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Essay

Sniper's imprint, faded, remains indelible

A scarily common scene seven years ago: crime scene tape at a gas station, this one in Fredericksburg where Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, became the eighth person slain by the snipers.
A scarily common scene seven years ago: crime scene tape at a gas station, this one in Fredericksburg where Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, became the eighth person slain by the snipers. (Gerald Martineau/the Washington Post)   |   Buy Photo

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By Paul Duggan
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's done now.

A dark odyssey that began with an unfathomable impulse to shoot strangers at random concluded for John Allen Muhammad as he lay strapped to a gurney in a rural Virginia prison.

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Thiopental sodium rendered him unconscious. Pancuronium bromide halted his breathing. Potassium chloride stopped his heart. Three injections Tuesday, and his descent into infamy was complete, his body then bagged and carted to a morgue drawer.

Gone are the snipers.

Remember the lockdowns and Code Reds? Remember the tarot card, "Call me God," the Leisure World Plaza, the Ponderosa Steakhouse? Remember those surreal weeks of pervasive anxiety and the fortune spent by police agencies in a desperate search for a mythical white van and the person or persons perpetrating the madness?

Accounts are settled, best as can be expected.

What started long ago with a lunatic rage and escalated, evidence suggests, into a cross-country killing spree, climaxing in an October of blood and dread in the Washington area, ended for the 48-year-old former drifter in a grim concrete blockhouse called L Unit, the death chamber clock ticking his final minutes.

Case closed for Muhammad. And case closed for his ex-apprentice in murder, Lee Boyd Malvo, 24, locked away for life without parole, his guilty pleas negating any appeals.

No more trials, no more retribution. Seven years past the gunshots, all that remain are scars and memories -- physical and emotional; personal and communal -- fading over time for a lot of people, everlasting for others.

What did it teach us? What did we learn from that awful autumn?

Not much, says Police Chief Charlie T. Deane of Prince William County, where Dean H. Meyers, 53, stepped from his Mazda at a Sunoco on Oct. 9, 2002, and was felled by a bullet to the head -- the ninth of 13 victims shot that month, the seventh of 10 who were killed.

"The sad thing is, the biggest lesson from this is that two fools with a rifle can put an entire region of the country in a state of absolute fear," Deane says.


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