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Ex-Wife Of D.C. Sniper: 'I Was The Enemy'

The ex-wife of the sniper who terrorized the Washington, D.C., area during a 2002 killing spree said the random murders were part of an attempt to commit the perfect crime: to kill her and divert suspicion to a crazed gunman.

Mildred Muhammad says convicted killer John Muhammad began plotting against her after she won custody of their young son and two daughters in 2001. He had told her for years he hated her and accused her of being a bad mother. After the couple separated, he went on the run with the kids, spiriting them away to Antigua for 18 months in 1999.

But she says she never suspected she was the real target of the "Beltway Sniper" until Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents knocked on the door of her Maryland home on Oct. 23, 2002.

"They said, 'Ms. Muhammad, didn't you know he was shooting people around you?' They said, 'The man he shot in the hand with the laptop, that's right down the street from you. The gentleman that was shot at the store in Brandywine — that's two miles away from you. You were the target,' " Muhammad says.

John Muhammad and a teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, went on a shooting spree that left 10 people dead and terrorized residents of Maryland, D.C. and Northern Virginia. Muhammad is scheduled to be executed Nov. 10. Malvo is serving a life sentence.

Mildred Muhammad says her ex-husband thought if she were killed by a crazed gunman, he would regain custody of their children and collect compensation owed them as crime victims. "His end-game scenario was to come in as the grieving father," she says. "He maybe would have been called father of the year."

She says she had known for years her husband wanted to kill her, but no one would listen. For much of their 12-year marriage, Muhammad says, she endured his emotional and mental abuse in silence. But after they separated, she was a marked woman.

Breaking into the house one night, Muhammad says, John woke her with a terrifying message: "You have become my enemy, and as my enemy I will kill you."

Though happy at first, Muhammad says, their marriage changed after he returned from an Army tour during the Gulf War. Well-liked by everyone, he became negative, sullen and paranoid.

She says she didn't know what caused him to become a monster, but she believes counseling before he returned to civilian life could have averted the rampage.

"I believe what would have made a difference for me is that when John came back from Saudi that he would have been debriefed, and he would have received the counseling that he needed to become a more productive person in a non-war zone," she says.

She tried to alert friends and neighbors to the abuse, but she says no one believed her because she bore no physical scars. Now, she's telling her story in a new book, Scared Silent, in hopes of helping other victims break their silence and escape abuse.

"Domestic violence is a serious issue that needs to be addressed," she says. "It was my desire to assist other victims and survivors of domestic violence because this was a domestic violence issue."

Reported by Michel Martin and written by Deborah Tedford.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.