Background on sniper arrestees

By KATHY GAMBRELL and NICHOLAS M. HORROCK  |  Oct. 25, 2002 at 1:31 AM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- As authorities questioned two men in the Washington-area sniper case, a picture is emerging of an odd couple, a 41-year-old Army veteran with shooting skills and a 17-year-old immigrant from Jamaica, traced across America by guns, bullets and fingerprints.

John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, were arrested early Thursday morning as they were parked at a rest stop on Interstate 70 about 50 miles outside Washington. Later Thursday they were taken to Baltimore, where Malvo was arraigned in U.S. District Court as a material witness to the sniper shootings. Muhammad, a Gulf War veteran, was charged with federal firearms violations. Federal officials refused to name Malvo because of his age, but other agencies had made his name public.

Police, acting on a federal search warrant, found a Bushmaster .223 caliber rifle -- the same caliber used in the shootings which killed 10 and wounded three -- behind the seat of a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice registered in New Jersey.

Derek Baililes, spokesman for the Montgomery County Police, said officials were "cautiously optimistic" the two men were responsible for the sniper attacks, but cautioned, "We've been wrong before." Last week, two immigrants were detained in Virginia as possible suspects in the case, but were later released.

While law enforcement officials have been publicly tightlipped about the background of the two, a disturbing snapshot of Muhammad, a former Fort Lewis, Wash., soldier and his companion, Malvo, has nonetheless surfaced, linking them with crimes in other states.

A law enforcement official told United Press International that a fingerprint found in a Alabama robbery and murder on Sept. 21 matched Malvo's and put authorities on a trail that led to the two men.

Montgomery, Ala., Chief of Police John Wilson said in television interviews Thursday the Montgomery County, Md., task force is investigating whether the sniper shootings could be linked to a robbery of a liquor store there.

The chief said two women were shot with a pistol just after closing the store for the evening. One woman, Claudine Parker, 52, died and Kellie Adams, 24, was seriously wounded, the chief said.

Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright said a caller to the sniper investigation tip line claimed responsibility for both the sniper and liquor store shootings.

Muhammad, who was previously named Williams, served in the U.S. Army from 1985 to 1995 where, a Defense Department official said, he was qualified as an expert marksman with the M-16. "Expert" is the highest level of achievement in marksmanship in the Army.

How often and in what years he qualified, as an expert is unclear from his record, according to the official. In his 10 years as a soldier, Muhammed served in engineering units in Germany, Calif., Washington State and the Gulf War. He also served in the National Guard in Louisiana and Washington State.

Reports of sightings of the two men have flowed in from throughout the country.

Chief of Police Randy Carroll of Bellingham, Wash., told reporters that the two men lived in his city in 2001, presenting themselves as stepfather and stepson, and that Malvo attended Bellingham High School but dropped out.

Michelle Malkin, a syndicated writer, told UPI she had obtained Immigration and Naturalization Administration records that showed that Malvo was arrested by Border Patrol Agents in Bellingham on Dec. 19, 2001. The Border Patrol was called by local police investigating a dispute between Muhammad and Malvo's mother, Uma Sceon James.

James told the Border Patrol agents that she and her son had arrived in the United States illegally on a vessel with Asians. The two were detained as undocumented aliens in Seattle pending deportation procedures. But instead of being deported, Malkin said the documents showed, Malvo was released.

Sometime about the same period the two lived in a duplex house in Tacoma, Wash. Late Wednesday, police and federal agents dug up the backyard of a private home searching for shell casings and evidence of rifle target practice there.

The Seattle Times reported the two were last known to be living in Clinton, Md., a Washington suburb, but that Muhammad, also known last year as John Allen Williams, lived in Tacoma from 1994 to 2000. He was stationed at Fort Lewis, outside Tacoma, in the 1980s.

Williams served on active duty in the Army from Nov. 6, 1985 to April 26, 1994, when he was discharged at Ft. Lewis, Washington. He achieved the rank of sergeant.

The Seattle Times reported that the suspects may have been motivated by anti-American sentiments, reportedly sympathizing with the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers. There has been no indication they have links with the al Qaida terrorist network.

In an interview with the Times, Muhammad's first wife, Carol Williams, described him as a nonviolent man who converted to Islam after his first divorce many years ago, about the time he joined the U.S. Army. The couple divorced 17 years ago and they had a son.

Muhammad reportedly married a woman named Mildred Green with whom he had three children. They divorced in 2000. Williams said Green called her a few years ago to tell her Muhammad had kidnapped their children. She was reunited with them over a year ago.

A family spokeswoman for Williams spoke to reporters Thursday afternoon. She said law enforcement officials asked Williams not to speak with the media. "Everyone is shocked and trying to adjust that someone they know is involved in these occurrences," the spokeswoman said.

Green moved with her children to Clinton, Md.

ABC News reported that Green filed for a restraining order against Muhammad in March 2000. She wrote in the document that she was afraid of him, that he had been a demolition expert in the military and that he was "behaving very, very irrational." A Washington state Superior Court judge issued a protection order, ABC News said, that barred Muhammad from contacting his wife and couple's three children.

Muhammad was charged Thursday with violating the order.

Montgomery, Ala., Police Chief Wilson said Thursday the composite sketch of the suspect in that case had some "good similarities" to one of the men arrested in Maryland. But he also said the gun used in the liquor store shooting was not the same was that used in the sniper attacks.

The news of the arrests gave residents living in the Washington area a sense of cautious relief, with many hoping the police had finally solved the three-week-old reign of terror, but remaining aware they could again have the wrong people.

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