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Ten Years After Killing Spree, Remorseful Malvo Sees Young Self as ‘Monster’

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"The groundwork was laid in Antigua because I leaned on him, I trusted him," Malvo said. "I was unable to distinguish between Muhammad the father I had wanted and Muhammad the nervous wreck that was just falling to pieces. He understood exactly how to motivate me by giving approval or denying approval. It’s very subtle. It wasn’t violent at all. It’s like what a pimp does to a woman."

Muhammad was a savior in Malvo’s eyes, someone who could make his dreams come true. An ideal. And Malvo sees that boy now as the perfect rube.

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"He picked me because he knew he could mold me," Malvo said at Red Onion. "He knew I could be what he needed me to be. . . . He could not have chosen a better child."

Malvo said he believes the shootings would have happened whether he was the accomplice or it was some other kid; he said they were an inevitable part of Muhammad’s plan, almost fated.

In 2001, Malvo, Muhammad and Muhammad’s three children left Antigua for the United States. Malvo briefly lived with his mother in Florida before boarding a bus to be with his "dad," Muhammad, in Tacoma, Wash. It was right around the time that Muhammad was losing his own children. A judge ordered that they could live with Muhammad’s wife in secrecy. Malvo said losing the children devastated Muhammad, and he switched from a caring father figure to a steely and erratic leader.

"It was a military mission" at that point, Malvo said. "He told me to do something, and I did it. After a certain point, he didn’t have to say anything. He would just look at me, and I understood."

Malvo said Muhammad had him go to a gun range nearly every day. He learned how to shoot dozens of different weapons there. Some days, Malvo said, he would be at the range for 12 hours at a time. Muhammad would lurk over Malvo’s shoulder and tell him to envision himself shooting and killing the old Lee Malvo, the weak Lee Malvo, the wayward Lee Malvo.

So Malvo shot at himself, over and over and over again. When it came time for the first killing - Kenya Cook, 21, in Tacoma in February 2002 - Malvo said it was almost automatic. Muhammad told him what to do, and he did it, he said. He saw his own face on Cook’s and was thinking he shot himself. He said he doesn’t even remember what she looked like. He vomited later, racked with grief.

"That was the beginning of the end," Malvo said. "I knew I was going to die, one way or the other, that going down this path ended with my death."

Cook, whose only sin was being in a house where a friend of Mildred Muhammad’s was staying, was the first victim in a spree that hit California, Arizona, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia. Malvo said there were at least 200 crimes that ranged from the murders everyone remembers to robberies and assaults.

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"If we were anywhere for three days, someone was getting robbed," Malvo said.

"We were searching for Mildred," Malvo said, adding that everything they did was toward the goal of finding her and getting Muhammad’s children back.

"Every day there was something to do, something to focus on, in order to get me to that state of emotional numbness in which he could just say, ‘Do,’ and it immediately happened," he said. "There was no hesitation. There was no thought. There was no moral compunction. There was no interference. He said jump and it was, how high? . . . It was a systematic process until he got me where he needed me to be. Day in, day out, he controlled what I read, what I did, what I ate, my itinerary, when I slept."

There was military precision to the attacks, and then there were after-action briefings, in which Muhammad would critique the crimes down to the finest details, Malvo said. Malvo said he carried out the crimes that involved getting close to people, such as handgun shootings and robberies, or any shooting that involved possibly getting caught. He called Muhammad "a coward" and believes Muhammad was setting him up to take the fall.

Malvo said that he felt as if Muhammad kept him on a "need to know" basis and that he did not know what the plan was until long into the shootings. He said the first five shootings in Montgomery County on the morning of Oct. 3, 2002, were based "on a strategy of compacting everything in one area" so that they could "use the system against itself" and overwhelm authorities. He said they spent weeks scoping out 60 different spots.

On the day of the shootings, they would drive up to one of the spots and stay there for 10 minutes. If a shot presented itself, they took it.

"We’d drive up, he’d park, he’d go in the trunk, I’d put my window down halfway, and I could see whatever....," Malvo said. "My focus is on witnesses, passengers, and whenever there was an opening, I told him to shoot." It was rapid, one after another, he said, all at random. "Whoever was there."

Malvo said he shot many people en route to the District of Columbia, then took the shots that injured 13-year-old Iran Brown at a middle school in Bowie, Md. on Oct. 7 - "Imagine that, a kid, shooting a kid," he said, slapping his right hand to his forehead - and Jeffrey Hopper at the Ponderosa Steakhouse in Ashland, Va., on Oct. 19. He said he also killed Conrad Johnson, the final sniper shooting, on Oct. 22, in Aspen Hill, Md.

When prompted, Malvo remembered crossing paths with a Washington Post reporter in Ashland in 2002. Malvo said he remembered a green car turning into a hotel parking lot as light rain began to fall - "you almost hit me," he recalled - and how he was scurrying toward the wood line to pick up a duffel bag he had hidden away.

He said he wandered up to the news conferences that night in a brightly colored sweater and spoke to police officers and others, asking what was going on. He called it "intelligence collection" and said he did the same thing at other scenes.

At times, Malvo said, he stashed the sniper rifle in holes and hides near shooting locations. He would then wait for police to search the area and would return to get the gun later. Police found the weapon in the blue Chevy Caprice when the two were arrested.

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