The shots came out of nowhere.
The attacks were random and unrelenting. Neither the bullets, nor the fingers that squeezed the trigger, discriminated. Anyone and anywhere was game.
That is the legacy left behind by the D.C. Snipers, or Beltway Snipers, whose killing spree in the year following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks paralyzed the United States for three weeks.
“Everybody in the entire Washington D.C. metropolitan area was scared for their lives,” retired FBI supervisory special agent Jim Clemente told InsideEdition.com. “You couldn't pump gas; you couldn't sit on a bus stop. You couldn't clean your car at a car wash, you couldn't go to school. You couldn't go to the grocery store without fearing that you were going to get shot. People were ducking down, crawling into stores, parking right next to the front doors, running with their groceries and so forth, trying to hide their kids because everybody was a target.”
The fear pervading the country began to fade with the news that police had arrested two suspects in the killings. The partnership of John Allen Muhammad, 41, and Lee Boyd Malvo, 17, marked the first and, to date, only instance of a sniper team in U.S. history.
Their coming together was just one of the many surreal and mysterious elements that filled the case.
As Muhammad and Malvo carried out their spree that included the beltway killings as well as several previous shootings that in total left 17 dead and 10 others wounded, special agents raced against the clock to end the rampage and bring peace back to the people they tormented. This is their story.
A Missed Shot Ushers in a Community Under Siege
At first it was believed to be a power outage.
It seemed like the natural explanation when the light illuminating the sign over a cash register at a Michaels craft store suddenly went out on Oct. 2, 2002, in Montgomery County, Maryland. Then workers realized there as a bullet hole in the store’s window.
The shot narrowly missed a cashier.
“I would have been No. 1,” the woman told the Baltimore Sun two days later.
Only 45 minutes after the shooting at Michaels, 55-year-old James Martin was killed in a grocery store parking lot in the same county.
The following morning in the span of about two hours, four more people were killed in Maryland. James Buchanan, 39, was shot while doing landscaping work at a Mall, 54-year-old Prem Kumar Walekar was killed while pumping gas into his taxi, 34-year-old Sarah Ramos was shot dead while sitting on a bench reading a book and 25-year-old Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera was killed while vacuuming her vehicle at a gas station.
“[Almost] half a dozen people are shot in one day in 24 hours in Montgomery County, Maryland, where they ordinarily have a dozen homicides in a year. All of a sudden, 50% of that annual rate happens in one 24-hour period,” said Jim Clemente’s brother and fellow FBI veteran Tim Clemente.
That night, 72-year-old Pascal Charlot was shot as he walked down an avenue in Washington D.C.
The number of victims was staggering, and authorities had little to go on.
“The randomness of the victims showed us that this is not a particular community being targeted; this is not a particular type of person or a type of victimology — it’s random,” Tim said. “Anybody, anywhere is in danger in this geographic area.”
For the Clemente Brothers, This Was Personal
The investigation into the case was led by the Montgomery County Police Department and its chief at the time, Charles Moose, aided by numerous other law enforcement agencies that provided assistance in the rapidly growing case.
Among them was the FBI where, after embarking on different career paths, the Clemente brothers’ skills and interests intersected.
Tim’s skills as a career cop made him a perfect fit for the counterterrorism unit, while Jim, a former prosecutor, became a criminal profiler in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit.
“Tim is a tactical sniper counterterrorism agent,” Jim said of his younger brother. “He was a former cop. He’s very conservative. He’s very tactical and action-oriented and he’s a thrill seeker. He’s an adrenaline junkie.”
“Jim, not so much,” Tim said. “He’s more of a thinker, more of a pensive person. He likes to get inside the heads of offenders so we can learn from them, so we can try and prevent others from following the same path and hopefully prevent those offenders from offending again by learning about their crimes.”
Their duty to serve brought the brothers to the D.C. metro area, where they settled and put down roots.
“As an investigator, as an FBI agent, I've worked in some of the most hostile places in the world,” Tim said. “What was different about this, in the DC sniper case, is that my family was in the hostile place and I couldn't keep them safe.”
That point was driven home on Oct. 11, when Kenneth Bridges, 53, was killed.
