When John Muhammed and Lee Malvo began riding around the Washington D.C. area shooting people at random, I appreciated my job working in Southeast Washington D.C. managing a community based law office for the poor. I worked in Anacostia, just below the “Big Chair,” and my spot on Good Hope Road was 100 percent safe from the snipers.
Anacostia was poor back then. Foot traffic was light all day, there were few stores and where I worked, there are no shopping districts. It was, in other words, not a well populated area and not an area I would suspect the snipers viewed as a place to kill. Not only were there few places to set up to shoot people undercover but the isolation of the community, “east of the river,” made it even that more difficult. I would also joke that if they did shoot, there might be return fire from several angles. Such was the absurdity of the times.
I bought my gas “east of the river” and never thought about getting shot and bought my groceries as well at a newly opened Safeway on Alabama Avenue. The community was showing its first signs of long awaited development back then and the sniper was the furthest thing from people’s minds. They had bigger worries, according to some, than some lunatics shooting people at random for no reason.
It was tense back in Washington D.C. I remember it well. One of the first killings – an elderly Ethiopian man on Georgia Avenue – is a spot not far from my home. When I pass it today I still look for the spot where the flowers were dropped after the killing.
The chatter was big in those days. I can recall saying to many that I didn’t think the killer was white but the killer seemed like they were military. I cannot profess to being clairvoyant on the issue; it was just a guess. When the madness about white trucks was going on, I especially dismissed that as complete craziness.
It was a tough 23 days in the area (it seemed longer) and when Muhammed and Malvo were captured, it was a relief despite the fact that I had figured out a routine that was safe. People began going back out and there were no more tarps at gas stations (Anacostia stations never did that).
When Muhammed was executed in 2009, I wrote an essay again condemning the death penalty. It had nothing to do with Muhammed; it just was a chance to say again that murder and killing (especially by state action) is wrong. I received a few nasty emails for my stand.
But besides that, makes no mistake, Muhammed and Malvo ruined thousands of lives. No apology can be made for that. Malvo is in prison forever. He is now 27 and is growing up in prison and will die there but for a pardon by a President, which is not forthcoming.
I keep wondering how he (Malvo) could make amends for what he did and can think of nothing. I also think of what Muhammed could do had his life been spared and can think of nothing. If one of those killed had been my family, I am sure if Muhammed were alive, I would ask the state to turn him over to us so we could decide his fate. But that is just emotion; it does not change anything about what they did. One of the sickest moments in human history right in my city. I remember it quite well.