“…you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”
– Mark Jenkins
In 2002, my friend shot and killed 11 people, was linked to 10 more and injured three others. He terrorized over a half-dozen states with murders, woundings and a climate of fear that descended over the Washington Metropolitan Area for three weeks. People stayed home from work, kept their children out of school, avoided going on daily errands – all for fear that my friend would find them.
Now when I say friend, I should also say I don’t mean that I supported his actions – not even remotely. Just like everyone else in the country, I had no idea who was responsible during that October in 2002. I saw the reports on the news; I listened in on the radio on my way to and from school every morning. On the west coast, in my small town of Puyallup, Washington, we felt insulated from the events unfolding across the nation. Having been born in Tacoma in the 80s and having grown up just a few miles out of town, I was no strangers to gun violence – but at least we didn’t have a sniper running around killing people from cover at 300 meters with a civilian version of an M16. To this day, I’m not convinced the man who killed those people was the man I knew. Surely, they occupied the same body as the body of evidence proved – but I maintain that the man I knew died long before his execution; long, even, before he committed those heinous crimes.
I knew John Allen Muhammad for years before those attacks took place. His calm and friendly demeanor often warmed my family’s household. I met him around 1995. I was just into sixth grade. My parents had bought an old Volvo for my sister’s 16th birthday that spring and needed a guy who would help them fix it up and take care of the rest of our family’s cars. We had a brand new Beagle puppy named Cody. John would sometimes bring treats for him and greet him warmly at the door as Cody stood up against him. He knew all of our names: Bill, Andi, Katie, James, Britt… he had a special name for my older sister Jenny. First, he called her JennyPenny, then later simply Penny.
We couldn’t know that John was planning something abominable. We couldn’t know that he would later preach a holocaust of anger and death against white people. People like us. Could the man that offered me advice about life, and struggle, and God, really shoot a boy not much younger than me in the gut on his way to school?
That is a question I’ve tried to answer for over a decade. Two months ago was the 10-year anniversary of his murder spree. Last month was the third anniversary of his execution by lethal-injection. I’ve always wondered what happened to my friend that died twice.
1. John Allen Williams
“Hi there, I’m John. I’m here about the Mitsubishi,” said the tall man at the door. He was African-American with deep brown eyes, clothed in a charcoal grey jumpsuit spotted with black grease stains, and wore gigantic steel toe boots. At twelve, I was taller than most of my class, but this man towered over me. He smelled of oil and gasoline, but there was also a warm smell that even today I recall but could never identify. “Is your father here?” he asked, looking down at me. Continue reading The Man That Died Twice