Bellingham residents shocked as sniper case intrudes on city of subdued excitement

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

In barbershops, coffee shops and other places where people gather in Bellingham, conversations Thursday centered on the local connection to the Washington, D.C., sniper case.

"Everyone wants to talk about it," said Jess Bass, who cuts hair at Morries Barber Shop on Cornwall Avenue. "They can't believe Bellingham has anything to do with this. Everyone would like to think they knew them, but no one did."

Police in Maryland arrested John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo and are holding them as suspects in the string of sniper shootings that terrorized the suburbs surrounding the nation's capital. Both men lived in Bellingham for a number of months between August of 2001 and early this year.

Bass said everyone is glad it's over.

"It's too close to home for that kind of a connection," said Ron Nicolaas, who was waiting to have his hair cut at Morries and who has a daughter at Bellingham High School. "It's crazier than hell."

Malvo attended Bellingham High for a short time last school year.

Another customer, Joseph R. Jackson, complained that Mayor Mark Asmundson had given out too much information during a television interview the previous evening.

Customers at Leopold Barbers, also on Cornwall Avenue, watched television reports about the arrest of former Bellingham residents John Muhammad and Lee Malvo, and commented on Police Chief Randy Carroll's latest haircut and how foggy Bellingham appeared on TV.

Vinannda Samath, manager of Corry's Coffee at the downtown bus depot, said waiting passengers talked a lot about the case, and many expressed relief that someone had been captured.

Duane Walter, eating at Horseshoe Cafe on Holly Street on his day off, said he was surprised that someone as young as Malvo, who is 17, was arrested.

"I didn't think someone so young would have the expertise to fire a rifle like that," he said. Police in Maryland have not indicated whether Malvo or Muhammad was the shooter in the D.C.-area murders.

Barb Lowmon, a waitress at the Horseshoe, said there was a lot of curiosity about Malvo.

"I have a daughter who is 17, and she's still playing with Barbie dolls," said Lowmon.

Tammy Bring, who also works at the Horseshoe, thought it was strange the media was focusing so much on Bellingham, since the suspects were only here for a few months.

"Bellingham was so good, they didn't shoot anyone here," she said, jokingly.

Chris Goodsell, an American who lives in British Columbia stopped at the Horseshoe during one of his frequent visits to Bellingham. He said he wasn't surprised Muhammad and Malvo had been attracted to Bellingham. He said one of the things he loves about Bellingham is that, like many other insular places, it attracts unusual people.

"Some are whackos, crackos and flakos. Some are unique and wonderful," he said. "There's something warm and friendly about this town. When I drive into this town, I feel good. It's something to do with the people - I can't explain it."

Muhammad and Malvo were the talk of Lighthouse Mission Thursday morning, said mission resident Michael Huzarski, who wasn't there in the fall of 2001, when the two men reportedly stayed there for some time.

"It's kind of a surprised that (Muhammad) was here," Huzarski said. "You never know in this day and age."

Down Holly Street from the mission, Mary Kimmich also was surprised Bellingham was connected to the sniper investigation.

"We think we can hide up here in this little corner of the world, but we can't," said Kimmich, co-owner of Pacific Marine Exchange.

Kimmich said she suspected Malvo and Muhammad did not stay in Bellingham long because the city still is close-knit.

"People who are looking to be invisible can't really be invisible in this community," she said.