2 October 2002

The Beltway sniper attacks begin, extending over three weeks.

D.C. sniper attacks

Beltway sniper attacks
Locations of the fifteen sniper attacks in the D.C. area numbered chronologically
Locations of the fifteen sniper attacks in the D.C. area numbered chronologically
LocationMaryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Arizona
DateFebruary 16, 2002 – September 26, 2002 (preliminary shootings)
October 2, 2002 – October 24, 2002 (sniper attacks)
TargetCivilians in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area
Attack type
Spree killing, mass murder, domestic terrorism
WeaponsBushmaster XM-15 rifle, .223 Remington/5.56x45mm NATO (preliminary shootings)
Deaths17 total:
  • 10 in the Beltway sniper attacks
  • 7 in preliminary shootings
10 total:
  • 3 in the Beltway sniper attacks
  • 7 in preliminary shootings
PerpetratorsJohn Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo

The D.C. sniper attacks (also known as the Beltway sniper attacks) were a series of coordinated shootings that occurred during three weeks in October 2002 in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Ten people were killed and three others were critically wounded in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area and along Interstate 95 in Virginia.

The snipers were John Allen Muhammad (aged 41 at the time) and Lee Boyd Malvo (aged 17 at the time), who traveled in a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice sedan. Their crime spree, begun in February 2002, included murders and robberies in the states of Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Washington, which resulted in seven deaths and seven wounded people; in ten months, the snipers killed 17 people and wounded 10 others.[1]

In September 2003, Muhammad was sentenced to death, and in October, the juvenile, Malvo, was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences without parole. In November 2009, Muhammad was put to death by lethal injection.

In 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated Malvo's three life sentences without parole in Virginia on appeal, with re-sentencing ordered pursuant to the Supreme Court's ruling in the case of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), which held that mandatory life sentences for juvenile criminals without possibility of parole violated the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari, with oral arguments held on October 16, 2019.[2] Should he be resentenced, Malvo's minimum prison sentence will be determined by a judge; the available maximum sentence would be life imprisonment. The ruling does not apply to the six life sentences Malvo received in Maryland.[3]

Preliminary shootings

On February 16, 2002, 21-year-old cashier Keenya Nicole Cook was shot and killed by Lee Malvo at the front door of her aunt's home in Tacoma, Washington. Cook's aunt, Isa Nichols, had been good friends with John Allen Muhammed's ex-wife Mildred and had encouraged her to seek a divorce.[4]

On March 19, 2002, Jerry Taylor, 60, was killed by a single shot to the chest fired from long range as he practiced chip shots at a Tucson, Arizona golf course.[5][6] Muhammed's sister lived near the golf course and he was visiting her during the shooting.[7]

Two deaths and four injuries followed in other states from March through July 2002.

On August 1, 2002, John Gaeta, 51, was changing a tire at a parking lot in Hammond, Louisiana, and was shot in the neck by Malvo.[8] The bullet exited through Gaeta's back, and he pretended to be dead while Malvo stole his wallet. Gaeta ran to a service station after the shooter left and discovered that he was bleeding; he went to a hospital and was released within an hour. On March 1, 2010, he received a letter of apology from Malvo.[9]

On September 5, 2002, at 10:30 p.m., Paul LaRuffa, a 55-year-old pizzeria owner, was shot six times at close range while locking up his Italian restaurant in Clinton, Maryland. LaRuffa survived the shooting, and his laptop computer was found in John Allen Muhammad's car when he and Malvo were arrested.[10]

On September 21, 2002, at 12:15 a.m., 41-year-old Million A. Woldemariam was fatally shot in the head and back with a .22-caliber pistol in Atlanta, Georgia. Woldemariam was helping the owner of a Sammy's Package Store close up for the night when the shooting occurred.[11]

Nineteen hours later on the same day, Claudine Parker,[12] a 52-year-old liquor store clerk in Montgomery, Alabama, was shot in the chest and killed during a robbery. Her co-worker, 24-year-old Kellie Adams, was critically wounded with a shot through the neck but survived. Evidence found at the crime scene eventually tied this killing to the Beltway attacks and allowed authorities to identify Muhammad and Malvo as suspects,[13] although this connection was not made until October 17.

On September 23, 2002, at 6:30 p.m., 45-year-old Hong Im Ballenger was shot in the head and killed with a Bushmaster rifle in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.[14][15] Muhammad and Malvo were later linked to the killing.[16]

Attacks in the Baltimore-Washington Area

Montgomery County, Maryland

A hole was cut at the rear of the blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice driven by Muhammad and Malvo, as a firing port to be used during their attacks.[17] This allowed them to remain hidden and escape the scene following their attacks.

At 5:20 p.m. on Wednesday, October 2, 2002, a shot was fired through a window of a Michaels craft store in Aspen Hill. The bullet narrowly missed Ann Chapman, a cashier at the store. Since no one was injured, the shot was assumed to be random and no serious alarms were raised.[18] However, approximately one hour later, at 6:30 p.m., James Martin, a 55-year-old program analyst at NOAA, was shot and killed at 2201 Randolph Road in the parking lot of a Shoppers Food Warehouse grocery store, located in Wheaton.[19]

On the morning of October 3, four people were shot dead within a span of approximately two hours in Aspen Hill and other nearby areas in Montgomery County. Another was killed that evening in the Takoma neighborhood of the District of Columbia.

  • At 7:41 a.m., James L. Buchanan, a 39-year-old landscaper known as "Sonny", was shot dead at 11411 Rockville Pike near Rockville, Maryland. Buchanan was shot while mowing the grass at the Fitzgerald Auto Malls.
  • At 8:12 a.m., 54-year-old part-time taxi cab driver, Prem Kumar Walekar, was killed in Aspen Hill in Montgomery County, while pumping gasoline into his taxi at a Mobil station at Aspen Hill Road and Connecticut Avenue.
  • At 8:37 a.m., Sarah Ramos, a 34-year-old babysitter and housekeeper, was killed at 3701 Rossmoor Boulevard at the Leisure World Shopping Center in Norbeck. She had gotten off a bus and was seated on a bench reading a book.[19]
  • At 9:58 a.m., in what was to be the last killing of the morning, 25-year-old Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera was killed while vacuuming her Dodge Caravan at the Shell station at the intersection of Connecticut and Knowles Avenues in Kensington, Maryland.
  • The snipers then waited until 9:20 p.m. before shooting Pascal Charlot, a 72-year-old retired carpenter, while he was walking on Georgia Avenue at Kalmia Road, in Washington, D.C. Charlot died less than an hour later.

In each shooting, the victims were killed by a single bullet fired from some distance and in each case, the killers struck and then vanished. This pattern was not detected until after the shootings occurred on October 3.[20]

Fear quickly spread throughout the region as news of the shootings spread. At a press conference meeting, Chief of Police for Montgomery County, MD, Charles Moose, informed parents that schools were on a code blue alert; keeping children indoors and that for the time being the schools were safe. Many parents went to pick up their children at school early, not allowing them to take a school bus or walk home. Montgomery County Public Schools, District of Columbia Public Schools, and private schools went into a lockdown, with no recess or outdoor physical education classes. Other school districts in the area also took precautionary measures, keeping students indoors.[21]

Police had only a few pieces of evidence to work with; including one initial report that during the Silver Spring attack[clarification needed] someone had reportedly seen a white box truck. After the murder in Washington D.C., witnesses then began telling police that they had seen a blue Chevrolet Caprice instead of the white box truck. They also had initially believed that all the murders were carried out with the use of a .223 caliber rifle.

