For three weeks in 2002 Washington, D.C., was paralyzed in fear as a sniper randomly took the lives of 10 people and wounded three others. When it was all over, Gulf War veteran John Muhammad and his 17-year-old accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo were arrested for the killing spree. And no one was more shocked than Muhammad's ex-wife, Mildred.
In Mildred's new book "Scared Silent," (read an excerpt here) she chronicles her mentally and emotionally abusive relationship with John, the man who would become the D.C. sniper, and says that she was the intended target of his bloody rampage.When I met John, he was very charming and thoughtful. He would give you the shirt off your back. He was that kind of person, before he went to the Gulf War. When he returned in 1991 he was a different man.
The Changes BeginWhatever happened to him there shook the foundation of his life. When he came back he was not the same person. He didn't laugh anymore. He made sure that everything that he did he had control over.
He was not debriefed or counseled when he returned. His change in behavior was gradual, but he got more and more obsessive and abusive. It got to a point where he said, "It's a question of mind over matter -- I don't mind because you don't matter." When I went to my community they didn't believe me. They asked me what I did to provoke him.
I spent a long time believing what he said. When someone you hold dearest to you tells you that you're nothing, you tend to believe them. He was able to blame me and caused me to be ashamed. He would isolate and control me.
"You Have Become My Enemy, and As My Enemy I Will Kill You"
After 12 years of marriage I was finally able to break free, but it was not easy. He was angry that I divorced him. He felt that I was abandoning him. He said, "You have become my enemy, and as my enemy I will kill you." I was forced to move into a transitional home, and was granted a restraining order for life against him.
Out of revenge, he fled the country and took the kids with him. I had no idea where they were. He settled with them in Antigua, which is where he met [sniper accomplice] Lee Boyd Malvo. Lee took on a sort of "big brother" role with the kids.
After 18 months, my children were finally recovered. In September 2001, I flew back to Washington state and attended a hearing where I was granted full custody of my son and two daughters. I saw John in the courthouse but was afraid to sit anywhere near him because I knew he had the capability to fly up and snap my neck at any second. That was the last time I saw him before the killings.
A Shocking Discovery
In February 2002 I was living in the D.C. area with my three children and we began hearing reports of sniper attacks. At first, we were told the snipers were two Caucasian men in a white box truck. And then, suddenly FBI agents appeared at my door and asked me when the last time I saw John was. They asked me if I thought he was capable of being the D.C. sniper.
I raised my head and said yes. "Why do you think that?" they asked. And then I told them: We were watching a movie one day -- I don't remember which -- and he said, "I could take a small city and terrorize it, and they'd think it was a group of people. But it would only be me."
Then they told me they were going to name him as the sniper.
I knew that he was coming to get me. The theory was that he was going to use the other killings as a diversion to cover up my murder. He wanted me dead for taking his children and leaving him, and I knew he would go to any length for revenge, so when they asked if I wanted to go into protective custody, I immediately said yes. They took us to a hotel and we watched the coverage of his arrest on television. "What happened to you?" I asked the picture on the television. My son and daughters were crying and asking me what was going on. Once I got them to sleep, I grabbed a pillow, went into the bathroom and sat on the floor and just screamed into the pillow.
In the Wake of Violence
I tried to get counseling but eventually got frustrated with the system and learned how to counsel myself and my children. Now we talk about it openly. I believe that the best way to handle things is to know all the facts, so we looked at the news reports. I have never spoken badly about him to my children, who are now 16, 17 and 19. He's my ex-husband but he's their dad, and I've always told them everything -- the good, the bad and the indifferent.
I attended his sentencing, but my children and I are not going to attend the execution [scheduled for November 10]. I believe in the court system. They decided the death penalty should be the punishment, and that's what my children and I go by.
Do I have any unfinished business with him? No. For me, when he threatened to kill me, it severed any type of emotional attachment to him. But of course his children feel differently. And that is what I have to respect and honor.
I wrote "Scared Silent" for other victims and survivors so that they could get help. I wanted to get the message out that you don't have to have physical scars to be a victim of domestic violence. I truly believe that because I didn't have physical scars I was slow to get help. There's a comprehensive safety plan in the back of the book so that every person that purchases the book will have a plan -- whether they use it or give it to someone else.
Eighty percent of domestic violence victims have no physical scars. I started my organization After the Trauma, because no one is taking notice of these issues. It's not until a physical assault has occurred that the police will intervene. Victims need help before the physical altercations begin.