Exactly 10 years after the murder spree began, a new book helps explain how a good kid turned bad enough to coldly kill one person after another.
There is no excuse for what Lee Boyd Malvo did to all those innocent people 10 years ago. But, like most things in life, there is an explanation for it. And the best explanation I have yet read for the madness that was the Beltway sniper spree can be found in the pages of a fascinating new book, published just last week, by Carmeta Albarus, a mitigation specialist who worked closely for years with Malvo and his defense lawyers following the teenager's 2002 arrest.
The book is called The Making of Lee Boyd Malvo, the D.C. Sniper. It chronicles in great detail the relentless danger and disappointment that Malvo faced before he became wrapped up in John Allen Muhammad's wickedness. And then it presents the ways in which the older man controlled his understudy, controlled him to the point of hypnosis. All the kid wanted was a decent father, and when his own dad failed to be there for him, he allowed another man, a truly evil man, to play the part. The result is a mournful story* with a Shakespearean arc.
To her credit, Albarus tries to play it straight, and the story she tells is a striking one -- not just for the victims who randomly got in the way of Malvo and Muhammad, but for Malvo himself, whose hard life in the Caribbean as a child made him ripe for the older sniper's cruel plan. To say so is not to diminish Malvo's culpability for his crimes, or to diminish the suffering of his victims and their family members, but rather to highlight what it took (what it takes) for a good kid to turn bad enough to coldly murder one person after another.
Treating a child like this doesn't just destroy the child. It destroys society itself.
Muhammad is long gone -- executed in 2009 for his role in the string of murders that paralyzed the Washington-Baltimore corridor in that unforgettable autumn. But Malvo is still with us, age 27 and destined to remain alive in a jail cell for at least another half century. From a Virginia prison last week, he even gave an interview to the Washington Post, which dutifully published Malvo's expression of remorse and regret for what is essentially a wasted life, one that once was full of potential, if not promise, but became a life of sorrow and pain.