D.C. sniper's ex-wife addresses Belvoir community about domestic violence

FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- "Domestic violence is not just physical. It is emotional, verbal, psychological, economic, stalking and sexual assault. Unfortunately, physical violence is the one that gets most people's attention and only 20 percent of domestic violence is physical, where as 80 percent is not," said Mildred Muhammad, the ex-wife of convicted "D.C. Sniper" John Muhammad.

John Muhammad is scheduled to be executed in Virginia Nov. 10 for the 2002 sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C., area that left 10 dead.

Muhammad spoke to members of the Fort Belvoir community Tuesday at the Community Center to kick off Domestic Violence Prevention Month.

Tuesday's event began a series of programs that are scheduled throughout October by Belvoir's Army Community Service Family Advocacy office to promote awareness of domestic violence.

This year's theme for Domestic Violence Prevention Month is "Make the Right Choice: Act to Prevent Domestic Abuse." The theme focuses on community responsibility, effort and commitment to prevent abuse.

Muhammad is the founder and executive director of After the Trauma, Inc., an organization dedicated to providing assistance to survivors of domestic violence.

The organization states its purpose as to assist the survivor in everything they need to make the transition from existing to living, and provides victims with support programs, counseling and assistance in locating resources which benefit victims and their children.

Installation Commander Col. Jerry Blixt began the observance with opening comments and signed a Fort Belvoir Domestic Violence Proclamation, noting responsibilities of the Belvoir community to prevent domestic abuse.

"We are very fortunate that in the Army, we take an active role in [dealing with] domestic violence," Blixt said. "We take these issues very seriously. It is investigated, we try to intervene and we have a great chaplain's office that helps, as well.

"From a commander's perspective, I am very proud of our team who work these issues every day," Blixt said. "A lot of you may not see their work, but, behind the scenes, they do such a tremendous job."

Next, Muhammad was introduced to tell her chilling story of how she became a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband, John Muhammad.

"After divorcing John in July 1999, he moved out of our house in September 1999," Muhammad said. "He could not accept that I was done with him, and he would come in during the night and stand over me as I slept.

"Because I knew he was trained as a combat engineer, he specialized in reconnaissance, demolitions and was an expert shot, I knew if I exposed the white of my eyes, then he would know I was watching him and he would kill me," she said.

After this incident, Muhammad got a restraining order and gave him visitation time once every other weekend.

One weekend during his visitation, John Muhammad never returned with the children, taking them on an 18-month trip to Antigua.

"John had already told me I had become his enemy and, as his enemy, he would kill me," Muhammad said. "John was one of those people who says what he means and means what he says.

"If he said it, he was going to find a way to do it," Muhammad said.

Muhammad said after the threat she found herself looking around at open windows, rooftops and all of her surroundings, knowing that John was coming after her.

In a courtroom to get full custody of her children, Muhammad was scared for her life as John sat five rows behind her. She said she knew he could move fast enough to snap her neck.

After winning custody, Muhammad and her three children were quickly ushered out of the courtroom. She left that same night to live in Maryland near her mother.

Once the killings began in October 2002, Muhammad said, at the time, she did not think her husband was the sniper. She was still hesitant in public, scouring her surroundings and waiting for John to kill her. During the spree, Muhammad said, she was worried about two killers.

One day, federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents knocked on her door and asked her to come in for questioning.

"The agents told me, once we got to the station, they were naming John as the sniper," Muhammad said. "They asked me if I thought he would do something like this and I said 'Well ... yes.'

"They asked me why I would say that and I told them, we were watching a movie one night and he said he could take a small city, terrorize it 'and they would think it would be a group of people, and it would only be me,'" Muhammad said.

Muhammad noted, in her experience, it is difficult for Soldiers to come home from deployment, and that can be stressful on a family.

"When John came home from the Gulf War, he wasn't debriefed and he did not receive counseling," Muhammad said. "Over the years, I have noticed that the debriefing has gotten better and so has the counseling; and, I am very happy about that because domestic violence is very prevalent in the military community.

"I kept hearing in the proclamation the word intervene, which means we have a part in helping any person we see who is a victim or survivor of domestic violence," Muhammad said. "Sometimes we don't know what to say and the only thing you should say is 'how can I help''"

Muhammad closed her speech with an excerpt from her book, "Scared Silent," which is due out Tuesday.

In the excerpt, she begins remembering all the disturbing things John had said during the course of their marriage.

"John once said, when a man hits a woman, it means he has lost all respect for her, it would be easy for him to kill her," Muhammad said. "I never thought John would kill innocent people that had nothing to do with our troubled marriage.

"When the person you love becomes the one you fear, you are scared to the core of your being. Everything you thought was real has become an illusion, it is disconcerting," Muhammad said.

"You feel as though you have fallen into a deep hole and there is nothing to hold onto, because there, everything you thought was there is gone, and you slip deeper and deeper."