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On October 2, 2002 in Wheaton, Maryland, about 10 miles from Washington, DC, James D. Martin, a 55-year-old program manager, was fatally shot at 5:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the Shoppers Food Warehouse. He was buying items for his church’s youth group.
“It was an extremely loud boom,” Mark Felsen of the Montgomery County Police told “Mark of a Serial Killer,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. “It was so loud it echoed off buildings.”
No one saw the shooter, and investigators acknowledged they were “baffled.”
Over the next few weeks, there would be more echoes and more murders across the metro area.
On October 3, just three miles from the earlier shooting, Prem Kumar Walekar, 54, a cab driver and father of two, was gunned down while pumping gas at a Mobil station.
The area, including rooftops, were searched for casings and evidence. Military snipers tried to determine where the shot’s place of origin was, according to Montgomery County Police Sgt. Roger Thomson.
Hours later, police learned that landscaper James “Sonny” Buchanan had been shot and killed while mowing grass at a work site. Investigators knew they were facing a very big problem: three homicides in two days and little to go on.
“At this point it was a little bit like getting punched in the face,” said Capt. Bernard Forsythe, Major Crimes Division.
As before, witnesses heard the loud cannon-like shot that killed Buchanan, but no one saw a gunman.
Later in the day on October 3, Sarah Ramos, a housekeeper and mother, was shot and killed while seated on a bench less than two miles from the Mobil station crime scene. Investigators tried to connect the dots between the four victims who crossed age, race, and gender lines.
Later on October 3, Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, a nanny, became the next casualty. She was shot while getting gas.
The metropolitan area fell into a panic, said Tom Morris, Jr., investigative reporter and crime analyst. Stores closed. Parking lots emptied. People took cover as they filled their cars with gas.
At 9:20 p.m. on October 3, Pascal Charlot, 72, a semi-retired carpenter and father, became the next victim. Six people had been killed in less than 24 hours.
The next day autopsy reports indicated that kill shots had come from ground level between 75 and 100 yards away. Investigators now focused on parking lots instead of rooftops.
On October 4, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, 43-year-old stay-at-home mom Caroline Seawell became the next victim, although she survived the shooting. Investigators recovered a bullet lodged in Seawell’s van and determined it was fired from a .223 rifle — and that same gun was used in the other fatal shootings.
On October 7 at 8 a.m., 13-year-old Iran Brown was severely wounded by a sniper’s bullet but survived. Law enforcement, along with residents, were horrified that a child had been targeted.
A death card from a tarot deck recovered near the scene had a taunting message written on it addressed to police: “Call me God. Do not release to the press.”
There’d been eight random shootings over a weeklong spree, and over the next few days the killer claimed three more lives: Dean Meyers, 53, who was pumping gas, Kenneth Bridges, 53, another gas-station victim, and Linda Franklin, 47, who was at Home Depot in Virginia.
On October 19, Jeffrey Hopper, 37, was gunned down outside an Ashland, Virginia, restaurant. He survived the shooting. Another tarot card and a letter to police was found in a plastic container near the scene. The shooter demanded $10 million on a Visa card.
Days later, on October 22, Conrad Johnson, 35, a father of two, was fatally shot. A witness reported seeing a masked person running out of nearby woods, where police found another tarot card and another letter to police.
But they had a possible lead: On October 18, an individual had reached out to a priest in Ashland, Virginia and claimed to be the killer. He also confessed to a liquor store shooting in Montgomery, Alabama. A fingerprint had been found on the magazine at that scene. The fingerprint was matched to 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, who lived with John Allen Muhammad, 41. Muhammad had been identified by a tipster as being the sniper.
The witness told authorities that Malvo and Muhammad had a rifle and used it for target practice, according to “Mark of a Serial Killer.” Police now knew they were searching for two snipers, not one.
Investigators learned that Muhammad had bought a blue Caprice in New Jersey. On October 23, an arrest warrant was made for Muhammad. A BOLO was put out on the blue Caprice that was spotted in the early morning hours of October 24.
Muhammad and Malvo were taken into custody, and a rifle was recovered from their vehicle. A hole had been cut in the trunk to accommodate a concealed shooter.
Muhammad and Malvo never revealed their motives, said FBI special agent David Rodski, adding that “what they did was pure evil.”
In November 2003, John Muhammad was convicted on two counts of murder and sentenced to death. He was executed on November 9, 2009.
Lee Boyd Malvo was convicted on two counts of murder and he pleaded guilty to an additional six. He was given six life sentences.
Because of a change in a Virginia state law regarding minors sentenced to life, Malvo is eligible for parole in 2022.
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