BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Lee Boyd “John” Malvo appeared to be a reluctant Muslim, slowly “pulled into the evil” that suspected serial sniper John Allen Muhammad planned, according to the chaplain of the homeless shelter where the two men stayed last fall in this seaside city near the Canadian border.
Meanwhile, evidence is growing, according to investigators, that Malvo, 17, pulled the trigger in several of the 14 shootings that terrorized the Washington, D.C., area in October.
Ron Todd, who leads daily chapel services at the evangelical Lighthouse Mission, recalls Malvo coming forward to speak with him after a sermon that referred to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the U.S.
Todd told the residents of the mission gathered for the required meeting that evening that “we should be respectful of people of all faiths and not think of all Muslims as being angry, vindictive extremists.”
“I was just sharing my heart, that there are a lot of Muslims who love God,” Todd said.
He then remembers Malvo responding after the sermon: “You know, when I first joined the Muslim faith, my cleric said, ‘We’re going to take over the United States.'”
Malvo looked at him at that moment, Todd continued, and said, “I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be a Muslim.”
The chaplain said he didn’t know the identity of the cleric, “but the minute he said that, the word Farrakhan came to my mind.” John Allen Muhammad is a member of Louis Farrakhan’s Muslim sect, the Nation of Islam, known for its belief that blacks eventually will rule in a new world free from the “white devils” created by an evil black scientist. The former John Allen Williams officially changed his surname to Muhammad on April 23, 2001.
Todd told WND he previously has spoken of his encounter with Malvo only with a law-enforcement investigator.
‘Pulled into the evil’
“I felt [Malvo] was slowly being pulled into the evil that Muhammad was planning,” he said. “That’s what I told the investigator, that this guy slowly got pulled in from a father figure.”
The investigator commented, according to Todd, “Yeah, that’s the impression I’m getting.”
Todd said that as a pastor, he viewed Malvo’s hesitation about militant Islam as a genuine, heartfelt conflict within a young man’s soul. But whatever the motivation or influence, he holds him ultimately responsible for his actions.
“My deepest sympathies for the boy,” Todd said, “But if he reached the point where, either out of fear or the thrill of the moment, he not only put his fingerprints on a clip but actually pulled the trigger, then he deserves the same that Muhammad is getting.”
Law-enforcement sources told the Washington Post that Malvo confessed to pulling the trigger in several shootings, including the slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin at a Home Depot store in Fairfax County, Va., Oct. 14. On Friday, Fairfax County prosecutor Robert F. Horan, Jr., said Malvo’s fingerprints were the only ones found on the rifle used in the sniper attacks. The two men have been accused of shooting 18 people, resulting in 13 deaths in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Todd recalls Malvo arriving at Lighthouse Mission about Oct. 20, 2001, where he was introduced as Muhammad’s son. Muhammad had come to the mission in August with his three children, who since had been returned to the custody of his ex-wife.
Lighthouse director Rev. Al Archer says that within one or two days, he began to doubt that Muhammad and Malvo were related.
“Here’s a young fellow who is with this older person, who I think is up to something that’s not good, and he’s leading this youngster along,” Archer told WND. “That was my feeling.”
The Federal Terrorism Task Force is investigating the two men for a possible link with organized terrorist groups, according to Fox News. Archer said he told the FBI about one year ago that he suspected the two were involved in a terrorist organization, but authorities did not pursue the suspicion, claiming lack of evidence. An acquaintance in Bellingham said Muhammad expressed approval of the 9-11 terror attacks on America.
Muhammad met Malvo, a Jamaican, on the Caribbean island of Antigua, where he had fled after abducting his three children from his ex-wife, Mildred Muhammad, March 27, 2000.
Malvo’s mother, Una James, was a customer of Muhammad’s business trafficking false passports and immigration visas, according to the Seattle Times. James used the false papers to enter Florida, intending to retrieve Malvo after she got settled. In the meantime, the teen, left by himself, gravitated to Muhammad.
Malvo eventually joined his mother in Fort Myers, Fla., but left her in October 2001 to reconnect with Muhammad in Bellingham. By this point, authorities already had tracked down Muhammad’s three children, who were placed in Mildred Muhammad’s custody in a Sept. 4 court ruling.
On Dec. 14, 2001, Malvo’s mother arrived in Bellingham to take back her son with the aid of police. Five days later, the INS took Malvo and James into custody on immigration charges, but released them in January after James posted $1,500 bond.
Archer said he did his best to ensure that Malvo was removed from Muhammad’s influence and reunited with his mother.
“I knew that Lee Malvo was in the wrong place, being with this fellow,” he said. “I tried to break that up when his mother came, and I got a true picture.”
After Malvo and his mother were released, however, the teen met up again with Muhammad.
“She loved her son the way I love mine,” Archer said with emotion in his voice. “So we tried to give her any assistance, and I tried to give Lee a broad hint that he needs to be with his mother and get on with his life.”
Lighthouse resident manager Rory Rueblin said he remembers Malvo as well-mannered and extremely quiet.
“The whole time they were here, I don’t think I heard that boy speak 20 words,” Rueblin told WND. “He was polite, extremely polite, and what struck me was I had teenage kids, and when you’re 16 years old, saying ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No ma’am’ was the furthest thing from my kids’ vocabulary.”
Rueblin remembered one incident that indicated Malvo’s economy of speech likely was due to Muhammad’s domination.
“I was sitting at a table at the cafeteria with a couple of other residents when Malvo and Muhammad came in,” he recalled. “Malvo sat down before John did, and he was just talking with these other residents. Then Muhammad sat down next to me, and I just happened to glance up at his face as he shot a warning – just a look across the table to this kid, and he immediately clammed up.
“I got the impression he didn’t want him talking to anybody,” Rueblin said. “And they weren’t talking about anything out of the ordinary.”
Todd believes that Malvo “deteriorated emotionally and socially” after he left the mission.
“He was entertaining things while he was here,” Todd said. “But once he left, that’s when whatever happened that caused him to do what he did, started happening.”