By then, 43-year-old homemaker Caroline Seawell had been wounded in the parking lot of another Michaels store on Oct. 4, as was 13-year-old Iran Brown as he walked from his aunt’s vehicle to his middle school on Oct. 7. And Dean Meyers, 53, had been shot and killed Oct. 9 as he pumped gas at a Sunoco gas station in Virginia.
And so Bridges, who was on his way home to Philadelphia from a successful business trip, was understandably wary of having to pass through the area. So he purposefully chose a gas station outside of D.C. to refuel his car. The father of six was on the phone with his wife while pumping gas at an Exxon station off Interstate 95 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, when he became the eight person in the case to be fatally shot.
Tim was among the investigators who rushed to the scene, which happened to be near his home.
“I [previously] told my wife repeatedly to stay home,” Tim said. “[That day] I called her to say, ‘hey, stay away from [the area of] Massaponax.’ … And she said ‘I was just there … I went to the gas station, the Exxon gas station to get gas because I was at a book sale.’ I was furious because I had been telling her don’t go out, don’t go out. But you know, she still had to live her life and my kids had to live their lives.”
Making Sense of the Senseless
Personal stakes and professional expertise drove the brothers in their quest to find who was responsible for the shootings, which appeared to show no sign of slowing down.
On Oct. 14, FBI intelligence analyst Linda Franklin, 47, was killed in a Home Depot parking lot in Fairfax County, Virginia. And on Oct. 19, Jeffrey Hopper, 37, was shot in a parking lot near the Ponderosa Steakhouse in Ashland, Virginia.
By then, investigators had begun finding messages left for them by the person — or persons — responsible.
After Iran Brown was shot on Oct. 7, authorities found a shell casing and a tarot card the sniper used to deliver a clear message.
“They [wrote] in bold letters, ‘Call me God,’ and then on the back of it, it said, ‘Code, call me God,’” Jim said. “When we got the tarot card, it told us a tremendous amount of information. One that they wanted to communicate, two, that they had a god-complex, and three, there was a duality in it because it said ‘This is for you, Mr. Police.’ Like they were looking up to the police. At the same time, they use the words ‘Do not release to the press,’ and ‘press’ is a word that old timers like me use. Not younger people that would be looking up to the police.”
The duality presented in the note left many scratching their heads as to what kind of a person they were dealing with.
“Maybe someone was really good at planning and executing shootings, but who de-compensated when writing,” Jim said. “Or, for the first time in U.S. history, we have a sniper team.”
And with that thought, Jim took on the uphill battle that was convincing his colleagues that such a partnership was even possible. “Snipers have a god complex; they don’t work well with others,” Jim said.
Evidence found at the Oct. 19 scene only strengthened Jim’s hunch that his theory was correct. A bloodhound tracking the scent found off the tarot card led investigators, including Tim, to a wood line across the parking lot.
“We got to the wood line, shine a flashlight down into the leaves and you could see the perfect layout of where the sniper had lain, and there's a pristine shell casing,” Tim said. “And then I shined my flashlight in further into the woods and there's the note tacked to the tree.”
The note was four pages long and noted that they were unhappy that calls they had made to a law enforcement official and a 911 hotline were not being taken seriously. It also threatened that unless $10 million was sent to a specific ATM card, they would continue killing.
“It was really important that we analyze that from multiple perspectives and also try and find out what we can from it when the snipers had said in that note, that they had tried to communicate,” Tim said. “That caused investigators to look at other communications.”
That investigative focus would prove to be just what authorities would need to solve the case.
Putting the Pieces Together
As authorities focused on finding the individuals who communicated with the snipers, a recipient of one of those calls took what they heard seriously.
“It turned out there was a priest in Ashland, Virginia that had been contacted by one of the snipers, and in it he talked about another shooting in Montgomery,” Tim said. “The immediate assumption first was ‘Montgomery County, Maryland.’ Turns out, there had been a shooting in Montgomery, Alabama.”
On Sept. 21, 2002, Claudine Parker, 52, was shot in the chest and killed during a robbery at the liquor store where she worked. The suspect also shot Parker’s coworker, 24-year-old Kellie Adams, through the neck, before fleeing, but investigators recovered evidence from the scene.
“That was a magazine that a thumbprint was found on, but it had never been processed for some reason,” Tim said. “So now the FBI is saying, ‘Hey, that could be related. Let’s process that.’”
From there, things moved quickly.
