The Beltway Sniper attacks
took place over three weeks of October 2002
, in which ten people were killed and three other critically injured by spree killers in and around Washington D.C
, stretching across the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area
. On October 24
, John Allen Muhammad
and Lee Boyd Malvo
were arrested at a highway rest area
Authorities initially attributed the attacks to a lone sniper, dubbed by journalists the "Beltway Sniper", the "Washington Sniper", the "Serial Sniper" or the "Tarot Card Killer" (see serial killer).
The sniper attacks began October 2, 2002, with a series of five fatal shootings in 15 hours in Montgomery County, Maryland, a northern suburb of Washington, and continued for the next three weeks in the Washington metropolitan area, filling the area with fear. Police received messages left at the murder locations and believe the killer may have worked in concert with another person.
The shootings occurred at gas stations, supermarkets, restaurants, and schools in a rough circular pattern around Washington. The victims were apparently selected at random, crossing racial, gender, and socioeconomic categories. The locations of the attacks always had close freeway access. It is believed the sniper used the circular Capital Beltway to get from place to place.
The attacks were carried out with a Bushmaster XM-15 semiautomatic .223 caliber rifle, the civilian equivalent of the U.S. military's M-16 assault rifle, at a range of 50 to over 100 yards. The rifle came from Bull's Eye Shooter Supply in Tacoma, Washington, which did not report the missing rifle, as required by federal law.
The investigation was publicly headed by Montgomery County, Maryland Police Chief Charles A. Moose, with assistance from the FBI and police departments in other jurisdictions where killings had taken place.
Police responded to reports of attacks over the next three weeks within minutes, cordoning off nearby roads and highways and inspecting all drivers, thereby grinding all traffic to a halt for hours at a time in one of America's largest metropolitan areas.
Eyewitness testimony to the attacks was mostly confused and spotty. Hotlines set up for the investigation were flooded with tips, as was the post office box set up for mail. The most common reports were of a boxy white van.
The sniper attempted to engage the police in a dialogue, compelling Moose to tell the media cryptic messages intended for the sniper. At several scenes Tarot cards, including one Death card upon which was written "Dear Policeman, I am God. Do not tell the media about this." This information was leaked to the press. Later scenes had long handwritten notes carefully sealed inside plastic bags, including a rambling one that demanded $10,000,000 and threatened the lives of children in the area.
It has been alleged that the snipers engaged in a series of previously unconnected attacks prior to October 2.
On October 17th, 2003 on USA Network's USA cable station, a TV movie was shown that was based on the events that occurred in 2002's sniper incident. The movie's name was D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear. In 2003 a book was published written by former Montgomery County police chief Charles Moose.
- October 2
- October 3
- The next wave shootings in Montgomery County in a 15 hour course occur. James L. Buchanan, known as "Sonny," is shot dead while he was mowing the grass at the Fitzgerald Auto Mall as part of his landscaping. Taxi driver Prem Kumar Walekar is killed in Aspen Hill, Maryland while pumping gasoline into his taxi at an Amoco station. Sarah Ramos died while reading a book on a bench at the Leisure World Shopping Center shortly after she got off from a bus. Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera died while pumping gasoline at a Shell station in Kensington, Maryland. Pascal Charlot was shot while walking on Georgia Avenue in Washington, DC. He died less than an hour later.
- October 4
- Caroline Seawell is wounded in the parking lot of a Michael's craft store at Spotsylvania Mall, just outside Fredericksburg, Virginia.
- October 7
- Iran Brown, a 13 year old boy, is wounded as he arrives at Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Maryland. (Iran Brown's name was at first concealed from the public, but has since been revealed.)
- October 9
- Dean Harold Meyers is shot dead while pumping gasoline at a station in Prince William County, near Manassas, Virginia.
- October 11
- October 14
- Linda Franklin is shot dead at about 9:15 a.m. after she finished shopping at a Home Depot in Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside Falls Church. The police had a supposedly very good lead after the October 14 shooting, but it was later determined that the witness was inside at the time and was lying. The witness was arrested for interfering with the investigation.
- October 19
- A man was shot in a parking lot near the Ponderosa restaurant in Ashland, Virginia, about 90 miles south of Washington. Authorities discovered a 3 page letter from the sniper in the woods.
- October 21
- Richmond-area police arrested two men, one with a white van, outside a gas station. The men turned out to be illegal immigrants with no connection to the sniper and they were remanded to the custody of the INS.
- October 22
- Conrad Johnson, a bus driver standing on the steps of his bus is shot dead in Aspen Hill, Maryland. Chief Moose releases part of the content of one of the supposed sniper's communications, in which he declares, "Your children are not safe, anywhere, at any time."
- October 23
- Ballistics experts confirmed Johnson as the 10th fatality in the sniper attacks.
- Police searched a yard in Tacoma, Washington, which is near a sniper school operated by the United States Army, searching with metal detectors for bullets, shell casings, or other evidence which may link to the snipers. A tree stump believed to have been used for target practice was seized.
- October 24
- John Allen Muhammad (born John Allen Williams) and Lee Boyd Malvo (also known as John Lee Malvo) are found sleeping in their car, a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, at a Maryland reststop, and arrested on federal weapons charges. A .223-caliber weapon and tripod were found in a bag in Mr. Muhammad´s car. Ballistics tests later conclusively linked the seized rifle to 11 of the 14 bullets recovered from earlier attacks. Mr. Muhammad was previously a member of the United States National Guard and later the United States Army, where he earned medals for expert marksmanship. His relationship with Malvo was initially unclear.
External links and references
- Suspect left danger signs in Bellingham - news report on Muhammad's suspicious behavior in Bellingham, WA in the year or so prior to the attacks.
- PDF of letter sent to police Washington Post, October 26, 2002
- An Angry Telephone Call Provided One Crucial Clue, The New York Times, October 25, 2002 - explains tracking and arrest of Muhammad
- Caught, The Washington Times, October 24, 2002
- Pair Seized in Sniper Attacks; Gun in Car Tied to 11 Shootings, Washington Post, October 24, 2002
- "Thank God it's over", The Washington Times, October 25, 2002
- License to Kill, Washington Monthly, February, 2003 - discusses gun shop from which Muhammed's rifle came
- Official USA Network's website for D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear a 2003 TV Movie based on the events of October 2-24, 2002