People of the Week: John Muhammad and John Malvo

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Sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad, right, and 17 year-old John Lee Malvo

We have been able to speak and think of little else over the past few weeks — because the sniper has captured the darkest parts of our collective imagination, and capitalized on our fears. Just 48 hours ago we had nothing: no face, no name to pin onto the murderous rampage of the past three weeks. And now we have two names, two faces to attach to our suspicions: a father figure, and, unbelievably, a 17-year-old boy. For their roles, as yet unproven, in the sniper killings, John Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad are our Persons of the Week.

Muhammad and Malvo were arraigned Thursday in a Baltimore federal court. Malvo, a minor, is being held on a material witness charge; the 41-year-old Muhammad on a federal weapons charge. If authorities decide to charge the pair with murder, Malvo could be tried as an adult. Despite multiple news reports indicating Muhammad is Malvo?s stepfather, there are no records establishing that relationship between the two.

So who are these suspects? Photos of the men suspected to be at the heart of the terrifying killing spree that paralyzed the nation for weeks show a relaxed pair, smiling broadly, warmly at the camera. It?s hard to reconcile the image with what we know of the killer(s) heinous crimes: because of what they did, 10 families are forever without a loved one, and three families continue to pray for their wounded.

What do we know about them? We know that John Allen Muhammad, nee Williams, is a Gulf War veteran, formerly stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington State. According to the Associated Press, after serving in the Louisiana National Guard from 1978 to 1985, Muhammad served in the U.S. Army between November 1985 and April 1996, joining the Oregon National Guard in 1995. He trained as a machinist and combat engineer, according to military sources, and received a badge for his excellence in marksmanship. He never received formal sniper training. His police record is clean, the Associated Press reports, except for a few minor traffic violations in Washington.

Malvo?s short past is a bit sketchier; the Jamaican citizen was reportedly enrolled at school in Bellingham, Washington for some time, but school documents show no history of Malvo?s attendance.

As of last January, the two men were living together in Tacoma, Washington, near Fort Lewis, where Muhammad had been stationed. Sometime during the winter, nearby neighbors called the police when they heard gunshots coming from near the house. Police, who Wednesday removed a tree stump from the backyard of the house, believe Malvo and Muhammad may have used the tree for target practice. The Seattle Times reports that when Muhammad and Malvo showed up in July to visit Muhammad?s former sister-in-law Sheron Norman in Louisiana, the older man introduced the boy as his son, according to Norman. "You could tell (Malvo) was scared," Norman told the Associated Press. "He was very, very quiet." And Muhammad was not, by all acounts. Ex-wife Carol Williams told the Seattle Times, "He wasn't a quiet type. He liked to talk. He liked to mingle with people."

And what about their ties to Islam? Although he converted to Islam several years ago, he changed his last name from Williams to Muhammad just last year. A former neighbor in Tacoma, Washington says Muhammad helped provide security for Louis Farrakhan?s "Million Man March," but Nation of Islam spokespeople refused to comment. The men were said to be sympathetic to the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks, but there are no established links between the sniper actions and al Qaeda.

It seems Muhammad and Malvo have had a busy few months: authorities believe they may be responsible for a fatal robbery at a Montgomery, Alabama liquor store in September. Malvo?s fingerprints were picked up on a magazine found at the crime scene.