Her murder was imminent, Mildred Muhammad knew for sure. After years of psychological abuse and having her ex-husband kidnap their three kids for 18 months, the man she married had become a distant memory. Yet while the local and national news was wholly concentrated on the looming D.C. sniper who had already murdered ten people, Muhammad had no idea it was her ex-husband making his way to her.
As the days count down to John Allen Muhammad's impending execution for the now infamous 2002 killing spree, his ex-wife finally reveals her story in a new memoir, "Scared Silent." In a candid interview, she shares with ESSENCE.com the terror of watching Muhammad transform from a loving man into an unbearable monster, how she and her children have found solace, and why lives could have been saved if her pleas of domestic violence had been heard.
ESSENCE.COM: You knew John could kill, but never thought he was the D.C. sniper. When did you realize the man you once loved was a murderer?
MILDRED MUHAMMAD: John was totally different and was no longer affectionate when he got back from the Gulf War. After he kidnapped our children and I got them back, I knew he was going to eventually find and kill me. But I never thought he would kill innocent people. I moved from Washington state to the D.C. area to get away from him and didn't tell anyone. So when the D.C. community was told to look for a box car and two Caucasians, I was on the lookout for both them and John. Even one of his friends called the sniper task force to let them know it could be John trying to kill me. It wasn't until the authorities said they were going to name my ex-husband as the sniper did I realize he was killing innocent people to cover up my upcoming murder.
ESSENCE.COM: And have you come to terms with the fact that John is scheduled to be executed in a few weeks on November 11?
MUHAMMAD: I don't have any unresolved feelings or need to speak with him. I'm done completely and I'm at peace with the whole situation. We knew he was sentenced to death but all were surprised when the date came so soon. My book release was decided months ago, before we knew.
ESSENCE.COM: Why did you allow your children to watch the news during the case and trial?
MUHAMMAD: This case was international. To put their heads in the sand and pretend it wasn't happening wasn't the best way to handle it. They needed to be exposed and know when they went to school and people were talking about the sniper, that it was their dad. We did drills on how they would answer questions. We are sorry for what happened but I didn't want them to apologize for their dad's actions or take responsibility. John hurt a lot of people and terrorized this entire area, and some people still blame me. As the closest thing to him, I just have to keep my shield up.
ESSENCE.COM: Both you and your kids have been through so much. How have you all found a sense of healing?
MUHAMMAD: It started with me. If I'm a mess, then my children are a mess, and I can't have that. We tried to get counseling, and unfortunately the counselor was trying to write a book about us. It was such a high profile case and everyone was selling something. I got a book on counseling, and did it for us. My son who is now 19 years old, said it best to me, "As difficult as this is, I still love my dad. I can't say I hate him because that would mean I hate a part of myself." I'm very proud of them. My son is in college studying computer science and my daughters, who are 16 and 17, are in a school for the performing arts. One wants to be an opera singer and the other a model.
ESSENCE.COM: That's great to hear. So what do you believe is the lesson for this country in the tragedy of John Allen Muhammad?
MUHAMMAD: If John would have been debriefed and counseled properly when he came back from a war zone, then I believe this would not have spiraled into what it became. I understand it's better now for soldiers who come back from war, so I'm hopeful that any potential threat of this nature will now be caught because John lost control and he didn't know how to get it back.
ESSENCE.COM: And why are you choosing to tell your story now?
MUHAMMAD: I didn't have the physical scars to prove my abuse, and I'm pushing for legislation to help women in those cases. All of the deaths could have been saved if someone would have just listened to me and taken my pleas seriously. I now have an organization called "After the Trauma" which helps survivors of domestic violence. Cops tell women to wait until he does something physical to call but that can be your death. The most important part of my book is the safety plan in the back for abused women. I never tell a victim to leave, but I tell her to plan. That will save lives.
If you are in a similar situation and need help, call the 24-hour Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). Mildred Muhammad's book "Scared Silent" (Strebor Books, $29.99) is now in stores.