said, "We all vacuum our cars. We all get gas. We all go shopping and mow our lawns. We could have been there."
One of the shooters left a note demanding $10 million be wired into an account connected to a stolen credit card. The message was found outside of a Ponderosa Steakhouse where the sniper shot and wounded a man on October 19, 2002, and it contained horrifying passages:
"Your failure to respond has cost you five lives... If stopping the killing is more important than catching us now, then you will accept our demand [sic] which are non-negotiable... Your children are not safe anywhere at any time."
That wasn't all the men left at the scenes of their crimes. They also left tarots card with images of death, bearing the message "Call Me God."
As authorities searched for a motive behind the sniper attacks, it became clear that the men had aimed to spread terror. Lee Boyd Malvo testified that John Muhammad had planned to shoot one person for 30 days straight, murder a police officer, place bombs in school buses, and attack the funeral of the police officer they intended to kill.
Muhammad apparently hoped to get money from the government in an extortion scheme to end the shootings. He then planned to use the money to fund a camp to train children to commit acts of terrorism in the United States.