Classmates and officials at Bellingham High School said Malvo was an unremarkable but friendly young man who hadn’t been at school there for nearly a year.
Muhammad is a 6-foot-tall, slender man who wears his pants pulled up tight and keeps his hair cropped very short, acquaintances said. He is the father of four children, including a grown son, and has spent much of his life moving about the country, said an ex-wife and close friends of his ex-wives.
Although Muhammad served in the Army for many years, he was never trained as a sniper, records show. He apparently has no felony record in Washington state, according to court records.
He converted to Islam many years ago, after his first divorce, about the same time he joined the Army, said Carol Williams, his first wife and the mother of his first son. The couple divorced 17 years ago.
But Muhammad was not a violent man, Williams said. The two met when they were both young. She was living at home with her mother, Muhammad had a car and the two had a three-month courtship before marrying. Muhammad would call her son every couple of years, she said, but aside from that had little contact. Muhammad married another woman, Mildred Green. They had three children and divorced in 2000 in Pierce County. Williams said Green called her a couple of years ago to tell her that Muhammad had kidnapped their children and to ask for help in getting them back.
"I know she called me and asked me if I would tell her if I heard anything," Williams said. "I was really wanting to help her."
Elaina Whitlock, 38, and her son Anthony, lived near the family for six years on South Ainsworth Avenue in Tacoma. Whitlock recalled that the couple had a bitter divorce and custody battle. After the divorce, he was granted weekend visitations, but at one point left with the couple’s children.
"Things were going OK with visitations and no one suspected he would take off with them, but then he couldn’t have her and he knew it would hurt her if he took the children," said Whitlock. "Her life was her children."
Whitlock said Green was reunited with the children about a year and a half ago.
Leo Dudley, a friend who lived a block from Muhammad in south Tacoma, said Muhammad once provided security in Washington, D.C., for the Million Man March.
Less is known about John Malvo, who is reportedly Muhammad’s stepson.
Last year’s Bellingham High School yearbook listed a junior named Lee Malvo as unavailable for a yearbook photo.
A woman whose son is a junior there said Malvo attended classes there until last December.
"My son said he was a nice kid,’’ she said.
Mayor Robert Asmundson said he was told by investigators that Muhammad and Malvo stayed in Bellingham only for a few months and that, as far as city officials know, they have been gone for at least nine months.