Son of Infamous 'D.C. Sniper' John Allen Muhammad Lives in Dad's Shadow

Son of D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad lives in infamous dad's shadow.

ByNeal Karlinsky and Alyssa Litoff
April 02, 2010, 9:59 AM

April 2, 2010— -- To the families of the 10 people killed in the 2002 Washington-area sniper attacks, Nov. 10, 2009, marks the day they found the closest thing to justice the system could offer: the so-called D.C. sniper, John Allen Muhammad, was put to death by lethal injection.

But to Lindbergh Williams, a 27-year-old animal control officer in Baton Rouge, La., Nov. 10 has a very different meaning. That day, Williams visited death row to get to know the infamous killer who was also his father.

"It was weird," Williams told "Nightline." "We stood there and just looked at each other for about -- I want to say a good three minutes. No words said. No anything."

Muhammad carried out a weeks-long shooting spree that terrorized Washington, D.C., in October 2002. Ten people died. After multiple appeals, Muhammad was executed by the state of Virginia. He was 48.

Williams said his two-hour meeting with his father was like two strangers looking in the mirror. "I think we both were doing the same thing like, 'That's my nose.' 'You have my ears.' So, we were both checking each other out," he said.

Williams said it was his last chance to connect with his father.

"We only have a couple more hours before I would never be able to talk to you again," he recalled saying to Muhammad. "I'm here as a son. Is there anything you want to tell me? Is there a story that happened to you when you were my age that you want to tell me? Any questions like that? Is there anything that you just need to get off your chest? If you just want to sit here and cry for two hours, that's why I came here."

Williams is part of a tiny fraternity of children, including the offspring of Charles Manson and the "BTK killer" in Kansas, who are forever marked by their infamous fathers.

"Children never ask to be born. Imagine having never asked to be born, and then knowing that 50 percent of your DNA is from someone that probably never should have been born," said forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, who is a consultant for ABC News.

Welner says the relationship Williams shares with his father is complex.

"He can't help looking the way he looks, he can't help being associated with his father, so he has to go through life knowing that as hard as he tries to detach himself from John Muhammad, he's always going to be challenged," said Welner.

Williams doesn't share his father's name, but he's known, around the Baton Rouge neighborhood where he lives and where his father grew up, as "Little John."

"When I walk to the corner stores, I get 'Hey, Little John.' I get it all the time," he said. "I can't deny it."

Williams lives in the same trailer that his father did when he was a young man -- a strange place to call home for someone trying to escape his father's shadow.

Williams, who raises pitbulls, doesn't believe in the old adage "like father, like son," and doesn't believe his beloved dogs are predestined to hurt people.

"You don't come into the world with bad intentions. You do not touch the face of the Earth and say, 'OK, my mother was a pitbull. My father was a pitbull. I might as well go in the ring and continue the legacy,'" he said. "I'm a firm believer that your environment doesn't make the person or make the man."

Childhood Marked by Father's Absence

Aside from a summer Williams spent with Muhammad as a boy, he says he barely knew his father. All he has now are three tokens from his father: two photos taken when Williams was a baby, and a simple white box with his father's name on it.

"I haven't had time to actually get an urn yet, but my father's ashes sit in my house," Williams said.

No matter how hard he's tried to distance himself from his father's actions, Williams won't deny that he wishes he had a chance to know his dad.

"He couldn't deny his history if he wanted to. So he's engaged it. And he's figured out how to put some kind of container around it, like a radioactive and very toxic part of his life, but something that he can put on a shelf, and deal with it on terms of a history he's comfortable with," Welner said. "The healthiest thing one can do under the circumstances of a notorious father who has done unthinkable things is to acknowledge in children, this is a part of us, but you're different."

Stephan Jones, the son of cult leader Jim Jones, who, in 1978, was responsible for one of history's largest mass suicides in Jonestown, Guyana, has struggled to come to terms with his roots.

"I hated my father when he was alive and for years after his death. I know now that a lot of that was to keep from having to face my own shame and my own self-hatred," Jones, 50, said.

Jim Jones died the day of the massacre along with 900 temple members, but his teenage son Stephan -- who was in Guyana and desperately wanted to escape his father's cult -- was away from the compound at the time.

"At that time, I felt horrible that I was not there when my loved ones needed me most," he said.

Father-Son Forgiveness and Similarities

For Stephan Jones, the tragedy at Guyana almost seems like a lifetime ago.

"I have been anything but peaceful in my life. And I've certainly spent plenty of time in hell on Earth," he said. "I was fortunate to have good people in my life that could be an example for me and be guides to me about a better way of doing things. For me, the greatest fear always resides in what the people think of me."

Still, he is always on guard -- watchful that the same poison that made his father a mass murderer could be within him. He admits that he's seen the same tendencies his father had in himself.

"I've had my own struggle with narcissism," he said. "My experience is that I've got it all going on inside of me -- some of the really good stuff going on and I've got a shadow that will rival anyone's."

At the same time, beneath so many conflicted feelings, he's learned to forgive his father.

"I also remember what a character he was, what an incredibly intelligent man he was, and how he could really be very loving. That got messier as time went on but, he was a mixed bag," Jones said.

Like Jones, Williams says that being like his father -- not the criminal, but the person -- isn't bad at all.

"I'm very independent. I don't like handouts," he said, citing the similarities with his dad. "I have the same mentality that he has by 'no such thing as can't.' There's no such thing that you can't do anything. If you think you can jump to the moon, try your hardest to jump and grab the moon."

"These men know this is a part of them," Welner said. "The sons of the fathers will always be the sons of the fathers and they can't walk away from whom their fathers are."

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