At 5:20 pm, on October 2, 2002, a shot was fired through a window of a Michaels craft store in Aspen Hill, Maryland. The bullet narrowly missed Ann Chapman, a cashier at the store. Since no one was injured, the shot was assumed to be random and no serious alarms were raised.
One hour later, at 6:30 pm, James Martin, a 55-year-old program analyst, was shot and killed in the parking lot of a Shoppers Food Warehouse grocery store, located in Wheaton, Maryland.
On the morning of October 3, four people were shot dead within a span of approximately two hours in Aspen Hill and other nearby areas in Montgomery County. Another was killed that evening in the Takoma neighbourhood of Washington, DC.
At 7:41 a.m., James L. Buchanan, a 39-year-old landscaper known as “Sonny”, was shot dead at near Rockville, Maryland. Buchanan was shot while mowing the grass at the Fitzgerald Auto Malls. At 8:12 a.m., 54-year-old part-time taxi cab driver, Prem Kumar Walekar, was killed in Aspen Hill in Montgomery County, while pumping gasoline into his taxi at a Mobil station. At 8:37 a.m., Sarah Ramos, a 34-year-old babysitter and housekeeper, was killed at the Leisure World Shopping Center in Norbeck. She had gotten off a bus and was seated on a bench reading a book. At 9:58 a.m., in what was to be the last killing of the morning, 25-year-old Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera was killed while vacuuming her Dodge Caravan at the Shell station at the intersection of Connecticut and Knowles Avenues in Kensington, Maryland.
Later, the same day, at 9.20pm, Pascal Charlot, a 72-year-old retired carpenter, was shot while he was walking on Georgia Avenue at Kalmia Road, in Washington, D.C. Charlot died less than an hour later.
In each shooting, the victims were killed by a single bullet fired from some distance and in each case, the killers struck and then vanished. This pattern was not detected until after the shootings occurred on October 3.
Fear quickly spread throughout the region as news of the shootings spread. At a press conference meeting, Chief of Police for Montgomery County, MD, Charles Moose, informed parents that schools were on a code blue alert; keeping children indoors and that for the time being the schools were safe. Many parents went to pick up their children at school early, not allowing them to take a school bus or walk home. Montgomery County Public Schools, District of Columbia Public Schools, and private schools went into a lockdown, with no recess or outdoor physical education classes. Other school districts in the area also took precautionary measures, keeping students indoors.Police had only a few pieces of evidence to work with. After the murder in Washington, D.C., witnesses then began telling police that they had seen a blue Chevrolet Caprice. They also initially believed that all the murders were carried out with the use of a .223 calibre rifle.Virginia
On October 4, 43-year-old homemaker Caroline Seawell was wounded in the chest at 2:30 p.m. in the parking lot of another Michaels store at Spotsylvania Mall in Spotsylvania, while she was loading purchases into her minivan. By this point, hundreds of journalists had converged to cover the unfolding events. School officials reassured the public that they were taking every measure possible to protect children: by tightening security and cancelling all outdoor activities. On October 7, at 8:09 a.m., Iran Brown, a 13-year-old student, was shot in the chest and critically wounded as he arrived at the Benjamin Tasker Middle School Bowie, Maryland, in Prince George’s County. His aunt, Tanya Brown, was a nurse who had just brought him to school. She rushed him to a hospital emergency room. Despite serious injuries, including damage to several major organs, Brown survived the attack. At this crime scene the authorities discovered a shell casing as well as a Tarot card (the Death card) inscribed with the phrase, “Call me God” on the front and, on three separate lines on the back, “For you mr. Police.” “Code: ‘Call me God’.” “Do not release to the press.
On October 9 at 8:18 p.m., 53-year-old civil engineer Dean Harold Meyers was shot dead while pumping gasoline at a Sunoco gas station at in Prince William County, Virginia, near the city of Manassas. On the morning of October 11 at 9:30 a.m., 53-year-old businessman Kenneth Bridges was shot dead while pumping fuel at an Exxon station off Interstate 95 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near Fredericksburg. On October 14, at 9:15 p.m., 47-year-old Linda Franklin an FBI intelligence analyst who was a resident of Arlington County, Virginia, was shot dead in a covered parking lot at Home Depot in Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside Falls Church.On October 19 at 8:00 p.m., 37-year-old Jeffrey Hopper was shot in a parking lot near the Ponderosa Steakhouse at State Route 54 in Ashland, Virginia, about 90 miles (145 km) south of Washington, near Interstate 95. His wife Stephanie called out to passers-by, who phoned for an ambulance, enabling Hopper to survive his injuries. Authorities discovered a four-page letter from the shooter in the woods that demanded $10 million and made a threat to children.