Virginia and other areas

The stolen Bushmaster XM-15 rifle used by Muhammad and Malvo during their attacks. It was fitted with an EOTech holographic weapon sight, a bipod, and a 20-round magazine at the time of their capture.

At this point Malvo and Muhammad started covering a wider area and taking two or three days between shootings.

  • On October 4, 43-year-old homemaker Caroline Seawell was wounded in the chest at 2:30 p.m. in the parking lot of another Michaels store at Spotsylvania Mall in Spotsylvania, while she was loading purchases into her minivan. By this point, hundreds of journalists had converged to cover the unfolding events. School officials reassured the public that they were taking every measure possible to protect children: by tightening security and canceling all outdoor activities.
  • On October 7, at 8:09 a.m., Iran Brown, a 13-year-old student, was shot in the chest and critically wounded as he arrived at the Benjamin Tasker Middle School at 4901 Collington Road in Bowie, Maryland, in Prince George's County[22] (Brown's name was initially concealed from the public but was later revealed). His aunt, Tanya Brown,[23] was a nurse who had just brought him to school. She rushed him to a hospital emergency room. Despite serious injuries, including damage to several major organs, Brown survived the attack and ultimately testified at Muhammad's trial.[24] At this crime scene the authorities discovered a shell casing as well as a Tarot card (the Death card) inscribed with the phrase, "Call me God" on the front and, on three separate lines on the back, "For you mr. Police." "Code: 'Call me God'." "Do not release to the press."[22][25] Despite police efforts to honor the request not to release information about the card to the press, details were made public by WUSA-TV and then by The Washington Post, just one day later.[26]
  • On October 9 at 8:18 p.m., 53-year-old civil engineer Dean Harold Meyers was shot dead while pumping gasoline at a Sunoco gas station at 7203 Sudley Road in Prince William County, Virginia, near the city of Manassas.
  • On the morning of October 11 at 9:30 a.m., 53-year-old businessman Kenneth Bridges was shot dead while pumping fuel at an Exxon station off Interstate 95 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near Fredericksburg.[22][27]
  • On October 14, at 9:15 p.m., 47-year-old Linda Franklin (née Moore), an FBI intelligence analyst who was a resident of Arlington County, Virginia, was shot dead in a covered parking lot at Home Depot in Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside Falls Church at Seven Corners Shopping Center.[22] The police received what seemed to be a very good lead after the October 14 shooting, but it was later determined that the witness was inside the Home Depot at the time and was lying. The witness, Matthew Dowdy,[28] was subsequently convicted of interfering with the investigation.

By this point, gas stations had begun to put tarps up to conceal their customers (see Public reaction, below). Malvo and Muhammad did not commit any more shootings for five days.

On October 19 at 8:00 p.m., 37-year-old Jeffrey Hopper was shot in a parking lot near the Ponderosa Steakhouse at State Route 54 in Ashland, Virginia, about 90 miles (145 km) south of Washington, near Interstate 95. His wife Stephanie called out to passers-by, who phoned for an ambulance, enabling Hopper to survive his injuries. Authorities discovered a four-page letter from the shooter in the woods that demanded $10 million and made a threat to children.

On October 21, Richmond-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 shooter and they were remanded into federal custody (what was then the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently deported them).

The next day, October 22, bus driver Conrad Johnson, 35, was shot at 5:56 a.m. while standing on the steps of his bus at the 14100 block of Grand Pre Road in Aspen Hill, Maryland. Chief Moose released part of the content of one of the shooter's letters, in which he declares, "Your children are not safe, anywhere, at any time." Johnson later died of his injuries.[22]

While no shootings occurred on October 23, the day is significant for two events. First, ballistics experts confirmed Johnson as the 10th fatality in the Beltway shootings. Second, in a yard in Tacoma, Washington, police searched with metal detectors for bullets, shell casings, or other evidence that might provide a link to the shooters. A tree stump believed to have been used for target practice was seized.

Public reaction

With seven separate shooting victims, including six deaths, in the first 15 hours of the D.C. area spree, the North American media soon devoted enormous coverage to the shootings. By the middle of October 2002, all news television networks provided live coverage of the aftermath of each attack, with the coverage often lasting for hours at a time. The Fox show America's Most Wanted devoted an entire episode to the shooters in hopes of aiding in their capture. Much of the coverage of the case in The New York Times was written by Jayson Blair and subsequently found to be fabricated; the ensuing scandal led the newspaper's two top editors, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, to resign.

During the weeks when the attacks occurred, fear of the apparently random shootings generated a great deal of public apprehension, especially at service stations and the parking lots of large stores. People pumping gasoline at gas stations would walk around their cars quickly, hoping that they would be a harder target to hit. After consistent phone calls to national media outlets by Lisa Notgrass of Lake Jackson, Texas, some stations put up tarps around the awnings over the fuel pumps so people would feel safer. Also, many people would attempt to fuel their vehicles at the naval base of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, as they felt it was safer inside the guarded fence. Various government buildings such as the White House, U.S. Capitol, and the Supreme Court building, and memorial tourist attractions at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. also received heightened security. For the duration of the attacks, United States Senate pages received a driven police escort to and from the United States Capitol every day and were not allowed to leave their residence hall for any reason except work. Drivers of white vans and box trucks were viewed with suspicion from other motorists as initial media reports indicated the suspect may be driving such a vehicle.[29]

After the specific threat against children was delivered, many school groups curtailed field trips and outdoors athletic activities based upon safety concerns. At the height of the public fear, some school districts, such as Henrico County Public Schools and Hanover County Public Schools, after the Ponderosa shooting, simply closed school for the day. Other schools such as the MJBHA, canceled all outdoor activities after the shooting at the Connecticut and Aspen Hill intersection. Others changed after-school procedures for parents to pick up their kids to minimize the amount of time children spent in the open. Extra police officers were placed in schools because of this fear. In addition to this, Joel Schumacher's film Phone Booth was deemed potentially upsetting enough that its release was delayed for months until 2003.[30]


The investigation was publicly headed by the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) and its chief, Charles Moose. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and police departments in other jurisdictions where shootings took place, provided assistance in the investigation.[31]

Police responded within minutes to reports of attacks during the three weeks of the sniper attacks, cordoning off nearby roads and highways and inspecting all drivers, thereby grinding traffic to a halt for hours at a time. Police canvassed the area, talking to people, and collected surveillance tapes.[31]

By Friday night, October 4, the five shootings on October 3 and two on October 2 were forensically linked to the same gun.[32]

Eyewitness accounts of the attacks were mostly confused and spotty. Hotlines set up for the investigation were flooded with tips. Early tips from eyewitnesses included reports of a white box truck with dark lettering, speeding away from the Leisure World shopping center, with two men inside. Police across the area and the state of Maryland were pulling over white vans and trucks.[18] A gray car was spotted speeding away after the October 4 shooting in Spotsylvania.[32]

The shooter 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 were left as calling cards, including one Death card upon which was written "Call me God" on the front and on the back on three separate lines the words, "For you mr. Police." "Code: 'Call me God'." "Do not release to the press."[33] This information was leaked to the press and misquoted often as "I am God" or some similar misquote of the actual words on the tarot card.[33] 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.

A telephone call from the shooter(s) was traced to a pay telephone at a gasoline station in Henrico County, Virginia. Police missed the suspects by a matter of a few minutes, and initially detained occupants of a van at another pay telephone at the same intersection.

