Ten years ago this week, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo began a shooting spree that paralyzed the Washington, D.C., region. During a three-week period, the pair would shoot 13 people — killing 10 — and become known as the Beltway Snipers.
Throughout Fairfax County and the metro region, everyday people were afraid to leave their homes, go shopping, or fill their vehicles at gas stations. Many retail areas remained empty and people rarely left their vehicles other than to go in and out of their homes or work places.
Muhammad was a veteran of the Gulf War, and recruited Malvo — then 17 — in his scheme.
In his testimony in Montgomery County, Md., Malvo described how he and Muhammad scouted out their locations in advance and picked victims at random.
Muhammad wanted to kill six people per day for a month, but the plan was thwarted because witnesses made it too risky, Malvo said.
Muhammad also had planned to plant bombs in schools, on school buses and in hospitals, Malvo recounted.
On Oct. 2, 2002, program analyst James D. Martin, 55, of Silver Spring, Md., was the first person gunned down as he walked across the parking lot of Shoppers Food Warehouse in Glenmont, Md., to buy groceries for a dinner party. Witnesses heard a loud bang, and saw Martin clutched his chest. Martin called out, "Please help me," before he collapsed in the parking lot, according to witnesses.
On Oct. 3, four more people were killed in Maryland as they went about their routines — one while mowing the grass outside a Rockville, Md., business and another pumping gas.
The shots were fired by Muhammad or Malvo from a hole cut in the trunk of their Chevrolet Caprice.
The killing spree struck terror throughout the region for 22 days. During the manhunt, Muhammad and Malvo left notes and a Tarot card taunting police.
On Oct. 14, FBI analyst Linda Franklin of Arlington was fatally shot in Fairfax County outside the Home Depot in the Seven Corners Shopping Center parking lot.
Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, who was then chief of police in Fairfax County, remembers the attack vividly.
"I had just come home around 9 p.m. that night and had just taken off my uniform when my pager went off saying there had been a shooting in Seven Corners that looked like the others," Manger said. "My heart dropped, and then that was it. I knew we were a part of it.”
Manger said Fairfax County police worked around the clock, assisting other agencies in trying to catch the shooters, and trying to quell the fear that was everywhere.
“People were afraid to leave their homes,” he said. “My own son was just learning to walk at the time and I didn’t take him out of the house. I also remember vividly my wife telling me that she needed gas in her car and telling her ‘don’t do it.”’
Manger said the county was paralyzed with fear, altering the normal routines of residents.
“Tysons Corner and other Fairfax shopping centers were like ghost towns and life had changed for everyone,” he said.
To add to all the mass confusion, police originally thought the snipers were traveling in a white box truck, prompting false starts to the investigation throughout the region.
“It was a huge task force working as well as we could hope it would,” Manger said. “I recall saying that I wanted high visibility on all the county bridges, overpasses, and the American Legion Bridge. We were dealing with public fear on a large scale. We had to develop strategies to combat that, as well as trying to catch the snipers.”
Virginia eventually gave Muhammad the death penalty after his 2003 trial for the slaying of Dean H. Meyers of Gaithersburg, who was killed in Manassas on Oct. 9, 2002. Meyers, the seventh victim of the snipers, was felled with a single bullet after filling up his car at a Sunoco station on his way home from work.
“Overall, that entire ordeal was the most intense period of time in my 36-year career in law enforcement," Manger said.