She met John Allen Williams—later John Allen Muhammad—when she was 23 and living in Louisiana. He was always on time for dates, and soon she fell in love. He nicknamed her Tinker Bell. They married in 1988.
By 1993 they were living in Washington state, with three children and a marriage on the rocks. Six years later, they separated and she got a restraining order—her husband had turned verbally abusive after serving in Operation Desert Storm. “I’ve said it many times,” she wrote in her 2009 book, Scared Silent, “. . . the man that I married is still in Saudi [Arabia]; the man that returned is a complete stranger.”
In March 2000, after beginning a visitation agreement, he kidnapped their three children, taking them on an 18-month odyssey. They were returned to their mother in August 2001 after an emergency custody hearing in Tacoma, Washington. The kids never talked to their father again.
“A lot of people blame me for what John did,” says Mildred Muhammad. “They said things like if I had stayed with him, he would have killed me and no one else.” She adds that in addition to the people killed and their families, the victims include her, her children, and Muhammad’s accomplice, Lee Malvo.
“When John went to Baton Rouge to visit family, he presented Lee as his family,” she says. “Lee wrote a note to one of the nieces that said, ‘Please help me. If I don’t do what John tells me, he will kill me.’ But the judge wouldn’t allow it in the trial because they couldn’t authenticate it.
“The police told me before they caught John that I was the intended target. At the time, I had no idea it was John doing it . But I was also looking for John, who told me he was going to kill me. He had the training and capability. I was already in hiding.”
She was living in Clinton, Maryland, at the time of the first shooting. “When I got the children back legally in Washington state,” she says, “John went to a father’s-rights group and told them I kidnapped the children. They didn’t check him out, but they found me in the DC area and told him. He went to his best friend and said, ‘I found Mildred. She’s in DC.’ That’s when he began his journey to kill people. He wanted me dead so he could get the children back. The theory was he was creating a diversion to cover up my murder so he could rescue the children and be the grieving father.
“That friend later called the FBI. That’s when they put me and my children in protective custody. After they caught John, they let us go. A detective told me John said, ‘It was all Mildred’s fault.’ ”
Today Mildred Muhammad, 52, runs After the Trauma, which helps victims and survivors of domestic violence, providing the kind of help she says was never available to her because her ex-husband’s abuse left no physical scars.
The Muhammad children are thriving, says their mother. Taalibah is 19, Salena 20. Both are in college, sing opera in several languages, and want to be vocal performers. John, 22, is majoring in computer information systems. “They know what he did was wrong,” their mother says. “They don’t condone his actions, but we don’t take any responsibility for his actions. They remember him from when they were little.
“They wanted to talk to their father before he was executed, but he didn’t cooperate. The attorneys said it was because he wouldn’t be able to answer the one question they would want to ask: ‘Why?’ That would have unraveled every emotion he had put in place to help him get through the execution. He believed he was innocent. He never said he killed any people. He blamed Lee.”
Terror in October
A Timeline of the Snipers and Victims