Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Vaya Con El Diablo, John Allen Muhammad
We lived in fear for 3 weeks. We huddled out of sight at gas stations. High school athletic teams played their games hours away, with no fans to cheer them on. We were told to run in a zig-zag pattern between the car & our destinations to make it more difficult for the sniper to get a bead on us.
John Allen Muhammad & his teenaged accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, killed 10 people in the DC area in October 2002. Muhammed, on death row since his conviction in one of the murders, is set to die today by lethal injection.
My kids were 15 and 12 at the time. I came this close to sending them out of state, to live with relatives & to go to school where they didn't have the chance of getting picked off while standing at a neighborhood bus stop.
The DC area is not immune to violence. The first couple of deaths back in 2002, while mysterious, didn't register much of a reaction. Then we learned we harbored a home-grown terrorist, right in our backyard.
First, someone firing out of the woods in suburban Maryland cut down a bus driver. Then, an older DC resident was gunned down. And then gas station murders started to occur & the sniper-he always used just one bullet from an automatic rifle to do his dirty work-started leaving creepy, taunting notes behind.
Ella Numera Una played high school field hockey. The team, obviously, couldn't practice outside. So all the fall sports-field hockey, football, cross country, volleyball-tried to share limited gym space. The trackies made loops in the school's corridors. Indoor practices went until 10, sometimes 11 o'clock at nite.
Ella Numera Dos, a 7th-grader at the time, was just getting used to the freedom of catching the school bus up at the corner. After the local cops, however, established a pattern for the attacks & warned the general populace that a sniper was on the loose, Mommy & Daddy curtailed the child's freedom. We took her to school every morning, pulling up close to the front doors so she could dash in. We picked her up each afternoon, repeating the process in reverse. We couldn't be too careful. One of the victims was a local middle-schooler, shot as he left school. Fortunately, he survived.
Our Humble High School's Homecoming game that year was held 2-and-a-half hours away in Harrisonburg, VA. The only fans in attendance? Parents, who weren't notified of the game's location until hours before kickoff.
Other outdoor sports teams started competing in places like Richmond, about an hour from here. That was, of course, until the sniper went further afield & shot a man in front of a Ponderosa Steakhouse off the Interstate, near the capital city. The school district then moved games to an area Army post, the kids watched closely by soldiers who patrolled the perimeter of each playing field.
Then the DC Sniper shot & killed Linda Franklin at our local Home Depot. She was my age. She worked downtown in a government office. She'd gone to the store with her husband to pick up a rug for the house. She died in the parking garage. No one saw the sniper, the gun, the escape. Everyone saw the flash & Mrs. Franklin, lying on the cold concrete floor.
To say I was afraid after Linda Franklin died is to say that fear consumed my life. I started pumping my gas at the station that had draped its service bay area with a giant tarp, to make customers look less like sitting ducks. I crouched in the back of my SUV while the tank filled, hoping the tinted windows would shade me from the unknown assasin.
My terror came to an end one weekday morning, after dropping Ella Dos off at school. I had been having an internal debate over getting gas. I'd pretty much decided that the smidge left in my tank was going to have to get me to work. I willed it to do so.
The radio crackled with relief a couple of minutes later. The sniper-who turned out to be this man, Muhammad, had been picked up, along with a kid who'd been helping him wreak his terror. I immediately pulled into a local Exxon. I have to say that was the happiest I'd ever been while performing a normally perfunctory errand.
I go back & forth on capital punishment. I don't know if the death penalty is right, if it's moral, if it's the solution to the demons that haunt our souls. But I do know that John Allen Muhammad can't hurt me, or my loved ones, any more.