The DC sniper’s ex-wife warned of his violence. Nobody listened.
“It was a domestic violence and child custody issue,” said the woman, who escaped to become the final victim as this horrific killing spree grew ever closer.
Mostly Mildred Muhammad and the broken-up, abusive marriage she escaped from are forgotten in the retelling of how John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo killed 10 innocent people.
“You would be more likely to believe that these were just two black men in a car killing innocent people to get the government to put $10 million on a stolen credit card,” Mildred Muhammad said.
This is the conspiracy we heard in court and the way history keeps telling it.
“You don’t want to hear that a man would do all that just to kill his ex-wife to get custody of his children,” Mildred Muhammad said.
“I’ll Kill You”: The Link Between Mass Shooters and Domestic Violence
But before his ex-wife finally got custody of their three children – after years of abuse after local Washington state police failed to enforce a judge’s restraining order after people who knew the couple didn’t believe her when she did tried to tell them about the abuse after kidnapping the children to Antigua for 18 months – John Muhammad laid it all open to her, telling her exactly what his revenge would be like. Someday.
“He said, ‘You have become my enemy, and as my enemy I will kill you,'” she said. “I knew that one day he would shoot me in the head and bury me where no one could find me.”
Knowing all this, she eventually fled across the country with the children to be near her mother in Maryland. It was far, but she knew she was never safe.
In week 3 of that sniping tour 20 years ago, when the detectives finally put everything together, came to her door and took her away to put her out of the way, she remembered what else he had told her.
“They asked if I thought he could do something like that,” she said, “and I said, ‘Yes.’ I remembered him saying to me once, ‘You know, I could take over a small town, terrorize them and they’d think it was a group of people, but it was just me.’”
She and her three children survived. And she made it mission to make the world wake up and see this giant red flag that keeps waving in our faces before too many of our bloodiest tragedies.
I spoke to Mildred about her work five years ago when she was busy connecting the dots between intimate partner violence and mass shootings with an audience that has the power to make a difference.
Because in these mass shootings, one feels for the motive of the shooter: mental illness? Racism? Religion? Politics?
Once in a while. But what most cases have in common – long before online manifestos – is the abuse of their intimate partners, from the 1984 gunman who killed 21 people at a California McDonald’s to the 2017 killer of 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
It’s in the stories of 70 percent of the mass shooters studied in a recent study at Johns Hopkins University Report.
And the prevalence of intimate partner violence is persistently high. About 1 in 4 women and almost 1 in 10 men have experienced it such abuse – physical, mental or both – during their lifetime, according to Counting from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers are particularly high for black women, who are 2½ times more likely to be killed than white women, and 90 percent of black victims knew their killer, according to a Violence Policy Center to learn from CDC numbers. Social scientists expect these numbers to have surged even higher during the pandemic.
“Domestic violence has become a global epidemic thanks to the pandemic,” said Mildred Muhammad.
Going to work has long been the only respite for women in abusive relationships. But when office workers started teleworking, victims fell into the trap. A recent UN report dubbed it the “shadow pandemic.”
Muhammad immediately noticed the uptick in her networks and she quickly wrote another book, “Being abused while teleworking” filled with tips for employers on how to spot abuse behind the Zoom calls, and for victims on how to survive — and escape.
And she continues her work, speaking at military bases, to prosecutors and police officers, reminding them that the perpetrator they are stopping could be a mass shooting, which they are preventing.
“The people he killed from the West Coast to the East Coast would still be alive,” she said, “if they believed me. It all starts with believing women.”
We continue to treat domestic violence as a private matter, something that happens behind closed doors and is none of our business.
But those terrifying three weeks in October have shown us how the violence is accelerating unchecked. That’s the moral of the DC sniper story and the part Mildred Muhammad wants us to remember.