On the phone call, the sniper, boasting of his cleverness, also mentioned a previous unsolved murder in "Montgomery".[34] This was identified as the September 21 shooting at a liquor store in Montgomery, Alabama. On October 17 authorities said they matched Malvo's fingerprint found at the Benjamin Tasker Middle School site with one lifted from the liquor store scene.[35] After further research into Malvo's background it was discovered he had close ties to John Allen Muhammad.

Difficult progress

Despite an apparent lack of progress publicly, federal authorities were making significant headway in their investigation and developed leads in Washington state, Alabama, and New Jersey. They learned that Muhammad's ex-wife, who had obtained a protective order against him, lived near the Capital Beltway in Clinton, a community in suburban Prince George's County, Maryland. Information was also developed about an automobile purchased in New Jersey by Muhammad.

Police discovered that the New Jersey license plate number issued for Muhammad's 1990 Chevrolet Caprice had been checked by radio patrol cars several times near shooting locations in various jurisdictions in several states, but the car had not been stopped because law enforcement computer networks did not indicate that it was connected to any criminal activity and they were focused exclusively on the "white van".

On October 3, 2002, police in Washington, D.C. stopped the Caprice for a "minor traffic infraction", two hours prior to the shooting of Pascal Charlot, after which witnesses reported seeing a Caprice near the scene.

On October 8, 2002, Baltimore Police Department investigated a dark blue Chevrolet Caprice with a person sleeping inside parked near the Jones Falls Expressway at 28th St. in Baltimore. The officers were concerned that the driver's license was from Washington state while the vehicle was registered in New Jersey. Although the vehicle was suspicious enough for them to investigate, and it fit the description of a vehicle associated with the shooting in Washington, D.C. five days earlier, the officers did not question the occupants extensively, nor did they search the vehicle.

Authorities were quick to issue a media alert to the public to be on the lookout for a dark blue Chevrolet Caprice sedan. For the public, as well as for law enforcement agencies throughout the region, this was a major change from the mysterious "white box truck" earlier sought based upon reported sightings.

The Chevrolet Caprice was also later discovered to have formerly been used as an undercover police car in Bordentown, New Jersey.[36]


The rest area in which Muhammad and Malvo were captured; the blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice driven by them is visible.
The blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice driven by Muhammad and Malvo, at the rest area where they were captured. Glass shards on the ground are a result of the shattering of the car's windows during the arrest.

The crime spree came to a close at 3:15 a.m. on October 24, 2002, when Muhammad and Malvo were found sleeping in their car, a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice (which had been dismissed earlier in the investigation), at a rest stop off of Interstate 70 near Myersville, Maryland, and arrested on federal weapons charges. Police were tipped off by Whitney Donahue, who noticed the parked car. Four hours earlier, Montgomery County police chief Charles Moose had relayed this cryptic message to the sniper: "You have indicated that you want us to do and say certain things. You have asked us to say, 'We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.' We understand that hearing us say this is important to you". Moose asked the media "to carry the message accurately and often."[37] This mysterious and arguable reference to a Cherokee fable has never been explained.

Trooper First Class D. Wayne Smith of the Maryland State Police was the first to arrive at the scene and immediately used his light blue unmarked police vehicle to block off the exit by positioning the car sideways between two parked tractor-trailers. As more troopers arrived at the scene, the rest area was effectively sealed off at both the entrance and exit ramps without the suspects being aware of a rapidly growing police presence. Later, as truck driver Ron Lantz was attempting to exit the rest area, his tractor-trailer was commandeered by troopers who used the truck, in place of the police car, to complete the roadblock at the exit. With the suspects' escape route sealed off, the SWAT officers then moved in to arrest them. A stolen Bushmaster .223-caliber weapon and bipod were found in a bag in Muhammad's car. Ballistics tests later conclusively linked the seized rifle to 11 of the 14 shootings, including one in which no one was hurt.[38]

Conclusions of investigations

Logistics and tactics

The attacks were carried out with a stolen Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic .223 caliber rifle equipped with an EOTech holographic weapon sight which is effective at ranges of up to 300 meters (984 feet), which was found in the vehicle.[39][40] The trunk of the Chevrolet Caprice was modified to serve as a "rolling sniper's nest". The back seat was modified to allow a person access to the trunk. Once inside, the sniper could lie prone with shots taken from a small hole near the license plate created for that purpose.[41]


Investigators and the prosecution suggested during pre-trial motions that Muhammad intended to kill his second ex-wife Mildred, who he felt had estranged him from his children. According to this theory, the other shootings were intended to cover up the motive for the crime, since Muhammad believed that the police would not focus on an estranged ex-husband as a suspect if she looked like a random victim of a serial killer. Muhammad frequented the neighborhood where she lived during the attacks, and some of the incidents occurred nearby. Additionally, he had earlier made threats against her. Mildred herself made the claim that she was his intended target. However, Judge LeRoy Millette Jr. prevented prosecutors from presenting that theory during the trial, saying that a link had not been firmly established.

While imprisoned, Malvo wrote a number of erratic diatribes about what he termed "jihad" against the United States. "I have been accused on my mission. Allah knows I'm gonna suffer now," he wrote. Because his rants and drawings featured not only such figures as Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, but also characters from the film series The Matrix, these musings were dismissed as immaterial.[42] Some investigators reportedly said they had all but eliminated terrorist ties or political ideologies as a motive.[43][44][45] Nonetheless, in at least one of the ensuing murder trials, a Virginia court found Muhammad guilty of killing "pursuant to the direction or order" of terrorism.[46]

At the 2006 trial of Muhammad, Malvo testified that the aim of the killing spree was to kidnap children for the purpose of extorting money from the government and to "set up a camp to train children how to terrorize cities,"[47] with the ultimate goal being to "shut things down" across the United States.[48]


Criminal prosecutions

Virginia trials

Before the trial, Chief Moose engaged in a publicity tour for his book on the sniper investigation, including appearances on Dateline NBC, The Today Show, and The Tonight Show. Assistant Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney James Willett told The Washington Post, "Personally, I don't understand why someone who's been in law enforcement his whole life would potentially damage our case or compromise a jury pool by doing this."[49]

Change of venue requests by defense attorneys were granted, and the first trials were held in the independent cities of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach in southeastern Virginia, more than 100 miles (160 km) from the closest alleged attack (in Ashland, Virginia).

During their trials in the fall of 2003, involving two of the victims in Virginia, Muhammad and Malvo were each found guilty of murder and weapons charges. The jury in Muhammad's case recommended that he be sentenced to death, while Malvo's jury recommended a sentence of life in prison without parole instead of the death penalty. The judges concurred in both cases. Alabama law enforcement authorities allege that the snipers engaged in a series of previously unconnected attacks prior to October 2 in Montgomery, Alabama. Other charges are also pending in Maryland and other communities in Virginia.

After the initial convictions and sentencing, Will Jarvis, the Assistant Prince William County prosecutor, stated he would wait to decide whether to try Malvo on capital charges in his jurisdiction until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on whether juveniles may be subject to the penalty of execution. While that decision in an unrelated case was still pending before the high court, in October 2004, under a plea agreement, Malvo pleaded guilty in another case in Spotsylvania County, for another murder to avoid a possible death penalty sentence, and agreed to additional sentencing of life imprisonment without parole. Malvo had yet to face trial in Prince William County.