“We get the fingerprint processed. It comes back to an immigrant, a young immigrant boy by the name of Lee Boyd Malvo that had come from the Caribbean into the United States,” Tim said. “Now we're looking at him and now we find out he was in the Pacific Northwest. In the Pacific Northwest he had been befriended, I guess you could say, by a guy named John Muhammad.”
John Allen Muhammad, born John Allen Williams in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was a National Guardsman and 15-year Army veteran who served in the Gulf War and trained as a mechanic, truck driver and specialist metalworker.
He and his wife Mildred had three children together and owned an auto repair shop. But after Muhammad was accused of stalking a woman, he and Mildred separated. Then in 1999, Muhammad kidnapped his children, spending 18 months keeping them from their mother before authorities located them.
It was during this time that Muhammad met Malvo.
“Muhammad had taken him out of a men's shelter and told him he was going to be his father figure and instead he started grooming him and then he started sexually molesting him,” Jim said.
Having been sexually abused before, Malvo would later detail how the abuse he endured at the hands of Muhammad only served to further manipulate him to remain loyal and obedient.
“I couldn't say no,’’ Malvo told the Today show in 2012. “I had wanted that level of love and acceptance and consistency for all of my life, and couldn't find it. And even if unconsciously, or even in moments of short reflection, I knew that it was wrong, I did not have the willpower to say no.”
But his past, the Clementes said, had no bearing on the pain he in turn caused.
“The fact that Malvo was sexually victimized does not excuse in any way the fact that he participated in murdering and injuring other people,” Jim said.
Muhammad and Malvo’s crime spree began in February 2002. On Feb. 16, Keenya Cook, 21, was shot and killed by Malvo at the front door of her aunt's home in Tacoma, Wash. Cook's aunt, Isa Nichols, had previously encouraged Muhammed's ex-wife Mildred to seek a divorce.
Three deaths, including Parker’s in Montgomery, Alabama, and four injuries, followed in other states from March through July.
Jerry Taylor, 60, was shot and killed on an Arizona golf course on March 19; John Gaeta, 51, was shot and robbed while changing a tire in Louisiana on Aug. 1; Paul LaRuffa, 55, survived being shot six times as he closed his Italian restaurant in Maryland on Sept. 5; and on the same day Parker was murdered, 41-year-old Million Woldemariam was helping the owner of Sammy’s Package Store close for the night when she fatally shot in the head.
The last killing Muhammad and Malvo are known to have carried out ahead of the sniper shootings took place on Sept. 23, when Malvo shot 45-year-old Hong Im Ballenger in the head with a rifle in Baton Rouge. The Korean immigrant and staple of her community was killed instantly.
Hong’s husband later said he knew the minute news broke that the D.C. snipers had been arrested, that the person responsible for taking his wife’s life had been caught.
"God put it on my heart and I knew," Jim Ballenger told the Associated Press. “I'm just glad he is in prison and can do no more harm."
Malvo and Muhammad were arrested while sleeping in their blue Chevrolet Caprice on Oct. 24, 2002.
“Pictures of both men and an individual that was at a truck stop ... sees the car, sees the blue Caprice, checks the license plate, it matches,” Tim said. “He sees the two guys sleeping inside the car. So he notifies 911 right away.”
A trucker at the stop parked his truck in a way that would ensure the men could not get away while police were rushing to the scene, and once there, tactical units moved in quickly.
“Flash bang grenades through the window, smashing the windows, yanking them out in their slumber, out onto the parking lot, handcuffing them,” Tim said. “It's over in seconds. And two of the most heinous killers in American history were on their way to justice at that point.”
For their crimes, Muhammad in September 2003 was sentenced to death, while Malvo, a juvenile, was sentenced in October of that year to six consecutive life sentences without parole.
In November 2009, Muhammad was put to death by lethal injection.
Malvo, now 34, is currently in prison awaiting resentencing for multiple charges.
Now retired, the Clemente brothers in 2008 founded XG Productions, a production and talent management company meant “to entertain, inform and inspire audiences through the creation, production and distribution of authentic crime, law enforcement and military-related content.”
“We want to give the victims and their families an opportunity … to tell the world in their own words what they went through and how it affected them,” Jim said.
“When you can hear from husbands, wives, girlfriends, brothers, sisters about what the loss meant to them,” Tim said, “It brings it home.”