Hamil R. HarrisLifestyle

‘I, Sniper’: Terror Delivered from the Trunk of a Car

Documentary Retraces 23 Unforgettable Days for the D.C. Region

In October of 2002, 10 people died and three others were critically wounded by John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo. Hidden in a makeshift sniper’s nest in the trunk of a Caprice Classic, the duo co-authored a bloody rampage that shook the Washington, D.C., area.

People were afraid to buy groceries or pump gas because parking lots and gas stations were all part of the asphalt killing fields. A multi-part documentary series on the D.C. sniper, aired by VICE TV, chronicles the terror invoked by Muhammed, a troubled Gulf War veteran and Malvo, a Jamaican teenager in the fall of 2002.

Muhammad was executed in 2009. Malvo is serving a life sentence in Red Onion State Prison in Virginia, has married while incarcerated and has been the subject of efforts to achieve parole even though he has yet to be tried in Maryland for the shooting of six people.

“This ambitious project has been four years in the making,” according to executive producer and creative director John Smithson.

“In addition to securing unprecedented access to Lee Malvo, we also undertook extensive interviews with the investigators of the Washington, D.C. sniper case, the survivors and the victims’ families so that we could view the story from all perspectives and examine both Malvo’s childhood of deprivation in Jamaica and the murders in forensic detail,” Smithson said. “I, Sniper seeks to understand, not vindicate, and show how and why someone can become a mass murderer, even at the age of just seventeen.”

Malvo spoke in a series of 15-minute phone interviews with project director Mary Jane Mitchell for the eight-part series that started May 10.

Malvo said that Muhammed “took me to the handgun range. He stood behind me and said, ‘Listen to the sound of my voice and follow.'”

As one of the scores of reporters who covered the sniper shooting in 2002, his voice suggests an evolution into someone who understands the magnitude of his crimes. In the film, I heard him say, “I stole time, I stole life. … Even now it doesn’t make sense.”

Malvo killed people shopping. He killed people pumping gas. He killed an old cab driver. He killed Kenneth Bridges, a Philadelphia businessman. He killed a bus driver. He killed a taxi driver. He killed an FBI analyst. He killed a man mowing his lawn. He killed a wife pumping her gas and he came inches from killing a teenager getting out of school.

Why? A son of Jamaica groomed in isolation, he craved love to the point that he would turn D.C. into a horrible arcade. He created a shooting gallery from the trunk of a grandma’s car to soak our region with blood. Most of the shootings spared Prince George’s County. But then, one day, Malvo fired at a teen outside Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Md. striking his stomach. The young man survived.

Rocky Twyman, a community activist and resident of Rockville described those days as “very scary.”

“I would go to the gas station and be scared to pump gas. We would put the pump in the car and then jump quickly back in the car. During the time of the sniper, people started to go back to the church because it was a scary time,” Twyman said.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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