John Allen Muhammad, 41, one of the men, is a former soldier at nearby Fort Lewis. He and John Lee Malvo, 17, a Jamaican citizen believed to be his stepson, may have been motivated by anti-American sentiments, federal officials told The Seattle Times on condition of anonymity.
Muhammad's training in the Army was as a machinist, according to a senior defense official, who said Muhammad had no sniper training in the Army. Another official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Muhammad was discharged in the mid-90s.
Muhammad changed his name last year from John Allen Williams, years after he converted to Islam, investigators told the Times. Neither Muhammad nor Malvo was believed to be associated with the al-Qaida terrorist network or with James Ujaama, a Seattle Muslim being held on a federal terrorism charge. "It appears that they are and have acted on their own," Bellingham Police Chief Randy Carroll said Thursday. Muhammad helped provide security for Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan's "Million Man March" in Washington, D.C., according to Leo Dudley, who lived a block from Muhammad in Tacoma. Nation of Islam officials in Chicago declined comment. Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose, the lead sniper investigator, announced Wednesday that Muhammad was being sought for questioning and was "armed and dangerous."Two men were arrested early Thursday at a Maryland rest stop after they were found sleeping in their car. Their names weren't released and no charges were immediately announced as investigators checked to see if they were involved in the shootings. On Wednesday, federal agents searched the yard at the house in Tacoma where Muhammad once lived. But neighbors questioned Wednesday night and Thursday claimed not to have known him or even recognized photos of him shown on national news broadcasts and in newspapers. Investigators also combed through Malvo's Bellingham High School student records, reportedly seeking samples of his handwriting. In Bellingham, police said the investigation began after school officials could find no academic record for Malvo. Police also were unable to find any record that Malvo had previously attended school. "He stayed in school briefly. Then we lost contact with him, and he moved on," Carroll said. The Times reported that Muhammad, who was stationed at Fort Lewis in the 1980s and served in the Gulf War, had four children by two marriages that ended in divorce. Both involved bitter custody battles and at least one accusation that he abducted the children, the newspaper said. Court records showed no felony record for him in Washington state. But Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said Muhammad had been cited for traffic infractions and booked into the county jail at least once. Troyer could not provide specifics, citing the minor nature of the incidents. Sheron Norman, a former sister-in-law, said Muhammad and Malvo came to Baton Rouge, La., in July for a three-day visit. It was the first time family members had seen Malvo, she said, and Muhammad introduced him as his son. Norman, whose sister Carol Williams is Mohammad's first wife, said Malvo was allowed to eat only crackers and honey and nutritional supplements. "You could tell he was scared," Norman said in an interview inScotlandville, La. "He was very, very quiet. You could tell he didn't like the way he was living." Williams told the Times that Muhammad was outgoing and "had a good sense of humor.' "He wasn't a quiet type. He liked to talk. He liked to mingle with people," she told the Times. She said Muhammad converted to Islam after divorcing her 17 years ago, about the time he joined the Army. "After he changed his religion, he called and told me what not to feed my child," she said. "I told him as long as he (their son) lived with me, it was up to me." Carroll said Muhammad and Malvo stayed at a homeless shelter in Bellingham. The shelter did not immediately respond to a call seeking information about their stay. Williams, the mother of his oldest son, said that on one occasion, when their son was in middle school and visited Muhammad in Tacoma, she had to fight a legal battle for the boy's return. She said Muhammad's second wife, Mildred Green, with whom he had three children, also called her a couple of years ago to tell her Muhammad had abducted their children and to ask for help in getting them back. Elaina Whitlock, 38, who lived near the family for six years in Tacoma, told the Times that after the divorce from Green, Muhammad was granted weekend visitations but at one point left with the three children. "Things were going OK with visitations and no one suspected he would take off with them, but then he couldn't have her and he knew it would hurt her if he took the children," Whitlock said. "Her life was her children." Green was reunited with the children about 1 1/2 years ago, Whitlock said. In the late 1990s, Muhammad provided money to start a karate school, former business partner Felix Strozier told The Associated Press. Muhammad promised to bring students from the local Muslim community, but not enough students came, and the school closed in 1998, Strozier said. He said he and Muhammad parted on less-than-friendly terms. "I was honored that he thought enough of me to back me with the school, but then I really got some really ill feelings about him once I had no support," Strozier said.