This peaceful spot in the middle of the 54-acre Brookside Gardens recalls a very somber span of three weeks in October 2002 when local residents were gripped by fear as a series of random and mysterious killings unfolded across Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
The perpetrators left behind a trail of dead and wounded on a bloody cross-country trek between February and September 2002, during which they shot and killed seven people and wounded seven more. They arrived in the D.C. area some time between late September and early October, after which they killed an additional 10 people and wounded three more between October 2 and October 23.
Events escalated quickly, with six people dead after the first two days. News spread quickly of the killings, and though few details were available in the early stages, reports indicated that the victims were being targeted by snipers who were shooting from a significant distance. They were initially thought to be a using a white box truck or van for cover, allowing them to flee the scene after each deadly attack. Law enforcement scrambled for clues to track down the snipers, and coverage of the killings rapidly expanded beyond local channels to national outlets.
As the shootings continued, the region was on edge. Outdoor activities were canceled and local residents were aghast as more victims were shot, many at shopping centers or gas stations. Brave souls stepped up to fuel cars for their terrified neighbors, and many gas stations installed tarps over their pumps in order to provide a safe haven for customers to fuel up.
Clues were found at some of the crime scenes, including tarot cards and handwritten notes in plastic bags. Investigators got a break when they received a call from the snipers in which hints were revealed that led them to match fingerprints found on a tarot card left at a middle school on October 7 to a prior shooting at a liquor store in Alabama on September 21. These details allowed them to identify Lee Boyd Malvo (aged 17 at the time) and connect him to John Allen Muhammad (aged 41 at the time), with whom he had close ties.
Police had actually stopped the pair for minor moving violations two times during the killing spree, but let them go on both occasions as neither had any outstanding warrants. Additional sleuthing led to the discovery that a dark blue Chevrolet Caprice with New Jersey tags was registered to Muhammad, and a media alert was quickly issued to the public to be on the lookout for the car.
On the morning of October 24, 2002, a tip from a motorist led investigators to a rest stop off of I-270 near Myersville, Maryland where Muhammad and Malvo were discovered sleeping in the car. After sealing off both exits to the rest stop, a SWAT team moved in and arrested the beltway snipers.
A Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle fitted with a weapon sight with a range of 300 meters and a bipod were found in the car. Police also noticed a small hole cut out of the trunk just above the license plate, designed to allow the shooter to lie prone while lining up a shot.
Muhammad was sentenced to death in September 2003 and executed by lethal injection in November 2009. Malvo, who was a minor at the time of the killings, was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences without parole in Maryland and additional charges in Virginia. While he is eligible for parole in Virginia is 2022, his charges in Maryland carry no possibility of parole. He currently resides at Red Onion State Prison in Pound, Virginia.
The Reflection Terrace at Brookside Gardens memorial was dedicated in 2004, honoring the victims of the sniper attacks. This place of remembrance features two large stone markers: one with a reflection on the events that unfolded during that fateful month and another with the names and home towns of those whose lives were lost. There are ten smaller stones in the surrounding area, each engraved with the name of one of the ten victims whose names appear on the larger marker.
Know Before You Go
The Reflection Terrace at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland is dedicated to the victims of the beltway sniper shootings in Montgomery County.