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Ex-wife of convicted DC sniper recalls domestic violence she suffered at his hands

Mildred Muhammad speaks during the Utah Valley University Conference on Domestic Violence on Tuesday.

Mildred Muhammad speaks during the Utah Valley University Conference on Domestic Violence on Tuesday. (Ashley Imlay, KSL.com)


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OREM — It was dark. She put on the clothes the hospital workers gave her and hurried into a car at the back of the building, where she needed to slouch beneath the windows so she wouldn't be seen.

The driver wound around the city before returning to the women's shelter, just across the street from the hospital.

Her husband was on his way to kill her.

"I know John's motto was one shot, one kill to the head, never leave an enemy behind," Mildred Muhammad said, telling her story during the Utah Valley University Conference on Domestic Violence in Orem on Tuesday.

Escaping a killer

"I didn't have any physical scars," Muhammad said, explaining that society often doesn't take abuse seriously if there isn't physical evidence.

Her husband, John Allen Muhammad, was an Army sergeant and combat engineer. He was an "expert shot" and could make a weapon out of anything, Mildred Muhammad said. His job in the Army was to prevent the enemy from being able to travel back from an area to kill U.S. soldiers.

"When he came back from Saudi, he was a different person," Muhammad said.

After Muhammad left him, the nightmare didn't end there. She lived for years with the knowledge that he wanted to kill her, and she knew he always did what he said he would do. After her husband took their children before they could put a parenting plan in place with the courts, she found herself in a hospital because she chose to go hungry as she knew her children would.

"I had a slice of bread and crushed ice, because I figure if my children are not eating, I'm not eating," she recalled.

At the women's shelter, she decided to take online courses. She learned paralegal skills and received a job offer from a YWCA shelter to work in its legal department, where she found herself helping other women. She knew she needed to get her own paperwork in order so that one day she could get her children back.

Muhammad obtained her divorce, a lifetime restraining order against her ex-husband, and a habeas corpus that stated if authorities found her children, they needed to bring them back to her. Eighteen months later — after being told authorities likely wouldn't be able to find them — the FBI located the children in 2001, and they were returned to their mother.

Ex-husband convicted of shootings

Despite multiple threats from her ex-husband, Muhammad says law enforcement still didn't believe he meant to kill her. That is until he and a partner gunned down 10 people in Washington, D.C., in 2002. He had followed his ex-wife to the East Coast, where she says he intended to kill her and make it look like a random attack.

But Muhammad says she wasn't allowed to testify during his trial, only during his sentencing. He was executed in 2009.

She sought counseling for herself and her children. But she says counselors would ask her if they could discuss the case on TV. Wanting privacy, Muhammad read books about therapy and counseled herself and her children for the trauma they'd endured.

Muhammad also recalls facing victim-blaming after her ex-husband was found guilty of the murders. She said community members told her if she'd stayed with him on the West Coast, others wouldn't have died.

But during the trial, Muhammad said she told her children: "We are not going to take responsibility or accountability for your dad's actions."

Muhammad said law enforcement could've helped her by believing her early on that she and her children were in danger. One police officer acknowledged her children had been kidnapped by John Muhammad and said they would release an Amber Alert, but they didn't end up doing so, Muhammad said.

The laws have since changed to better protect victims, she said, but some still don't feel heard.

Muhammad offered advice to those who know someone suffering from domestic violence: Take that person to lunch, Muhammad says, where the best thing to do is to ask them how you can help.

"Every victim wants to leave. Every victim doesn't know how. They don't have the resources, they don't know where the resources are," she said.

Beforehand, decide what kind of help you can offer and keep your boundaries "in check." Only offer them money or a place to stay if you can actually do so, Muhammad said. If you can't, simply offering phone numbers to resources can help.

"We all know somebody. ... It's just we don't always know what to do, and we don't always know how to talk about it to where people will feel comfortable discussing the subject, because it's a touchy subject. Domestic violence doesn't have a gender, it doesn't have a religion," she said.

Domestic violence resources:

Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting:

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Ashley Imlay covers state politics and breaking news for KSL.com. A lifelong Utahn, Ashley has also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.

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