In March 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons that the Eighth Amendment prohibits execution for crimes committed when under the age of 18. In light of this Supreme Court decision, the prosecutors in Prince William County decided not to pursue the charges against Malvo. Prosecutors in Maryland, Louisiana, and Alabama were still interested in putting both Malvo and Muhammad on trial. As Malvo was 17 when he committed the crimes, he could no longer face the death penalty but still could be extradited to Alabama, Louisiana, and other states for prosecution. At the time of the Roper v. Simmons ruling, Malvo was 20 years old and was held at Virginia's maximum security Red Onion State Prison in Pound in Wise County.

"Muhammad, with his sniper team partner, Malvo, randomly selected innocent victims," Virginia Supreme Court Justice Donald Lemons wrote in the decision. "With calculation, extensive planning, premeditation and ruthless disregard for life, Muhammad carried out his cruel scheme of terror."

Muhammad's death penalty was affirmed by the Virginia Supreme Court on April 22, 2005, when it ruled that he could be sentenced to death because the murder was part of an act of terrorism. This line of reasoning was based on the handwritten note demanding $10 million. The court rejected an argument by defense lawyers that Muhammad could not be sentenced to death because he was not the triggerman in the killings linked to him and Malvo.

On September 16, the circuit court judge Mary Grace O'Brien set an execution date by lethal injection for November 10, 2009.[50] His attorneys petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution, but it was denied.[51] They also requested clemency from Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, but this was denied as well.[52] The execution began shortly after 9 p.m. on November 10, and he was pronounced dead at 9:11 p.m.[53]

Maryland trials

In May 2005, Virginia and Maryland announced that they had reached agreements to allow Maryland to proceed with prosecuting charges there, where the most shootings occurred. There were media reports that Malvo and his legal team were willing to negotiate his cooperation, and he waived extradition to Maryland.

Muhammad and his legal team responded by fighting extradition to Maryland. Muhammad's legal team was ultimately unsuccessful, and extradition was ordered by a Virginia judge in August 2005.

Maryland agreed to transfer Muhammad and Malvo back to the Commonwealth of Virginia after their trials. A date for Muhammad's pending execution in Virginia had been set for November 10, 2009.[54]

Malvo pleaded guilty to six murders and confessed to others in other states while being interviewed in Maryland and testifying against Muhammad. Malvo was sentenced to six consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, but in 2017, his sentence in Virginia was overturned after an appeal.[55]

On May 30, 2006, a Maryland jury found John Allen Muhammad guilty of six counts of murder in Maryland. In return, he was sentenced to six consecutive life terms without possibility of parole on June 1, 2006.

On May 6, 2008, it was revealed that Muhammad had asked prosecutors in a letter to help him end legal appeals of his conviction and death sentence "so that you can murder this innocent black man." An appeal filed by Muhammad's defense lawyers in April 2008 cited evidence of brain damage that might render Muhammad incompetent to make legal decisions, and that he should not have been allowed to represent himself at his Virginia trial.

Malvo testimony

In John Allen Muhammad's May 2006 trial in Montgomery County, Maryland, Lee Boyd Malvo took the stand and confessed to the 17 murders.[56] He also gave a more detailed version of the pair's plans. Malvo, after extensive psychological counseling, admitted that he was lying at the earlier Virginia trial where he had admitted to being the trigger man for every shooting. Malvo claimed that he had said this in order to protect Muhammad from a potential death sentence, and because it was more difficult to obtain the death penalty for a minor. Malvo said that he wanted to do what little he could for the families of the victims by letting the full story be told. In his two days of testimony, Malvo outlined detailed aspects of all the shootings.

Part of his testimony concerned Muhammad's complete multiphase plan. His plan consisted of three phases in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro areas. Phase one consisted of meticulously planning, mapping, and practicing their locations around the D.C. area. This way after each shooting, they would be able to quickly leave the area on a predetermined path, and move on to the next location. Muhammad's goal in Phase One was to kill six white people a day for 30 days. Malvo went on to describe how Phase One did not go as planned due to heavy traffic and the lack of a clear shot or getaway at locations.

Phase Two was meant to take place in Baltimore, Maryland. Malvo described how this phase was close to being implemented, but was not carried out. Phase Two was intended to begin by killing a pregnant woman by shooting her in the stomach. The next step would have been to shoot and kill a Baltimore police officer. Then, at the officer's funeral, they planned to detonate several improvised explosive devices complete with shrapnel. These explosives were intended to kill a large number of police, since many police would attend another officer's funeral.

The last phase was to take place during or shortly after Phase Two, which was to extort several million dollars from the United States government. This money would be used to finance a larger plan, to travel north to Canada. Along the way, they would stop in YMCAs and orphanages recruiting other impressionable young boys with no parents or guidance. Muhammad thought he could act as their father figure as he did with Malvo.

Once he recruited a large number of young boys and made his way up to Canada, he would begin their training. Malvo described how John Muhammad intended to train boys in weapons and stealth as he had been taught. Finally, after their training was complete, John Allen Muhammad would send them out across the United States to carry out mass shootings in many other cities, just as he had done in Washington and Baltimore. These attacks would be coordinated and be intended to send the country into chaos that had already been built up after 9/11.

Civil and regulatory actions

According to The Seattle Times in a story of April 20, 2003, Muhammad had honed his marksmanship at Bull's Eye's firing range. The newspaper also reported that Malvo told investigators that he shoplifted the 35-inch-long (89 cm) carbine from the "supposedly secure store."[57]

According to U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) officials, the store and its owners had a long history of firearms sales and records violations and a file 283 pages thick. In July 2003, the ATF revoked the federal firearms license of Brian Borgelt, a former Staff Sergeant with the U.S. Army Rangers and owner of Bull's Eye Shooter Supply. Later that month he transferred ownership of the store to a friend and continued to own the building and operate the adjacent shooting gallery.[58]

On January 16, 2003, the Legal Action Project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, on behalf of the families of many of the victims of the sniper attacks both in and out of the D.C. area who were killed (including Hong Im Ballenger, "Sonny" Buchanan Jr., Linda Franklin, Conrad Johnson, Sarah Ramos, and James L. Premkumar Walekar) as well as two victims who survived the shooting (Rupinder "Benny" Oberoi and 13-year old Iran Brown) filed a civil lawsuit against Bull's Eye Shooter Supply and Bushmaster Firearms, Inc. of Windham, Maine, the gun distributor and manufacturer that made the rifle used in the crime spree, as well as Borgelt, Muhammad, and Malvo. Muhammad, who had a criminal record of domestic battery, and Malvo, a minor, were each legally prohibited from purchasing firearms.

The suit claimed that Bull's Eye Shooter Supply ran its gun store in Tacoma, Washington, "in such a grossly negligent manner that scores of its guns routinely "disappeared" from its store and it kept such shoddy records that it could not account for the Bushmaster rifle used in the sniper shootings when asked by federal agents for records of sale for the weapon." It was alleged that the dealer could not account for hundreds of guns received from manufacturers in the years immediately prior to the Beltway sniper attacks. It was also claimed that Bull's Eye continued to sell guns in the same irresponsible manner even after Muhammad and Malvo were caught and found to have acquired the weapon there. Bushmaster was included in the suit because it allegedly continued to sell guns to Bull's Eye as a dealer despite an awareness of its record-keeping violations.

