In October 2002, the entire greater Washington area was on the lookout for two white men in a white box truck, considered to be suspects in a series of sniper attacks that had killed 10 people.
Mildred Muhammad was on the lookout for three people.
“I was looking for that profile, but I was also looking for John,” Muhammad said in an interview Tuesday.
Muhammad had been in hiding from her ex-husband, John Allen Muhammad, for more than a year after a court in Tacoma, Wash., gave her full custody of their children.
She also had taken out a lifetime restraining order against her ex.
She said he told her, “You have become my enemy, and as my enemy, I will kill you.”
So when agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives knocked on her door on Oct. 23, 2002, and told her they were going to name John as the sniper and that they believed she was the intended target, she wasn’t that surprised.
“The theory was that he was killing innocent people to cover up my murder so that he could come in as the grieving father and get custody of our children,” Muhammad said. “It was a domestic violence, child custody issue.”
Muhammad will share her story of being terrorized by John—who was convicted of carrying out the attacks and executed in 2009—long before he terrorized the D.C. region, and about transforming from victim to survivor of domestic violence in an online event Friday at 6 p.m., hosted by Germanna Community Conversations.
She has written several books about her experience, which includes being criticized by some members of the public after she revealed her tale of domestic violence.
“The community turned on me because they said if I would have stayed with him, then he just would have killed me,” Muhammad said. “If I had stayed on the west coast, people on the east coast would still be alive. How dare I call me and my children victims when none of us were killed or injured?”
For Muhammad, those reactions are evidence of a society that discredits survivors of domestic violence.
“We have to change the narrative when it comes to victims of domestic violence,” she said. “We have to stop asking the victim, ‘Why did you stay?’ and start asking the abuser, ‘Why do you abuse?’ We have to begin holding the abuser accountable for the destruction of the family and not the victim.”
Muhammad also advocates for awareness of the link between domestic violence and mass shooters.
“Studies show that when there is a mass shooting, when you get deeper into the background of that person, it stems back to domestic violence,” she said.
An analysis of 749 mass shootings conducted by Bloomberg in 2020 found that 60 percent involved men with histories of or who were in the act of committing domestic violence.
In incidents with six or more deaths, the correlation climbed to 70 percent.
Muhammad will also discuss her work with survivors, which involves helping them figure out how to stay safe and how to heal, and how she believes her ex-husband’s military service left him with undiagnosed and untreated PTSD.
Friday’s virtual event is free, but registration is required at germanna.edu/conversations.