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Mildred Muhammad has a riveting story to tell about what it means for a woman to marry the man of her dreams and then watch her world collapse as she discovers that her husband is as dangerous as he is controlling and demanding.

Mildred was married to John Muhammad for more than twelve years. They have three children together. She witnessed first hand all the contradictory aspects of his personality. She was with him as he evolved from an ardent young suitor, who told her she was the love of his life, to an angry inattentive husband with a string of girlfriends; she was with him during his transformation from a gung-ho soldier to a bitter Gulf War veteran, who was put on trial for threatening an officer. Mildred knew all too well how angry Muhammad could become and how skillfully he was able to manipulate people as well as the truth. She knew men and women who regarded John as a kind and gentle man; she also knew others who were afraid of him and warned her that he was dangerous. She had hundreds of good memories of John as a loving father playing with his children; she also had the searing experience of trying to locate her children after he heartlessly abducted them and hid them in Antigua for eighteen month, telling them that their mother did not want them.

Mildred knew John Muhammad better than anybody else. She believed her ex-husband presented a serious and genuine threat to her safety as well as an emotional and psychological danger to her children. When he told her he was going to kill her, she absolutely believed what he said. She knew Muhammad did not make idle threats and that he had the means, skill, determination, will, and weapons to carry through on his words. Mildred also knew that Muhammad never did anything without a plan. From the moment, he turned to her and said, “You have become my enemy and, as my enemy, I will kill you,” Mildred recognized that the former soldier was on a mission; he was formulating a plan to murder her without getting caught. That is why she spent three long years running for her life. Mildred also knew that if Muhammad had an opportunity to kill her, it would be with a single shot to her head, and she told this to anybody who would listen.

In the years when Mildred woke up every day wondering if it would be her last, she went to a variety of different people and organizations for help. She called local police, the FBI, government authorities, and social service agencies, as well as radio and television stations. She simply did not know where to turn. The men and women Mildred spoke to about her fears were overwhelmingly sympathetic and polite. She got the impression that most of them took her seriously when she said her ex-husband threatened her life, but it was quickly apparent that they had heard other similar stories. Domestic violence is so commonplace that she was but one of hundreds of thousands of Americans, mostly women, clutching restraining orders and worried about violent partners. In this country, approximately three quarters of a million permanent (and many, many more temporary) restraining orders are issued each year. There was nothing special about Mildred’s fears or her concerns.

Statistics tell us that when a woman is beaten or killed, the perpetrator is most likely to be a current or former romantic partner. Statistics also tell us that every nine to fifteen seconds an abusive partner beats another woman. Yet we also know that when a woman complains that she is fearful of a violent partner, little, or nothing of substance is done to protect her. Yes, a frightened woman can go to court and apply for an order of protection, but women who are afraid for their lives realize that these orders are no substitute for body armor. They know that when an angry man is coming at you, it is highly unlikely that waving a piece of paper will offer any real protection. Mildred obtained a permanent order of protection in the state of Washington. This order made it a federal offense for John Muhammad ever to purchase, carry, own, or transport a gun. Yet he was somehow able to bypass the system. Under the best of conditions, the system has too many glitches that are not being addressed.

Before he was finally arrested, Mildred’s ex-husband, who was known as the DC or Beltway Sniper, would be linked to twenty-seven shootings—seventeen of them fatal. He killed the niece of one of Mildred’s closest friends in Washington State before driving across country shooting and robbing people en-route until he arrived in the DC metro area where she was living. He then went on a three-week killing spree. John Muhammad was eventually turned in by his best friend, Robert Holmes, who called the FBI and identified John Muhammad as the sniper. Holmes told NBC that he believed Mildred was John’s intended target. Many members of law enforcement also told Mildred they were convinced she was Muhammad’s primary target. Prosecutors in Muhammad’s first trial, as well as defense attorneys for Lee Malvo, John’s young accomplice, put forth similar theories concerning Muhammad’s motivation. They thought that John Muhammad was shooting innocent men and women near where Mildred lived and worked because he was ultimately planning to murder Mildred. When he did so, he wanted it to look like random violence. This was his plan! With Mildred out of the way, he thought he would be able to get custody of their children and go on with his life. John Muhammad and Lee Malvo both acknowledged that their reason for being in the DC area was to “pick up” and kidnap Mildred’s children. A law enforcement official told Mildred that when Muhammad was arrested, one of the first sentences out of his mouth was, “It’s Mildred’s fault.”

Mildred Muhammad is a complex, thoughtful, and spiritual person. She wanted nothing more than to build a strong family unit in which she would be a good wife and mother. But when Muhammad “turned” on her, Mildred knew she had to protect herself and her family. When Muhammad emptied out their bank accounts, kidnapped their children, and disappeared, she had to learn to navigate the legal system, all the while making sure that he did not find her. She had no money, no job, and she was living in a shelter for abused women when she began her uphill battle to find and claim her children. When she finally got the children back and a judge in Washington State awarded her full custody, she knew that if she were going to stay alive, she needed to be both strong and smart.

Mildred took her children and ran with them to Maryland. She honestly did not think that her ex-husband had been able to find out where she was living; she certainly did not believe he was a physical danger to anyone other than herself. When a sniper began shooting people in the DC metro area, it did not occur to her that the shooter could be John Muhammad. Like everyone else, she was looking for a white van, barely taking notice of the blue Caprice parked in front of her house.

The chilling manner in which John Muhammad stalked Mildred, while senselessly shooting innocent men, women, and even children places her in a unique position that allows her to address a major issue: There is no adequate system in place to help someone who understands a partner’s capacity for violence, but who doesn’t know what to do to stop it. Why is that? Why isn’t there easily available programs for intervention? Why isn’t there a program that allows authorities to differentiate between levels of danger and take steps for realistic and appropriate action? A system that helps protect victims before it is too late might also help those who would do violence and cannot seem to control themselves without major intervention.

Although loopholes are still prevalent, the system is changing and as it changes, hopefully, the survivors will be included in that process. Because after I have come through the trauma, I learned that resources are little or not at all available to the survivors of domestic violence. This must change!

Domestic violence is also a large problem within the military community. Given the emphasis on post-traumatic stress disorder among military personnel and their spouses, domestic violence within this community needs to be addressed as well.

"Keep in mind that it does not matter what educational or financial status, occupation, race, creed, or religion you are, domestic violence affects us all."

 

 

 
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