The case had been set for trial in April 2005; however the parties settled before then. Bushmaster said it settled because of escalating legal fees and the dwindling amount of insurance money it had left for the case. Bull's Eye contributed $2 million and Bushmaster contributed $500,000 to an out-of-court settlement. Bushmaster also agreed to educate its dealers on safer business practices.[59]

After the settlement was announced, WTOP radio in Washington, D.C., reported that Sonia Wills, mother of victim Conrad Johnson, said her family took part in the lawsuit more to send a message than to collect money. "I think a message was delivered that you should be responsible and accountable for the actions of irresponsible people when you make these guns and put them in their hands," she said.[60]

Execution of John Allen Muhammad

In the days leading up to his execution, John Allen Muhammad spent time with his lawyer working out a final appeal to the Supreme Court. It was reported that the two had become close friends, with Muhammad telling his lawyer, "I love you, brother," and granting him permission to write a book about the trial.[61]

Muhammad was executed by lethal injection at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia on November 10, 2009.[62] The execution procedure began at 9:06 p.m. EST; Muhammad was pronounced dead five minutes later. It was reported that when asked if he had any last words, Muhammad made no reply. Twenty-seven people, including victims' family members, witnessed his execution.[63]


Brookside Gardens' Reflection Terrace was built in fall 2004 in memory of the sniper victims

A memorial to the victims of the D.C. area sniper attacks is located at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.[64] An additional memorial was constructed in 2014 in the government plaza of Rockville, Maryland.

In popular culture

Film and television

  • Law & Order aired an episode titled "Sheltered" which was released May 14, 2003, according to Internet Movie Database IMDb; and demonstrated elements that correlate with the DC sniper attacks case.
  • The sniper attacks and subsequent investigation were documented in the season 7 episode of Forensic Files titled "The Sniper's Trail", which aired July 12, 2003.
  • On October 17, 2003, the USA Network's U.S. cable station aired D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear, a television movie based on the 2002 sniper attacks.
  • During the fall of 2007, BET showcased a documentary on the Beltway snipers in its American Gangster series.
  • In June 2008, Barbara Kopple released her documentary The D.C. Sniper's Wife, which told the story through the eyes of Mildred Muhammad, wife of John Allen Muhammad. Mildred was to appear on CNN's Larry King Live on November 9, the day before her ex-husband's execution.
  • An episode of Serial..., a TLC show about serial killers, also covered the shootings.
  • The 2009 film, D.C. Sniper, directed by Ulli Lommel, is based on the attacks.
  • On January 3, 2011, Canadian actor William Shatner spoke at length with three survivors of the sniper shootings—Paul LaRuffa, Kellie Adams, and Caroline Seawell—on The Biography Channel's Aftermath with William Shatner.
  • The 2013 film Blue Caprice, also known as The Washington Snipers in some regions, is based on the attacks, focusing heavily on the father-son relationship between Muhammed and Malvo.
  • The attacks were mentioned in the TV show Castle by Richard Castle in S4E9 "Kill Shot".
  • On July 22, 2015, an episode of the Lifetime Movie Network's Monster in My Family featured Mildred Muhammad meeting with surviving victims along with family members of the deceased, with Lee Malvo also appearing in the episode while in prison.[65][66]
  • In an episode of The Cleveland Show, the main character makes a reference saying "Why can't you be more like the D.C. Sniper's son?".[67]
  • An episode of FBI, which aired October 16, 2018, contained many elements similar to the D.C. Sniper story.[68]
  • An episode of , which aired November 10, 2018, chronicled the case.[69]
  • The 2019 American independent drama, Desert Shores is set during the sniper attacks and contains references to the incidents as well as actual news footage and recordings. It is based on George McCormick's short story D.C..[70]


  • In 2003, former Montgomery County police chief Charles Moose, the primary official in charge of the Beltway sniper attacks, published Three Weeks in October.

