Caught In a Web of Victimization

When the D.C. region was traumatized by the sniper attacks that plagued the area in 2002, Mildred Muhammad, the now ex-wife of sniper John Muhammad, was living in Clinton, Maryland. Knowing that her ex-husband wanted to kill her, she was constantly vigilant. She recalls John telling her, "You have become my enemy, and as my enemy, I will kill you."

Mildred lived in constant fear. She was cognizant of the fact that, because of his military background, John was trained in hand-to-hand combat. Add to that his physical features of being 6 feet tall and muscular, Mildred acknowledges that when the sniper attacks were occurring, "My fear was doubled during the sniper attacks. I was looking for two--John and the sniper--while everyone else were looking for one."

During this time, a friend of Mildred's asked her if she thought the sniper could be her ex-husband. Mildred replied, "He's not that stupid. If he was here, he'd be coming to kill me--not anybody else." She was, on the other hand, not surprised to learn that he committed such horrible acts because she recalled him once saying to her, "I could take a small city, terrorize it, and they would think it would be a group of people, and it would only be one person."

Mildred met her husband on Labor Day 1983 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and, at the time, his name was John Williams. They dated 5 years, married in 1988, and had 3 children together--John Jr., now 17, Salenda, 15, and Taalibah, 14. He joined the military and, in November 1990, he went to the Gulf War. According to Mildred, when he returned he was noticeably different. "He became very obsessed with nitpicky things. He was really angry," says Mildred.

John told Mildred she was the enemy and part of the establishment, and he would not talk to her when he came home. She was pregnant with their third child, Taalibah, at the time. When John finally relented and talked to his wife, he told her he was afraid of letting anyone, including her, know his true feelings about anything.

Mildred asked him for a divorce in 1999 because she knew he had been unfaithful and had multiple affairs. He was very controlling and she says, "John was very calculating and manipulative with his abuse. He practiced his psychological training he received from the military on me. He was very good at it and used it on others as well to get them to do what he wanted. I felt like I was his case study."

When John picked up their children for a weekend in March 2000, they never returned. "It was eighteen months before I saw my children again. They never came home," she says. She continues, "I never heard them or saw them. It was just like I was not a mother." After 5 days of waiting and calling the school daily, Mildred commented to a teacher, "John kidnapped the children." She says, "He tried everything when we were separated to get me back. The reason he kidnapped the children was to hurt me, to break me. They were used as pawns."

In August 2001, Mildred received a call from the Bellingham (WA) Police Department informing her that they had the children. John had taken them to Antigua and changed their names. After reuniting with her children, Mildred attended an emergency custody hearing in September 2001 in Tacoma, Washington, and it was at this hearing that she saw John for the first time since 1999. "I was scared. I was shaking like a leaf", she said.

From Tacoma, Mildred and her children moved to Maryland to live with her sister. After being reunited with their mother, the children followed Mildred everywhere she went. According to John Jr., his father told the children the reason he kidnapped them was because their mother did not love John Jr. but she loved the girls and chose to move on with her life without them. The children, at the time, were ages seven, eight, and ten. They later told Mildred they kept asking about her, but their father would get angry so they stopped inquiring.

After the sniper shootings, Mildred acknowledged she was shocked that her ex-husband killed other people while attempting to find her, and she acknowledges, "I was always looking for John." Mildred is aware that, oftentimes, the true meaning of words is not perceived realistically and she says, "People don't take the term seriously-- 'I'm going to kill you.' So many victims and survivors believe the man is going to kill them when he says it. Nobody believes he was going to kill me. That was the most frustrating period of my life. I wholeheartedly believe it was because I didn't have physical marks to prove he could do something of this magnitude."

Mildred wants others to understand that victimization is not merely centered on violence with imprints of physical marks and bodily harm. She says, "The first line of domestic violence is verbal." She understands the trauma that resulted in her life and recognizes how similar situations can affect others. Her goal, Mildred says, is "to have a system in place to enable the survivor to be a viable member of society. Action should be taken before it becomes physical."

Consequently, Mildred has developed a support system for survivors of domestic violence enabling them to reestablish their lives through services that include education, business and employment programs, financial services, clothing, housing, transportation, counseling, substance abuse intervention, and support systems. Her outreach efforts are for individuals who may not meet specific criteria to receive assistance through existing programs.

"My focus is on the survivors because based upon my own experience after the trial and TV cameras going away, I still have to try to make a living out of the ashes of my life. "Just because I walk into a police department with no marks doesn't mean I'm not a victim."