On October 22, bus driver Conrad Johnson, 35, was shot at 5:56 a.m. while standing on the steps of his bus in Aspen Hill, Maryland. Chief Moose released part of the content of one of the shooter’s letters, in which he declares, “Your children are not safe, anywhere, at any time.” Johnson later died of his injuries.During the weeks when the attacks occurred, fear of the apparently random shootings generated a great deal of public apprehension, especially at service stations and the parking lots of large stores. People pumping gasoline at gas stations would walk around their cars quickly, hoping that they would be a harder target to hit. Some gas stations started to put up tarps in front. Various government buildings such as the White House, U.S. Capitol, and the Supreme Court building, and memorial tourist attractions at the National Mall inWashington, D.C., received heightened security. For the duration of the attacks, United States Senate pages received a driven police escort to and from the United States Capitol every day and were not allowed to leave their residence hall for any reason except work. After the specific threat against children was delivered, many school groups cancelled field trips and outdoors athletic activities based upon safety concerns. Police responded within minutes to reports of attacks during the three weeks of the sniper attacks, cordoning off nearby roads and highways and inspecting all drivers, thereby grinding traffic to a halt for hours at a time. Police canvassed the area, talking to people, and collected surveillance tapes.
By Friday night, October 4, the five shootings on October 3 and two on October 2 were forensically linked to the same gun. Eyewitness accounts of the attacks were mostly confused and spotty. Hotlines set up for the investigation were flooded with tips. Early tips from eyewitnesses included reports of a white box truck with dark lettering, speeding away from the Leisure World shopping center, with two men inside. Police across the area and the state of Maryland were pulling over white vans and trucks. The shooter attempted to engage the police in a dialogue, compelling Moose to tell the media cryptic messages intended for the sniper. After, the later shooting witnesses began reporting they saw a Blue Chevrolet Caprice. Authorities, release this to the public to be on the lookout.A telephone call from the shooter(s) was traced to a pay telephone at a gasoline station in Henrico County, Virginia. Police missed the suspects by a matter of a few minutes. On the phone call, the sniper, boasting of his cleverness, mentioned a previous unsolved murder in “Montgomery”. This was identified as the September 21 shooting at a liquor store in Montgomery, Alabama. Authorities said they found and matched fingerprints found at the Benjamin Tasker Middle School site with one lifted from the Montgomery liquor store scene.
The crime spree came to a close at 3:15 a.m. on October 24, 2002, John Allen Muhammad (41) and Lee Boyd Malvo (17) were found sleeping in their car, a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice at a rest stop off Interstate 70 near Myersville, Maryland. Trooper First Class D. Wayne Smith of the Maryland State Police was the first to arrive at the scene and immediately used his light blue unmarked police vehicle to block off the exit by positioning the car sideways between two parked tractor-trailers. As more troopers arrived, they effectively sealed off the rest area at both the entrance and exit ramps without the suspects being aware of a rapidly growing police presence. Later, as truck driver Ron Lantz was attempting to exit the rest area, his tractor-trailer was commandeered by troopers who used the truck, in place of the police car, to complete the roadblock at the exit. With the suspects’ escape route sealed off, the SWAT officers moved in to arrest them. A stolen Bushmaster .223-caliber weapon and bipod were found in a bag in Muhammad’s car. Ballistics tests later conclusively linked the seized rifle to 11 of the 14 shootings, including one in which no one was hurt.
The trunk of the Chevrolet Caprice was modified to serve as a “rolling sniper’s nest”. The back seat was modified to allow a person access to the trunk. Once inside, the sniper could lie prone and take shots through a small hole created for that purpose nearthe license plate.
There were trials in both Virginia and Maryland. Muhammad was found guilty and sentenced to death. Malvo could not be given the death penalty as he was a minor, and was given 6 life sentences. The pair were also linked to 7 other sniper style shootings in Washington state, Arizona, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia.Muhammad was executed by lethal injection at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia on November 10, 2009. It was reported that when asked if he had any last words, Muhammad made no reply. Twenty-seven people, including victims’ family members, witnessed his execution.
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