See also


  1. ^ "Sniper reportedly details 4 new shootings". kxmb.com. AP. June 16, 2006. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007.
  2. ^ "U.S. Supreme Court Monthly Calendar, October 2019" (PDF). Retrieved October 10, 2019.
  3. ^ Jackman, Tom (28 May 2017). "Federal judge tosses life sentences for convicted beltway sniper Lee Boyd Malvo". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 15 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  4. ^ "D.C. Sniper's first 'intended victim' speaks out". Archived from the original on 2018-02-16. Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  5. ^ Manning, Stephen (26 October 2006). "Tucson police question DC sniper about golf course murder". Tucson Citizen. Archived from the original on 11 October 2014. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
  6. ^ Richards, Chris (28 October 2006). "Police say Malvo confessed to killing Arizona golfer". USA Today. Tucson, AZ. Archived from the original on 12 October 2016. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  7. ^ "DC sniper Malvo admitted to killing Tucson man". Archived from the original on 2018-02-15. Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  8. ^ Finch, Chris (February 24, 2010). "Hammond shooting connected to D.C. sniper". WVUE. Archived from the original on August 31, 2010. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  9. ^ McLaughlin, Elliott C. (March 4, 2010). "Sniper's apology brings closure, no justice". CNN.com. Archived from the original on September 18, 2013. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  10. ^ Dao, James (2003-10-22). "Polite but Dogged, Sniper Suspect Offers Defense - The New York Times". Nytimes.com. Archived from the original on 2009-04-24. Retrieved 2009-08-16.
  11. ^ Kovaleski, Serge F.; Ruane, Michael E. (15 December 2002). "Before Area Sniper Attacks, Another Deadly Bullet Trail". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 6 November 2012. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  12. ^ Klass, Kym (10 November 2009). "'Justice' served: Parker's family to watch D.C. sniper's execution". Montgomery Advertiser. Gannett. Archived from the original on 13 November 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
  13. ^ Hickey, Eric W. Encyclopedia of Murder & Violent Crime. 2003, p. 54.
  14. ^ Library, C.N.N. (26 September 2016). "DC Area Sniper Fast Facts - CNN.com". CNN. Archived from the original on 18 January 2017. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  15. ^ "Husband of La. Victim Knew It Was Sniper". Fox News. Associated Press. 31 October 2002. Archived from the original on 11 February 2017. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  16. ^ Roberts, J (2002-11-02). "Antigua Sniper Connection?". CBS News. Archived from the original on 2011-02-04. Retrieved 2010-08-18.
  17. ^ Meserve, Jeanne (October 20, 2003). "Sniper Trial in Virginia Beach, Virginia Opens". CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Archived from the original on February 3, 2014. Retrieved April 18, 2013. The strongest piece of evidence in this case, the Bushmaster rifle, found with Muhammad and Malvo at the time of their arrest and linked through ballistics testing like this with Meyers' murder and other D.C. sniper slayings. The Chevy Caprice in which they were found had a sniper perch and firing port in the trunk.
  18. ^ a b MacGillis, Alec; Del Quentin Wilber & Jeff Barker (2002-10-04). "Random shootings target victims in Montgomery during a 16-hour period". The Baltimore Sun.
  19. ^ a b "Arbitrary Victims, Identical Fate; County's Growing Diversity Reflected in Those Gunned Down". The Washington Post. 2002-10-04.
  20. ^ Getter, Lisa; Vicki Kemper & Jonathan Peterson (2002-10-04). "5 Shot Dead in Suburban D.C. as Fear Spreads". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2008-12-11.
  21. ^ "For Parents and Students, Safety First; Schools Lock Their Doors, and Some Keep Information Scarce in Fighting Fear". The Washington Post. 2002-10-04.
  22. ^ a b c d e Douglas, John; Burgess, Ann W.; Burgess, Allen G.; Ressler, Robert K. (28 August 2006). Crime Classification Manual: A Standard System for Investigating and Classifying Violent Crimes. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 455–457. ISBN 978-0-7879-8642-1. Archived from the original on 20 March 2017. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  23. ^ "Teen Sniper Victim Testifies". Cbsnews.com. October 30, 2003.
  24. ^ "Youngest sniper victim testifies, BBC News". bbc.co.uk. 2003-10-22. Archived from the original on 14 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
  25. ^ Horwitz, sari, & Michael E. Ruane., Sniper: Inside the Hunt for the Killers Who Terrorized the Nation., Random House, 2003, pg.119
  26. ^ Dishneau, David. "Woman Questioned in Md. Sniper Hunt". AP NEWS. Archived from the original on 2019-01-12. Retrieved 2019-01-12.
  27. ^ CORKY SIEMASZKO (October 29, 2002). "2 SNIPER SUSPECTS CHARGED IN VIRGINIA". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2015.
  28. ^ Jackman, Tom (January 18, 2007). "2002 Sniper 'Witness' Convicted of Rape, Murder". Washingtonpost.com.
  29. ^ Baltimore Sun (4 March 2015). "Shootings recall images of D.C snipers in 2002. - Baltimore Sun". baltimoresun.com. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  30. ^ Moose, Charles; Charles Fleming (15 September 2003). Three Weeks in October: The Manhunt for the Serial Sniper. Penguin Group (USA). p. 370. ISBN 978-0-451-21279-5.
  31. ^ a b Kantor, Shira (2002-10-04). "Sniper killings grip Maryland; Police suspect link after 5 slain". Chicago Tribune.
  32. ^ a b Clines, Francis X. (2002-10-05). "Widening Fears, Few Clues As 6th Death Is Tied to Sniper". The New York Times.
  33. ^ a b Horwitz, Sari; Ruane, Michael E. (September 28, 2004). Sniper: Inside the Hunt for the Killers Who Terrorized the Nation. Ballantine Books. p. 120. ISBN 978-0345476623.
  34. ^ "Washington Area (Tarot Card) Sniper - serial killer in Washington, Maryland, Virginia area taunts the police". Altereddimensions.net. Archived from the original on 2009-11-01. Retrieved 2009-08-16.
  35. ^ "Print from Alabama killing matches suspect". CNN. October 24, 2002. Archived from the original on 2005-05-04.
  36. ^ Hanley, Robert (2002-10-25). "THE HUNT FOR A SNIPER: THE VEHICLE; F.B.I. Asks Co-owner of Car to Come Forward - The". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2009-11-13. Retrieved 2009-08-16.
  37. ^ "Text of Chief Moose's Statement". Washington Post. 24 October 2002. Archived from the original on 22 October 2016. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  38. ^ Porteus, Liza (2002-10-29). "Timeline: Tracking the Sniper's Trail - U.S. & World". FOXNews.com. Archived from the original on 2009-10-19. Retrieved 2009-08-16.
  39. ^ "Holographic Weapon Sights FAQ". EOTech. Archived from the original on 2016-11-27. Retrieved 2016-11-05.
  40. ^ Jackman, Tom (10 September 2004). "Gunmaker, Store Agree To Payout in Sniper Case". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 16 September 2017. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  41. ^ "A BYTE OUT OF HISTORY: The Beltway Snipers, Part 1". FBI. 22 October 2007. Archived from the original on 18 December 2016.
  42. ^ Siegel, Andrea F. (4 December 2003). "Malvo sketches depicted 'jihad'". Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on 11 July 2007. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  43. ^ Horwitz, Ruane Sniper: Inside the Hunt for the Killers Who Terrorized the Nation Random House ISBN 0-345-47662-X
  44. ^ "Muhammad told ex-wife, "I will kill you," she says". CNN. 19 November 2003. Archived from the original on 27 November 2004. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  45. ^ "Sniper accused "wanted to kill wife"". The Scotsman. Edinburgh, Scotland. 1 November 2002. Archived from the original on 10 January 2009. Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  46. ^ Liptak, Adam (April 23, 2005). "Virginia Justices Set Death Sentence in Washington Sniper Case". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 24, 2009. Retrieved March 27, 2010.
  47. ^ "Sniper Accomplice Says Mentor Had Extortion and Terror Plan". The New York Times. May 24, 2006. Archived from the original on April 24, 2009. Retrieved March 27, 2010.
  48. ^ Urbina, Ian (May 31, 2006). "Washington-Area Sniper Convicted of 6 More Killings". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 24, 2009. Retrieved March 27, 2010.
  49. ^ Michelle Malkin (2001-09-11). "The Moose is On Fire". Capitalism Magazine. Archived from the original on 2010-01-30. Retrieved 2009-08-16.
  50. ^ Markon, Jerry (September 17, 2009). "November Execution Date Set for Muhammad". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 10, 2012. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  51. ^ White, Josh; Barnes, Robert (November 10, 2009). "Supreme Court rejects sniper's appeal". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 11, 2012. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  52. ^ Johnson, Kevin (11 November 2009). "D.C. sniper executed in Virginia". USA Today. Archived from the original on 13 June 2012. Retrieved 10 June 2012.
  53. ^ Dena Potter (November 11, 2009). "Silent DC sniper mastermind Muhammad executed". WTOP news. AP. Archived from the original on December 8, 2009.
  54. ^ Markon, Jerry (17 September 2009). "Nov. Execution Date Set for D.C. Area Sniper Muhammad". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 8 May 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
  55. ^ Wagner, Paul (26 May 2017). "Judge overturns life without parole sentence for DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo". Fox5 DC. Archived from the original on 26 May 2017. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  56. ^ "Crime Library: The DC Sniper Beltway Attacks - Crime Museum". crimemuseum.org. Archived from the original on 2015-08-31. Retrieved 2015-09-10.
  57. ^ Carter, Mike; Miletich, Steve; Mayo, Justin (April 20, 2003). "Errant Gun Dealer, Wary Agents Paved Way for Beltway Sniper Tragedy". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on November 15, 2009. Retrieved December 20, 2015.
  58. ^ "Ownership Transfer of Bull's Eye Shooter Supply Approved". Archived from the original on August 30, 2003.
  59. ^ Manning, Stephen (2004-09-10). "Families of sniper victims reach settlement". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2006-02-14. Retrieved 2007-04-18.
  60. ^ Steve Manning (September 8, 2004). "Family of Sniper Victims Hope Gun Makers Learn Lesson". wtopnews.com. AP. Archived from the original on October 21, 2004.
  61. ^ Quote taken from an article in the Baltimore Sun, since republished in other Tribune newspapers:
  62. ^ Calvert, Scott M. (2009-11-11). "D.C.-area sniper executed". Los Angeles Times. p. A11. Archived from the original on 14 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-17.
  63. ^ Potter, Deena. (November 11, 2009) "Washington sniper John Allen Muhammad executed" Archived 2018-01-19 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  64. ^ Higgins, Adrian (March 24, 2005). "A Garden of Hope and Renewal in a Violent World". Washington Post. p. H1. Archived from the original on September 4, 2017. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
  65. ^ "Monster In My Family - S01E04 DC Sniper: John Allen Muhammad". Lifetime Movies. 18 March 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017 – via YouTube.
  66. ^ "'Monster in My Family': DC Sniper's Ex-Wife and Teen Accomplice Talk". 2Paragraphs. 2015-07-22. Archived from the original on 2015-07-23. Retrieved 2015-07-23.
  67. ^ Trammell, Mark (November 26, 2012). "The Cleveland Show Season 4 Review 'Turkey Pot Die'". TV Equals. Archived from the original on April 18, 2016. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  68. ^ "FBI 'Crossfire'". IMDB. October 16, 2018. Retrieved October 20, 2018.
  69. ^ "Murder Made Me Famous 'DC Sniper'". IMDB. Retrieved November 13, 2018.
  70. ^ Desert Shores, archived from the original on 2017-02-13, retrieved 2019-01-15

External links

26 September 2002

The overcrowded Senegalese ferry, MV Le Joola, capsizes off the coast of the Gambia killing more than 1,000.

