Bellingham High students say Malvo was nice guy, serious

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally was published on Oct. 25, 2002.

John Lee Malvo - the 17-year-old suspect arrested in the serial sniper case - was "the nicest guy," a serious student at Bellingham High School who wore dress shoes and pressed slacks every day and liked to play in pick-up basketball games, fellow students said.

Malvo, 17, didn't talk much about his personal life or what he did after school, except that he worked out often with the man he called his stepfather. He didn't hang out with a particular crowd and walked the halls by himself, students said.

Former classmates were surprised to hear that, while attending Bellingham High, Malvo lived at the Lighthouse Mission.

Federal agents arrested Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, 41, Thursday, in connection with the Washington, D.C.-area sniper attacks. The three-week shooting spree left 10 people dead.

Police also believe Malvo may be linked to a Sept. 21 shooting in Montgomery, Ala., which left one woman dead and another seriously injured. Malvo matched descriptions of the shooter and a magazine found at the scene bore Malvo's fingerprints, a law enforcement source told The Associated Press.

Principal Steve Clarke would not say how long Malvo attended Bellingham High. Malvo's name is listed in last year's Bellingham High School yearbook, without a photo.

Bellingham Police Chief Randy Carroll said Malvo enrolled at Bellingham High in October 2001.

Two months later, school officials asked police to investigate him because they were unable to find an academic record or transcript for Malvo. Police found no record, either, although Malvo apparently attended a Florida high school for two months earlier that fall, according to news reports.

"He spent a lot of time in the library studying and was not openly gregarious with other students," Carroll said. "He stayed in school briefly. Then we lost contact with him and he moved on."

The police chief said a grand jury subpoenaed documents from the school, but Carroll would not describe the documents or say why they were sought.


Malvo was perhaps best known at Bellingham on the basketball court.

"I didn't even know his last name," said Matt Butcher, a sophomore who played basketball with Malvo. "I'm in disbelief. He's a positive guy."

At about 5-feet, 7-inches tall, Malvo played hard and aggressively at lunchtime pick-up games, said Lars Hershey, 15.

"He hustled. He played hard," Hershey said, recalling how Malvo dropped into the gym in his dress shoes and slacks, pulled gym clothes out of a backpack and changed right there.

"That kid was serious, always serious," he said.

If he said anything during games, he praised other players for good shots and talked about working out or athletics, both Butcher and Hershey said.

When they played, Malvo was "all over the court," Butcher said. "If he missed a shot, he'd be the first to get the rebound."

At some point, the boy with the faint Jamaican accent came to play less often. Eventually, he stopped.

When not on the court, Malvo kept to himself, students said. One student described him as the guy who everyone saw but nobody knew.

Stacy Gugich said Malvo was "the nicest guy, very polite, well mannered," who sometimes pulled out a chair for her to sit down in class. They were both enrolled in a college-prep writing class and discussed the Vietnam War during one assignment.

"He knew all the technical terms, seemed really into that and seemed to know what he was talking about when it came to warfare," said Gugich, 18, now a student at Whatcom Community College. "He talked a little bit about his dad, whom I'm guessing was his stepfather, being in the Gulf War.

"But I was really surprised (to hear of his arrest)," she said. "It was a shock. It's amazing you can see a person as something and all of sudden, something happens to totally contradict it."

Other Bellingham High students repeated only what they'd heard and seen: he walked in the halls alone, he studied hard and only talked much in U.S. history class debates.

"He'd do debates with people," Butcher said. "He was always the leader of it."

One classmate who did remember him was Kateland Watson, 15, who had a history class with Malvo.

"He just kind of sat there. I didn't really pay much attention to him," she said. "He was quiet and kind of cute."