Law enforcement authorities had numerous opportunities to apprehend sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Boyd Malvo long before they were finally captured on October 24, after having allegedly killed ten people and wounded three in a Washington, D.C.-area shooting spree.
Their encounters with law enforcement included run-ins with immigration officials, who ended up releasing the two, even though Malvo is an illegal immigrant from Jamaica and even though there was evidence that Muhammad may have been involved in smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States.
So far, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has not officially released information about their cases, even to members of Congress. Some documents, however, have been leaked to the press.
“The only thing I got was off of [columnist] Michelle Malkins website,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.), chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus. He said October 30 that he had been trying to get information and documents about Malvo and Muhammad from the INS, with no result.
Tancredo said that the latest evidence of bumbling by the INS comports with its long track record of ineffectiveness. “Its usual procedures are a big screw-up,” he said.
Newspaper reports probing the alleged snipers activities in the months leading up to the attacks reveal that they had a long and extensive history of contacts with law enforcement. Except for a month last year when Malvo was detained by the INS, neither was ever held for more than a few hours:
February 2001: Muhammad is arrested for shoplifting $27.37 worth of items from a Tacoma, Wash., grocery store. (Time, November 4) He later failed to appear in court. (AP, October 28)
March 11, 2001: Authorities stopped Muhammad at the St. Johns, Antigua, airport. He had a Washington drivers license in the name of Russel Dwight, but told the authorities that he was John Edwards from Austin, Tex. “Muhammad slipped out of the St. Johns police station unnoticed.” (Seattle Times, October 28)
April 14, 2001: “Officials in Miami say inspectors stopped Muhammad at the Miami airport on April 14 of last year because they believed he was trying to smuggle in two Jamaican women with false documents.” The two women were deported and Muhammad was reported to the local U.S. attorneys office, which has no record of the referral. (Miami Herald, October 28)
June 2001: Malvo came to the United States illegally and “jumped ship” in Miami. (Malkin, October 25).
Early August 2001: Muhammad arrived at the Lighthouse Mission homeless shelter in Bellingham, Wash. with two or possibly three of his children by ex-wife Mildred Muhammad, according to shelter director the Rev. Al Archer. He had taken the children to Antigua and then secretly returned to the United States. (Washington Post, October 27)
Aug. 31, 2001: A judge ordered the children returned to their mother. (Washington Post, October 27)
Fall 2001: Kristine Sagor, a former friend of Muhammad, told the FBI that he planned to do something dangerous. She had driven him to a gunsmith to have a semiautomatic rifle shortened and silenced. (New York Times, October 28)
Mid-October 2001: Archer did something he had never done in 30 years of ministering to the homeless. He called the FBI about one of his charity cases, Muhammad. Archer received a call from a travel agent wanting to confirm a flight itinerary for Muhammad. Said Archer, “I thought that he was involved in some kind of conspiracy against our country.” (Washington Post, October 27)
Third week of October 2001: Malvo arrived at the shelter. Muhammad called him his son. (Washington Post, October 27)
Late 2001: Malvos mother Uma James arrived in Bellingham seeking her son. (Washington Post, October 27)
Dec. 19, 2001: The Border Patrol arrested Malvo after being tipped off by the police about the custody dispute between James and Muhammad. It also arrested James. A Border Patrol document says that James admitted that “she and her son were passengers on a cargo ship that was filled with illegal Asians. They were all off-loaded in the Miami, Fla., area.” Wrote Malkin, “The Border Patrol agents concluded that because she had no roots or close family ties in the United States, James was likely to abscond.” About a month later, Malvo was released into the custody of his mother and James let go on a $1,500 bond. (Malkin, October 25)
Late December 2001: The Border Patrol wanted to deport Malvo and his mother immediately for being stowaways. “That recommendation, however, was overturned by the INS when Mrs. James told a contradictory story about how she and her son were not stowaways but had been smuggled into the United States.” (Washington Times, October 29) A statement from the Northwest Immigration Rights Project, which represents Malvo and James in their immigration cases, said in a statement October 25, “The INS initially charged Ms. James and her son as arriving stowaways, and found that as such, they were not eligible to go before an immigration judge and present any defense. . . . The INS realized that this classification was not correct, and instead placed Ms. James and her son in removal proceedings.”
January 2002: Malvo and James are released. Their deportation hearing was set for November 20. (Denver Post, October 27)
June 5, 2002: Harjeet Singh told police and an FBI agent some disturbing things about his friend Muhammad. Singh had heard Muhammad praise the 9/11 attacks and ask how to obtain a gun silencer. Later, Muhammad told Singh that he and Malvo planned to shoot a fuel tanker to cause an explosion and also wanted to kill a police officer and then blow up the funeral mourners. (Washington Post, October 27)
October 2002: Police in various jurisdictions ran the license plates of Muhammads blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice at least ten times through their computers over the course of the month, but never made the connection to the sniper. (Washington Post, October 26)
October 2002: “When the snipers tried to call the FBI tip line or the local police, they couldnt get anyone to pay attention.” (Newsweek, November 4)
Oct. 3, 2002: After the pair allegedly shot five people and two hours before they allegedly shot a 72-year-old man, D.C. police pulled over their blue Caprice for a minor traffic violation. The police, looking for a white van, let him go. (Newsweek, November 4)
Oct. 7, 2002: A woman called the tip line and reported seeing a black man crouching underneath the dashboard of a dark Caprice. “The agent on the tip line brushed her off.” (Newsweek, November 4)
Oct. 8, 2002: Baltimore police find Muhammad sleeping in his car. (Newsweek, November 4)
Oct. 18, 2002: Muhammad called Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Mooses office and told the officer who answered to check out a murder and robbery at a liquor store “in Montgomery.” Some sources say that Muhammad specified Montgomery, Ala. Later, the hint would provide key information. “At the time, however, the hint from the angry caller did not really capture the attention of the sniper task force.” (Newsweek, November 4)
Oct. 21, 2002: Police saw Muhammad run a red light. (Newsweek, November 4)
Suspected Alien Smuggling: In St. Johns, Antigua, government officials have begun an investigation into whether Muhammad was involved in a passport forgery business while living in Antigua in 2000 and 2001. The investigators want to know how Muhammad made money and what Malvo, a Jamaican, was up to on the island. Said Gertel Thom, attorney general of Antigua and Barbuda, “I want to find out if any of their activities here would have anything to do with their activities in the U.S. and the sniper attacks.”
Lt. Col. Clyde Walker of Antiguas immigration bureau said October 28 that the documents that Muhammad used to get an Antiguan passport on July 4, 2000, were forged.
AP reported October 28 that “Keithly Nedd, who lived in the house where Muhammad rented a room [in Antigua], said Muhammad also had a scam involving flying Jamaicans to the U.S. on the return tickets of people who flew to the island legitimately.” The scam allegedly included false passports.
Muhammad co-owned the blue Caprice with Nathaniel Osbourne, a Jamaican citizen who lives in New Jersey. Police have detained Osbourne as a material witness.
Tancredo says he does not believe this latest sensational failure by the INS will lead to serious reform of immigration law enforcement. “We will have to have not just cases, but something horrendous happen again,” he said.