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Beltway sniper attacks

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The Beltway sniper attacks took place over three weeks of October 2002, in which ten people were killed and three other critically injured by spree killers in the Washington D.C. area. Authorities initially attributed the attacks to a lone sniper, dubbed by journalists the "Beltway Sniper", the "Washington Sniper", the "Serial Sniper" or the "Tarot Card Killer" (see serial killer).

As of October 24th, the three weeks of attacks have come to a close with the arrest of Army veteran John Allen Muhammad and his 17-year-old Jamaican stepson (wasn't really stepson), John Lee Malvo[?], who were in possession of the rifle used in the attacks.

The sniper attacks began October 2, 2002, with a series of five fatal shootings in 15 hours in Montgomery County, Maryland, a northern suburb of Washington, and continued for the next three weeks in the Washington metropolitan area, filling the area with fear. Police received messages left at the murder locations and believe the killer may have worked in concert with another person.

The shootings occurred at gas stations, supermarkets, restaurants, and schools in a rough circular pattern around Washington. The victims were apparently selected at random, crossing racial, gender, and socioeconomic categories. The locations of the attacks always had close freeway access. It is believed he used the circular Beltway to get from place to place..

The attacks were carried out with a Bushmaster XM-15[?] semiautomatic .223 caliber[?] rifle, the civilian equivalent of the U.S. military's M-16 assault rifle, at a range of 50 to over 100 yards. The rifle came from Bull's Eye Shooter Supply[?] in Tacoma, Washington, which did not report the missing rifle, as required by federal law.

The investigation was publicly headed by Montgomery County, Maryland Police Chief Charles Moose, with assistance from the FBI and police departments in other jurisdictions where killings had taken place.

Police responded to reports of attacks over the next three weeks within minutes, cordoning off nearby roads and highways and inspecting all drivers, thereby grinding all traffic to a halt for hours at a time in one of America's largest metropolitan areas.

Eyewitness testimony[?] to the attacks was mostly confused and spotty. Hotlines set up for the investigation were flooded with tips, as was the post office box set up for mail. The most common reports were of a boxy white van.

The sniper attempted to engage the police in a dialogue, compelling Moose to tell the media cryptic messages intended for the sniper. At several scenes Tarot cards, including one Death card[?] upon which was written "Dear Policeman, I am God. Do not tell the media about this." This information was leaked to the press. Later scenes had long handwritten notes carefully sealed inside plastic bags, including a rambling one that demanded $10,000,000 and threatened the lives of children in the area.

It has been alleged that the snipers engaged in a series of previously unconnected attacks prior to October 2.


  • October 2
    • The first five sniper shootings occurred in the course of 15 hours on October 2 in Montgomery County, Maryland, a northern suburb of Washington.
  • October 13
    • The sniper had successfully committed ten long-range attacks on civilians. These attacks have so far claimed eight victims' lives, and wounded two people, including a 13 year old boy. (One shooting victim in the area was at first believed to be a victim of the Beltway sniper, but forensics experts have since stated that the incident was unrelated.)
  • October 14
    • The police had a very good lead after the October 14 shooting, but it was later determined that the witness was inside at the time and was lying. The witness was arrested for interfering with the investigation.
  • October 19
    • A man was shot in a parking lot in Ashland, Virginia, about 90 miles south of Washington. Authorities discovered a 3 page letter from the sniper in the woods.
  • October 21
    • Washington-area police arrested two men, one with a white van, outside a gas station. The men turned out to be illegal immigrants with no connection to the sniper and they were remanded to the custody of the INS.
  • October 22
    • Bus driver standing on the steps of his bus is shot dead. Authorities presuming sniper attack. Chief Moose releases part of the content of one of the supposed sniper's communications, in which he declares, "Your children are not safe, anywhere, at any time."
  • October 23
    • Ballistics experts confirmed a bus-driver as the 10th fatality in the sniper attacks.
    • Police searched a yard in Tacoma, Washington, which is near a sniper school operated by the United States Army, searching with metal detectors for bullets, shell casings, or other evidence which may link to the snipers. A tree stump believed to have been used for target practice was seized.
  • October 24
    • John Allen Muhammad (born John Allen Williams) and John Lee Malvo[?] are found sleeping in their car, a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice[?], at a Maryland reststop, and arrested on federal weapons charges. A .223-caliber weapon and tripod were found in a bag in Mr. Muhammad´s car. Ballistics tests later conclusively linked the seized rifle to 11 of the 14 bullets recovered from earlier attacks. Mr. Muhammad was previously a member of the National Guard and later the United States Army, where he earned medals for expert marksmanship. His relationship with Malvo was initially unclear.

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