The following is an interview with Carmeta Albarus, author of The Making of Lee Boyd Malvo: The D.C. Sniper. Albarus, a social worker, was instructed by the court to uncover any information that might help mitigate the death sentence the teen faced
Question: Why a book about “the making” of Lee Boyd Malvo?
Carmeta Albarus: Malvo was still a teen when he became part of the nation’s and the world’s consciousness in a most tragic way. Of all the clients I have worked with over the years, Malvo is one whose name still makes us ask, “What went wrong? And why?”
Q: Who is Lee Boyd Malvo from your perspective?
CA: The name Lee Boyd Malvo is now synonymous with the term “DC Sniper.” However, Lee’s life did not begin with the sniper shootings. He was a boy with great potential. He could have grown up to be a doctor, a lawyer, or the airline pilot he dreamed of being when he was a small child. He never got over the separation from his father when he was five years old, and it was especially difficult for him because his mom was often away from home too. He would be left with various individuals, some of them relatives, some of them strangers, but never long enough to form any permanent or stable attachment. Nevertheless, he generally did well in school and was motivated to be the best student in his class.
Q: So then when did he start to go wrong?
CA: Things took an ill-fated turn after his mother took him to Antigua, where he met John Muhammad. So, Muhammad presented this image of being a replacement father, especially after Malvo’s mother left him in Antigua on his own. Muhammad pretty much became Malvo’s father. From there Muhammad initiated the process of molding Malvo into the sniper.
For me to work with Malvo, I could not just see him as the sniper. I had to be able to see him growing up, and be able to relate to that part of him which was truer to his identity and his aspirations before he became linked with John Muhammad.
Q: What was your role in working with Malvo?
CA: I was brought onto the case as an investigator to research his background. One reason was my experience working on death penalty cases as a Mitigation Specialist and my understanding of the Jamaican culture where Malvo was from originally. As someone who was born in Jamaica and who taught in public school there, I knew Malvo could have been one of my students. So, though my role originally was that of an investigator, it was recognized that I could play more of an integral role in helping Malvo to cooperate with his attorneys and to detach from the hold that Muhammad had.
Q: Has Malvo evolved from the time you first met him to a point where he feels differently about what he did? Does he feel any remorse?
CA: When I first him, he identified himself as Muhammad’s son, with the name John Lee Muhammad. He would sign forms with the name John Lee Muhammad. This is the name Muhammad had given to him after the first murder, which took place in Washington State. He has evolved over the years, but the evolution was gradual. Before the trial, we had some rocky moments when we did not know if he was progressing or regressing. I had to go to Jamaica and get a teacher who had opened up her home to him in the past. Given the childhood traumas that he never dealt with, which were aggravated by the intense indoctrination he underwent, Malvo’s process of evolving was not easy. My patience and abilities were tested at times as I tried to get him to a point where he could see himself as separate from Muhammad, whom he had learned to call his dad. We can say now, that ten years after the sniper shootings, Malvo is at a different place in relation to what he did. He feels a deep sense of remorse and wants to make amends, which is the reason he cooperated for this book. If you look at some of his writings and drawings from the period when I first met him, it gives you an idea of where he was then compared to where he is now, and some of these are in the book.
Q: What have you learned from your experience working with Malvo and writing this book?
CA: The need for parents and all of us as a society to really recognize that secure, nurturing parental attachment is profoundly important to a child. In the case of so many of my clients, it is not just that they wanted a mother to love them, but they also wanted a father who showed them love and was there for them in childhood. There was an old way of thinking that mothers are the nurturers and fathers are just providers and disciplinarians. It is now more and more apparent that fathers are also expected to be nurturers. And though mothers might express their feelings a little differently from fathers, there is such a thing as paternal nurture. In the case of Malvo, he bonded with his father as the nurturer; and from the age of five, when he was separated from his father, he was vulnerable to any male figure who could fill that void. This was the first impression Muhammad made on Malvo and that started their relationship.