Mildred T. Muhammad, the abused ex-wife of executed D.C. sniper John Muhammad, was the guest speaker at a Domestic Violence Awareness Month observance on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Oct. 4.
Addressing an audience comprised of JBM-HH command leadership and support personnel, Kelly Smith, base Family Advocacy Program manager, provided welcoming remarks: "As leaders, we should all know domestic violence is not a singular issue. It's something that affects all of us."
Focusing on the harrowing personal details of her own story more than the broader themes of domestic violence, Muhammad described the trajectory of her family life and 12-year marriage, from its early days of tranquility to the dissolution of the marriage, emotional abuse, threats against her life, divorce, restraining orders, stalkings and protective relocation.
Speaking a decade after the random sniper shootings that terrorized the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area, Muhammad opened her talk by sharing a conversation she had with her children, questioning the attention given the 2002 events.
"Why do they call it an anniversary," one of her children asked her. "Isn't that supposed to be the celebration of something happy?"
Muhammad talked about moving from being a "survivor to a crusader," by traveling around the country as a spokesperson for domestic violence awareness. "Eighty percent of victims don't have physical scars as evidence of abuse," she said, before going on to describe the emotional and psychological abuse she endured.
Muhammad said her ex-husband, an Army combat engineer and demolition expert, was never the same after a three-month deployment to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
"Before going to Saudi he was the life of the party," she said. "Everyone wanted to be around him. "He came back confused, moody … and was diagnosed with PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]," she said, explaining how less was known about the condition then and that he never sought treatment. "He was a proud man -- not one to say, 'I need help.'"
After the marriage crumbled and John Muhammad moved out of their Tacoma, Wash., home, Mildred Muhammad said her husband kept keys to the house and made unauthorized visits when he thought the family was asleep. She changed the locks, changed her telephone number and eventually changed her name, appearance and address to elude him.
As things escalated and she displayed reluctance to file a restraining order against her ex, she said others told her, "Girl, don't be stupid. Fill out the paperwork. You need to have a paper trail."
John Muhammad kidnapped his children at one point, but with the help of police, Mildred got them back, further enraging her ex, who made threats like, "You have become my enemy. And as my enemy, I will kill you."
"He was an expert shot," she said, reciting his credo: "One shot; one kill to the head; never leave an enemy behind."
She said she lived in fear after relocating to the Washington, D.C. area. "My sensory level was already heightened because he knew how to track," she said, describing skills he learned in the military. Mildred Muhammad recounted how a former friend of John Muhammad called the Federal Bureau of Investigation to tell them he found out his ex-wife was living in the Washington, D.C., area, saying, "He might be there to hunt her."
In the confusion and panic of the 2002 shootings, before a suspect was identified, Mildred Muhammad said she thought to herself, "If the sniper doesn't get me, John will," not realizing then they were one and the same.
Finally, Mildred Muhammad related, representatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms approached her explaining how two of the sniper shootings occurred just blocks from where she was staying, helping authorities put two and two together and identify John Muhammad as a suspect. Muhammad was presented with a coin of recognition from Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and Military District of Washington Commander Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington and JBM-HH Commander Col. Fern O. Sumpter.
"We can't begin to think that the negative effects of domestic abuse only have an impact on the individuals involved," said Sumpter in concluding remarks. "The impact reaches the entire Family, the unit, the command and the entire Department of Defense. Domestic violence undermines military core values.
"All of us play a role in prevention. No one should assume that prevention is someone else's job," she concluded. "Please remember, if you are touched in any way by domestic violence, you are not alone. There are many resources available here at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, as well as in our surrounding communities. The Department of Defense is committed to providing a strong supportive environment where servicemembers and Families can thrive."