MV Le Joola

Le Joola at Ziguinchor 1991.jpg
Ferry MV Le Joola at Ziguinchor, Senegal in 1991
Name: Le Joola
Owner: Republique Senegal, Ministere de l'Equipement, Dakar / Senegal
Operator: Armed Forces of Senegal
Port of registry:  Senegal
Route: Dakar to Casamance
Builder: Schiffswerft Germersheim GmbH (Germany)
Acquired: 1990
Out of service:
  • 13 September 2001 – 10 September 2002
  • Mechanical damage repair and replacement of the port side engine
Fate: Capsized and sunk in rough seas 26 September 2002
Status: Wreck
Notes: The ship was overloaded with an estimated 1,863 aboard at the time of disaster.
General characteristics
Class and type: Roll-on/roll-off ferry
Tonnage: 2,087 GRT
Length: 79.5 m (260 ft 10 in)
Beam: 12 m (39 ft 4 in)
Draft: 3.1 m (10 ft 2 in)
  • 536 passengers
  • 35 cars
Crew: 44

MV Le Joola was a Senegalese government-owned roll-on/roll-off ferry that capsized off the coast of The Gambia on 26 September 2002,[1] with 1,863 deaths and 64 survivors. It is thought to be the second-worst non-military disaster in maritime history.

The ship was plying the route from Ziguinchor in the Casamance region to the Senegalese capital, Dakar, when it ran into a violent storm, farther out to sea than it was licensed to sail. The estimated 2000 passengers aboard (about half of whom lacked tickets) would have amounted to at least three times the ship's . The large numbers sleeping on-deck (and thus above its center of buoyancy) added further instability. Rescue operations did not start for several hours.

A government inquiry principally blamed negligence, and accusations were levelled at both the Senegalese president and prime minister.

The ship

Route and approximate location of the sinking of MV Le Joola.

The ship was named Le Joola after the Jola people of southern Senegal. It was constructed in Germany and was put to sea in 1990. She was 79 m (259 ft 2 in) long and 12 m (39 ft 4 in) wide, had two motors, and was equipped with some of the latest safety equipment available at the time of the disaster. Le Joola usually traveled twice a week and often carried women who sold mangoes and palm oil in Dakar. At the time of the disaster, the ship had been out of service for almost a year undergoing repairs which included replacement of the port side engine.

Voyage and incident

At about 1:30 pm on 26 September 2002, Le Joola set sail from Ziguinchor in the Casamance region on one of its frequent trips between southern Senegal and Dakar. Although the ship was designed to carry a maximum of 580 passengers and crew, an estimated 1,863 passengers are believed to have been on board, including 185 people who boarded the ship from Carabane, an island where there was no formal port of entry or exit for passengers. The exact number of all passengers remains unknown (some Senegalese based organizations put the number at over 2,000), but there were 1,034 travelers with tickets. The rest of the passengers were either not required to hold tickets (children aged less than 5) or had been permitted to travel for free, as often happened.[2]

The last call from the ferry staff was broadcast to a maritime security center in Dakar at 10 pm and reported good travel conditions. At around 11 pm, the ship sailed into a storm off the coast of Gambia. As a result of the rough seas and wind, the ferry capsized, throwing passengers and cargo into the sea, all within five minutes.

While many of the ship's passengers may have died during or immediately following the capsizing, a large number probably survived, only to drown while awaiting rescue. Government rescue teams did not arrive at the scene until the morning following the accident, although local fishermen rescued some survivors from the sea several hours before. Only 64 passengers survived. Of more than 600 women on board, only one woman, Mariama Diouf, survived; she was pregnant at the time.[3]

Some time before official rescue teams arrived, local fishermen with pirogues in the area of the tragedy started the first efforts to pull survivors out of the water. They were able to rescue a few people but also recovered several bodies that were floating around Le Joola. At 2 pm, they rescued a 15-year-old boy. The boy confirmed that there were still many people trapped alive inside the ship; there were reports of noises and screaming coming from within.[4]

Le Joola remained capsized but afloat until around 3 pm, at which point it finally sank stern first taking with it those who were unable to get out of the ship.[2]


MV Aline Sitoe Diatta, christened in 2008 to travel the route from Dakar to Ziguinchor.

The colossal loss of life caused by the tragedy was a great shock to many in Senegal and immediately led to calls from the press and public for an explanation of the disaster. The Senegalese government established an inquiry to investigate. The French courts also launched a probe into the disaster as several French nationals were among the dead. According to many sources, the accident was caused by a variety of factors, including possible negligence. While rough seas and wind were directly responsible for the capsizing, the ferry was built only to be sailed in coastal waters but was sailing beyond this coastal limit when it capsized. Overcrowding is one of the most commonly mentioned factors in the disaster, both for the capsizing and the high number of deaths. Due to the heat and claustrophobic conditions below deck, as many passengers as possible usually slept on the upper level, making the ship more unstable. The ship was only 12 years old and was built to be in service for at least 30 years but had suffered a number of technical problems in the years before it capsized. These problems are now attributed to poor maintenance by its owners and not to any design or manufacturing flaws.[5]


At least 1,863 people died, although the exact number will never be known due to a large number of unticketed passengers on board. Among the dead were 1,201 male victims (61.5%) and 682 female victims (34.9%). The gender of 70 victims is unknown. The dead included passengers from at least 11 countries: Cameroon, Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, France, Spain, Norway, Belgium, Lebanon, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

On 28 September 2002, environmental activist Haïdar El Ali and his diving team explored the disaster area. They saw no survivors, but many bodies of men, women and children inside the ship. 300 corpses trapped inside were freed. Another 100 that were around the ship were also recovered. 551 dead bodies were recovered in total. Of that number, 93 were identifiable and given back to families. The remaining bodies were put to rest in specially-constructed cemeteries in , , , and on the Gambian coast. National funerals were held on 11 October 2002, at the Esplanade du Souvenir in Dakar.

Reparations and memorials

Memorial plaza in Ziguinchor near the place passengers embarked on MV Le Joola
MV Le Joola memorial, Ziguinchor.

