Lee Malvo's classmates at the Seventh-day Adventist School were startled one morning two years ago when the usually easygoing boy, asked to recite the day's opening prayer, began reciting the tenets of Islam.

"Allah this, Allah that," said classmate Deniece Zachariah, now 18. "He wasn't talking about our God anymore. The teacher didn't ask him to do the prayer anymore."

Malvo would have been 15 or so. About the same time, he began living with John Allen Muhammad, an American convert to Islam, and three of Muhammad's children, according to neighbors in the Ottos section. Sometime after that, Muhammad's first name began appearing in front of "Lee" on some documents involving Malvo.

As investigators pore over the evidence against Malvo and Muhammad, who are charged in 10 of 13 Washington area sniper shootings and are suspected in the rest, one of the mysteries is how they came to be together -- the itinerant boy, now 17, born in Jamaica and shuffled among relatives, and Muhammad, 41, a New Orleans-born Army veteran with two ex-wives and a failed auto-repair business in Tacoma, Wash.

Malvo's father, Leslie Malvo, of Kingston, Jamaica, said he spoke to his son sporadically after splitting up with the boy's mother about 1990. He said he last talked to him about four years ago.

"His name was Lee," Leslie Malvo said. "I think his stepfather made him John."

The relationship between Malvo and Muhammad -- what it was, when and how it began -- remains unclear.

Malvo arrived in Antigua in 1998 with his mother, Una James, according to officials at the Jamaican Embassy here. Malvo enrolled at the Seventh-day Adventist School.

Muhammad arrived in Antigua in March 2000 with his three children from his second marriage. Local officials are investigating allegations that he earned money by acquiring false birth and Social Security documents for Jamaicans, Antiguans and others who hoped to immigrate to the United States.

Kithryn Nedd, who said he once shared Muhammad's house, said Muhammad helped Malvo's mother -- who had been selling cold drinks outside a bus station -- leave the island to look for work in the United States. There was no romantic link between her and Muhammad, according to Nedd, who neighbors confirmed was a former housemate of Muhammad's.

After his mother's departure, Malvo was left to live with one of his mother's friends in Gray's Farm, one of Antigua's poorest neighborhoods, Nedd said.

"He was eventually kicked out of there," Nedd said. "The lady said she already had too many people living in her house."

Malvo moved in with Muhammad in 2000, according to neighbors in Ottos, where simple wood-frame houses huddle together on a tight grid of narrow streets. They said that on his way to and from school, Malvo had become friendly with the family as he walked by their house and the children's primary school next door.

"John [Muhammad] treated Lee like one of his own," said Janet Harris, principal of the primary school. "I saw him buying shoes for him. And every morning at 5, they'd all be up for their run. He was a very dedicated father."

When Malvo was living with Muhammad, classmates recalled, religion became part of the boy's conversations.

"He said he was researching some stuff on being a Muslim," said John Sewsankar, 16, a classmate who played cricket with Malvo and remembers his interest in classical music. "He felt it was the right religion. But we didn't talk about it much, because I am a Christian."

Other students, Zachariah recalled, "were always having arguments with him about it. But really, he was always friendly with everyone."

Harris recalled him as a bright, pleasant boy but said he discouraged inquiries about the absence of a mother in his life -- finally saying, she recalled, " 'You ask too many questions.' " But Sewsankar said Malvo once told him that his mother was going to study at a university in the United States.

In December 2000, Sewsankar said, Malvo suddenly stopped attending classes. Records show that the following August, he enrolled for 39 days in a high school in Fort Myers, Fla., where his mother had a job at a Red Lobster restaurant.

That same August, Muhammad's children enrolled in a school in Bellingham, Wash., and Muhammad was more or less a regular resident at Bellingham's Light House Mission homeless shelter. By October, shelter officials said, Malvo was living there with him.

And then this month, "I saw them on the TV," Sewsankar said. "And the man on the TV -- that's the man that Lee called 'Uncle.' "