Witness to History: Washington, DC-area Sniper Attacks, 10 Years Later

Last evening, the National Law Enforcement Museum’s Witness to History panel discussion series re-examined the 2002 Washington, DC-area sniper case 10 years later. Panel members included Chief Charles Deane, Prince William County (VA) Police Department; Mr. Josh White, investigative reporter for The Washington Post; Chief Charles Moose (ret.), Montgomery County (MD) Police Department; and Lieutenant David Reichenbaugh (ret.), Maryland State Police.

As many of us recall vividly, for three weeks in October 2002, the DC metropolitan area lived in fear of what was believed to be a single serial sniper who killed 10 people and wounded others in a series of random shootings in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Ultimately, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were convicted of several of those murders. Investigating and arresting the two perpetrators, who came to be known as “The Beltway Snipers,” involved hundreds of law enforcement officers from multiple local jurisdictions, as well as agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the U.S. Secret Service; and the Virginia Department of Transportation. Representatives from these agencies were in attendance at last night’s event, along with two surviving family members and a victim of the sniper attacks. Additionally, pieces of evidence from the DC Sniper Task Force—now part of the Museum’s collection—were on display, including bullets, tarot card, and letters left by the snipers for police.

Sponsored by Target® and held in the Pew Charitable Trusts Building in Washington, DC, Witness to History: Washington, DC-Area Sniper Attacks, 10 Years Later shed light on a case that involved one of the biggest manhunts in recent history and required the complicated coordination of multiple law enforcement agencies under intense media scrutiny and a barrage of misinformation, rumor, speculation, and criticism. The panel discussion, moderated by National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Chairman & CEO, Craig W. Floyd, presented expert analysis and firsthand accounts from those closely tied to the investigation. A Q&A session allowed audience members to interact with the panelists at the end of the discussion.

As the public face of the investigation, Chief Moose discussed his strategy for informing the public throughout the investigation, explaining why he held press conferences every four hours. “We insisted on maximum disclosure with minimum delay even when there wasn’t much to report,” said Chief Moose.

“We didn’t know whether this was a 9/11 situation or an anger issue targeted at specific individuals,” said Lieutenant Reichenbaugh. All the panelists stressed the teamwork needed to solve the case. “We worked closely together and shared information with other jurisdictions,” said Chief Deane.

Representing the media, which played a major role in the investigation and trial, Josh White described the news room at the time as “bedlam.” He described the attacks as “scary, unexplained, and continuing,” and went on to say that it was the “scariest thing this country has seen outside of an organized terrorist attack.”

This public event was the fifth in the Museum’s Witness to History series, which focuses on significant events in law enforcement history that shaped regional and national identity, told through narratives and accounts from those involved. Stay tuned for more events to come.

For more information about the National Law Enforcement Museum’s Witness to History program, visit www.LawEnforcementMuseum.org/WitnesstoHistory.