The Senegalese government initially offered families a payment of around US$22,000 per victim and fired several officials, but no one has ever been prosecuted, and the official report was closed a year after the disaster.[6] Officials were charged with failure to respond quickly enough to the disaster, including high-ranking members of the Armed Forces of Senegal who were moved to other posts. Despite this, little light was ever cast upon those who allowed the ferry to be overloaded or poorly maintained. Prime Minister Mame Madior Boye was dismissed by President Abdoulaye Wade after the disaster with much of her cabinet, reportedly for mishandling the rescue.[7] In the 2007 election, Wade's rival and former Prime Minister, Moustapha Niasse, accused Wade of covering up their responsibility for the disaster.[8] Families of victims, many of whom have been unwilling or unable to claim reparation, have continued to be highly critical of the government over its handling of the rescue, the operation of the ferry which led to the disaster, and the reparation process.[9]

The families of French victims refused the 2003 reparations packages, and have pursued the Senegalese authorities in French courts. On 12 September 2008, French judge Jean-Wilfrid Noël handed down an indictment of nine Senegalese officials, including Boye and former Army Chief of Staff General Babacar Gaye. Senegalese official and popular reaction against these charges coming from the former colonial power have been hostile, with the Senegalese government issuing an arrest warrant for Noël in return.[10][11]

A documentary by Senegalese journalist was broadcast on the ninth anniversary of the tragedy, 26 September 2011. The documentary detailed the story of some of the survivors and questioned the slow rescue work.[12]

Senegalese footballer Aliou Cisse lost 12 members of his family in the incident,[13] and his club Birmingham City, in England, displayed a large Senegalese flag to remember the midfielder's family, and the other people who lost their lives.[14]

Status of disaster

The sinking of Le Joola is the second-worst non-military maritime disaster in number of lives lost. The first is considered to be MV Doña Paz in 1987 with an estimated number of over 4,000 dead. RMS Titanic, which sank in 1912 with 1,517 lives lost, would be third according to the World Almanac and the New York Times.

See also


  1. ^ "Hundreds lost as Senegal ferry sinks". BBC News. 27 September 2002.
  2. ^ a b "Q&A: What caused the Joola ferry disaster?". BBC News. 1 October 2002.
  3. ^ "Search ends under Senegal ferry". BBC News. 1 October 2002.
  4. ^ "Senegal army 'left' ferry survivors". BBC News. 6 November 2002.
  5. ^ Ramirez, Luis (4 November 2002). "Senegal President Dismisses Prime Minister". Voice of America.
  6. ^ "Senegal Marks Anniversary of Ferry Disaster Amid Court Cases". Voice of America. 26 September 2008.
  7. ^ "Report blames army for delay in Joola rescue". IRIN. 6 November 2002.
  8. ^ Colombant, Nico (10 February 2007). "Senegalese Candidates Trade Accusations on Campaign Trail". Voice of America.
  9. ^ "Senegal: Families Demand Justice for Joola Ferry Deaths". IRIN. allafrica.com. 19 September 2008.
  10. ^ "Senegal: Country And France in Legal Battle Over Ferry Disaster". The Nation. Nairobi: allafrica.com. 29 September 2008.
  11. ^ "Senegal warrant for French judge". BBC News. 25 September 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  12. ^ Sene, Fatou K. (27 September 2011). "Film - Le Joola, l'ancre du souvenir de Papa Moctar Sélane". Walfadjri (in French). allAfrica.com.
  13. ^ "Cisse right at home in City". BBC News. 11 November 2002.
  14. ^ "Blues fans open their hearts to Senegal's grieving captain". The Guardian. 26 October 2002.

Further reading

External links

13 June 2002

The United States pulls out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Statement on Formal Withdrawal From the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty June 13, 2002.
Six months ago, I announced that the United States was withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and today that withdrawal formally takes effect. With the treaty now behind us, our task is to develop and deploy effective defenses against limited missile attacks. As the events of September 11 made clear, we no longer live in the cold war world for which the ABM Treaty was designed. We now face new threats, from terrorists who seek to destroy our civilization by any means available to rogue states armed with weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles. Defending the American people against these threats is my highest priority as Commander in Chief.
The new strategic challenges of the 21st century require us to think differently. But they also require us to act. I call on the Congress to approve the full amount of the funding I have requested in my budget for missile defense. This will permit the United States to work closely with all nations committed to freedom to pursue the policies and capabilities needed to make the world a safer place for generations to come.

I am committed to deploying a missile defense system as soon as possible to protect the American people and our deployed forces against the growing missile threats we face. Because these threats also endanger our allies and friends around the world, it is essential that we work together to defend against them, an important task which the ABM Treaty prohibited. The United States will deepen our dialog and cooperation with other nations on missile defenses.

Last month, President Vladimir Putin and I agreed that Russia and the United States would look for ways to cooperate on missile defenses, including expanding military exercises, sharing early warning data, and exploring potential joint research and development of missile defense technologies. Over the past year, our countries have worked hard to overcome the legacy of the cold war and to dismantle its structures. The United States and Russia are building a new relationship based on common interests and, increasingly, common values. Under the Treaty of Moscow, the nuclear arsenals of our nations will be reduced to their lowest levels in decades. Cooperation on missile defense will also make an important contribution to furthering the relationship we both seek.

2 October 2002

The Beltway sniper attacks start.


D.C. sniper attacks of 2002, shooting spree in the Washington, D.C., area that killed 10 people and injured 3 over a three-week period in October 2002. The shooters, John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, chose targets seemingly at random and brought daily life in the area to a virtual standstill.

The attacks began on October 2, 2002, when a bullet shattered the window of a craft store in Aspen Hill, Maryland, narrowly missing a cashier. Less than an hour after that incident, a 55-year-old man was shot and killed while walking across a parking lot in Wheaton, Maryland. Although the shootings were not initially recognized as being connected, law-enforcement authorities soon realized that those two acts of violence were just the first of what would be more than a dozen linked shootings over the next 23 days.

By the end of the day on October 3, five more victims had been shot and killed in the Washington metropolitan area. Investigators determined that bullets from several of the first seven shootings were fired from the same weapon—a high-powered .223-calibre rifle. On the morning of October 7, a 13-year-old boy was shot and injured in front of his middle school in Bowie, Maryland. Muhammad and Malvo left a tarot card with a note to law enforcement written on it, but it contained no specific demands. More than 30 different law-enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal levels would ultimately work together to track, identify, and capture the parties responsible for the attacks.

Other than conflicting reports of a white van, a white box truck, and a dark Chevrolet Caprice near the scenes of the incidents, police had no clear leads. Criminal profilers predicted that the sniper was most likely a white male, but that assumption was based largely on the characteristics of past serial killers and not the sniper case itself. From October 9 to October 14, two men and a woman were killed in separate incidents in northern Virginia.

On October 19 a 13th shooting occurred at a restaurant in Ashland, Virginia. Law-enforcement officials found a second note at the crime scene, demanding money and instructing the police to call at a certain time and place. The phone number provided in the note was not valid, but technicians at the U.S. Secret Service crime lab were able to match the handwriting to the tarot card left at the scene of an earlier shooting.

12 October 2002


The Bali Bombings bombs are detonated in the Sari Club in Kuta, Bali.

Two bombs ripped through the Kuta area of the Indonesian tourist island of Bali on 12 October 2002, leaving 202 people dead. The Bali bombing plot were probably sown in a hotel room in southern Thailand. It was believed to have ordered a new strategy of hitting soft targets, such as nightclubs and bars rather than high-profile sites like foreign embassies. The final death toll was 202, mainly comprising Western tourists and holiday-makers in their 20s and 30s who were in or near Paddy’s Pub or the Sari Club, but also including many Balinese Indonesians working or living nearby, or simply passing by. Hundreds more people suffered horrific burns and other injuries. The largest group among those killed were holidayers from Australia with 88 fatalities. On 14 October, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1438 condemning the attack as a threat to international peace and security.