At Last, Sister of Sniper Victim Gets Her Day in Court

Vickie Snider, whose brother James L. Buchanan was killed, says she has a responsibility to attend the trial.
Vickie Snider, whose brother James L. Buchanan was killed, says she has a responsibility to attend the trial. "I have to represent my brother." (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

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By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 30, 2006

Oct. 3, 2002: so vivid still.

"I was in exercise class," Vickie Snider said. "They came in and announced it. They said there had been shootings in Aspen Hill." This was the morning fear took hold -- that Indian summer Thursday when, in just over two hours, four sniper victims fell in lower Montgomery County and terror spread through the Washington area.

Day One of the siege, the three-week communal nightmare.

"They told us to leave in groups," recalled Snider, 45, who was baby-sitting for a niece's 1-year-old daughter that morning. "So we finished up, we talked about it, and then I just left."

Fetching little Hailey from day care, she drove home to Rockville.

"I was trying to get her to nap," Snider said. "I was in the den. I think it was around 1-something. . . . I remember I had just gotten Hailey her lunch. I had her in my arms. And I could see out the window -- the policemen were coming up my sidewalk. And they came to my door. Two of them. And as soon as I opened my door, I saw they had his license."

Her brother's license.

"Oh, God! . . . Sonny!"

James L. "Sonny" Buchanan, 39, was the first to die that day, a landscaper shot while mowing a lawn. And tomorrow, when John Allen Muhammad -- already convicted and sentenced to death in a Virginia sniper case -- finally goes on trial in the community that suffered the worst of the regionwide rampage, Snider plans to be there, in a Montgomery County courtroom, even though she dreads it.

Montgomery is where the October madness began and where it ended.

"Emotionally, it's going to be very hard," Snider said, sitting on a bench in Rockville Civic Center Park, a tranquil spot where she takes refuge from time to time. In recent weeks, she has been busy arranging to put her life on hold for the trial, which could last into the summer and in which Muhammad will act as his own attorney. Montgomery prosecutors will not seek the death penalty, meaning he would face life in prison without parole if convicted.

"There are probably things about that day, that whole time, that I've suppressed, that I don't realize I've suppressed," Snider said. "And I know this might bring it back.


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