The serial sniper shootings that terrorized the Washington, D.C-area are over, authorities said today as they announced the arrests of two suspects and the discovery of a rifle linked to most of the crimes.
Now prosecutors in seven different jurisdictions must decide how to prosecute John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo for allegedly 10 people and seriously wounding three others during a killing spree that began Oct. 2. Prosecutors are expected to meet Friday to discuss filing charges against Muhammad and Malvo.
Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, were arrested early Thursday morning as they slept in a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice spotted at a highway rest stop in Maryland. Police had announced an arrest warrant seeking the pair only a few hours earlier.
On Thursday night, police announced Muhammad and Malvo were suspects in the case and that frightened residents of suburban Washington could breathe a sigh of relief.
"Please understand these two are under arrest and detained on unrelated charges to the situation we're investigating," said Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose, who led the multi-agency task force that hunted for the serial sniper. "However, we now consider them suspects in the string of shootings in Maryland, the District of Columbia and the Virginia area."
Investigators recovered a .223-caliber rifle from the Caprice that ballistics tests matched to 11 out of the 13 shootings where someone was killed or injured. Michael Bouchard, the special agent in charge representing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said ballistics was also inconclusive in the one instance in which the snipers missed their target. Different evidence, he said, tied the suspects to the other shootings.
Moose said investigators still have more work to do, but they are confident the Washington, D.C-area residents' ordeal is over.
"We have the weapon. It's off the street," Moose said. "We've been very diligent, very methodical. We've not completed all our work, but we feel things are progressing quite well. Anything remains possible. We continue to look at every angle, every possibility."
Law enforcement sources told ABCNEWS the Caprice that Muhammad and Malvo rode in had a sniper's nest built into the car that allowed the back seat to fold down while someone could lie inside and fire a rifle while remaining hidden.
A shot could be fired through the trunk and the sniper could line up a target without ever leaving the car. This, sources said, also could explain the lack of spent shell casings in most of the shootings. The recovered rifle was a Bushmaster XM-15. Investigators also recovered a scope and tripod in the car, officials said.
The arrests were made shortly after 3:30 a.m. ET, after an alert motorist spotted the two men sleeping in the car parked at a rest stop on Interstate 70 in Frederick County, Md., about 50 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., and notified the authorities.
The police who took the call at about 1 a.m. notified the sniper task force, and SWAT teams surrounded the car at a distance and waited for the right moment to move in.
The SWAT teams closed in on the vehicle and pulled out the two men without incident. Muhammad and Malvo were taken to Maryland State Police barracks in Frederick County, where police compared them to the available mug shots and fingerprinted them. The men were then transported to Montgomery County, Md., where the investigation is based, and were moved to Baltimore and presented before a federal judge.
They are being held without bail.
One Suspect’s Lethal Silencer
At the time of their arrest, Muhammad, also known as John Allen Williams, was wanted on a federal arrest warrant for weapons possession charges unrelated to the sniper case. Police had a federal warrant for Malvo's arrest for allegedly being a material witness in the sniper investigation. Malvo, a Jamaican citizen, has been described as Muhammad's son or his stepson, but that could not be confirmed.
In court papers related to the weapons charges filed in federal court in Seattle earlier this week, prosecutors alleged that Muhammad tried to equip an assault rifle with a silencer four months ago and told a friend about the damage it could cause.
"Can you imagine the damage you could do if you could shoot with a silencer," the court papers quote Muhammad as telling his former Army buddy, Robert Edwards Holmes, who was interviewed by the FBI this week.
The Sniper’s Call
The break in the case may have come from two phone calls to the investigators' phone tip line, one from someone in Tacoma, Wash., and one that may have come from one of the people involved in the sniper shootings, reportedly frustrated that investigators were not taking him seriously enough.
Both callers to the tip line told police that if they wanted to find out more about the sniper attacks, they should look at a shooting outside a liquor store in Montgomery, Ala., that occurred on Sept. 21. Two people were shot, one fatally, in that incident.
Investigators refused to say what cracked the case, but said the dialogue established with the sniper was key.
"The communication in this particular situation was instrumental in our being able to pursue the investigation," said Gary Bald, the FBI's special agent in charge of the Baltimore office.
Sources told ABCNEWS that fingerprints found on a magazine found at that crime scene linked Malvo to the shooting, which led the sniper task force to Tacoma, Wash., where the teen lived with Muhammad.
However Montgomery, Ala., Police Chief John Wilson today would not comment on the existence of the fingerprints and would not go into any details about the evidence that was found there.
"We do have evidence that we don't want to go into here," Wilson told a news conference. "I don't want to let the suspects know too much about what we have to work with."
The gun used in the shooting in Alabama was not the same gun used in the sniper shootings in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., Wilson said. But he also said that police in Montgomery, Ala., would like to interview Malvo about the liquor store shootings.
Another line to Muhammad apparently came when police in Baltimore stopped a car Muhammad was driving on Oct. 8. Police stopped him for driving erratically. The car was a station wagon, not the Caprice or a white minivan or box truck such as the vehicle that the task force had described as suspect vehicles in the shooting spree. Muhammad identified himself and he was released after a computer search found no outstanding warrants.
Police: No Terror Connection
Police in Bellingham, Wash., also investigated Malvo when he arrived to attend high school there without any transcripts or documentation showing that he had received previous education. They said they did not believe Malvo and Muhammad had any terrorist connect, despite reports that the men were al Qaeda sympathizers.
A report in The Seattle Times said neighbors of the two men in Tacoma remembered both voicing support for the terrorists who on Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked four commercial airliners, two of which were crashed into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon and the fourth in a field in western Pennsylvania.
"It appears that they are and have acted on their own," Bellingham Police Chief Randy Carroll said today.
Muhammad converted to Islam several years ago and last year changed his surname from Williams, investigators told The Seattle Times.
Search in Tacoma and Beyond
The investigation now shifts to questioning Muhammad and Malvo as well as examining possible evidence seized in Tacoma.
Muhammad was a member of the Army and Persian Gulf War veteran. Sources say he was stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington state and may have conducted target practice in the back yard of a home in Tacoma, which FBI and ATF agents searched Wednesday. Fort Lewis is a military base that has a sniper training school.
Muhammad joined the Army in 1985 and was honorably discharged as a sergeant at Fort Lewis in April 1994. Sources at the Pentagon told ABCNEWS that there is no evidence in Muhammad's military record that he ever received sniper training during his 15 years in the military. However, sources also said he qualified as an expert marksman with his unit.
On Wednesday, authorities searched the residential complex in Tacoma for evidence connected with the sniper investigation, an FBI source told ABCNEWS. FBI and ATF agents swept the back yard of the duplex with metal detectors, but the officials would not say what they were looking for.
The agents also brought in a backhoe to dig up a tree trunk for police examination. Neighbors told ABCNEWS that Muhammad used the tree trunk for target practice. Sources said the trunk was flown to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where it would be turned over to the sniper task force.
ABCNEWS' John Miller in Rockville, Md., Pierre Thomas in Washington, D.C., Bob Woodruff in Ashland, Va., Neal Karlinsky in Tacoma, Wash., and ABCNEWS Radio contributed to this report.