Muhammad, Malvo invited to crash at Bellingham house

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally was published on Oct. 27, 2002.

Jason Hamilton was a little worried last spring when a roommate brought home two apparently penniless travelers to live in their townhouse for a week.

Now that he knows the two men he knew as John and Lee, father and son, went on to become the central suspects in a bloody East Coast shooting spree, Hamilton is downright shocked.

"My heart just dropped," Hamilton said, when he recognized the two sniper suspects on the news.

Hamilton first met John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo in late March or early April at a barbecue at his former home on Varsity Place, in the Happy Valley neighborhood. His roommate, who had met the two men at the Fairhaven coffee shop where he worked, told Hamilton the two men were going to stay for a little while at the home of the four Western Washington University students.

The men identified themselves as father and son. The younger of the two had just graduated from high school in Jamaica, they said, and wanted to travel before starting college.

At first, Hamilton said, he was leery of the strangers who slept in the living room and stayed up late watching movies and television. But eventually, Hamilton came to think of the duo as friendly and well-mannered. They picked up after themselves and declined the residents' offers of food from their pantry and refrigerator.

"They were very easy to talk to," said Hamilton, now 24 and a marketing and sales representative for a rugby supply company. "They were very friendly. I actually, over the course of that week, came to like them a lot.

"It's kind of scary to say that now," he said.

Hamilton is hard-pressed to recall any details about the two men that trigger any alarms. But it's the unanswered questions that rattle Hamilton.

If Muhammad bought the gun used in the sniper attacks in 2000, did he have it in his duffel bag at Hamilton's this spring? And police are now investigating an unsolved murder in Tacoma that took place before Muhammad and Malvo stayed with Hamilton. Did they commit that murder, or take target practice at a backyard tree stump in Tacoma, before crashing on Hamilton's futon?

The men didn't leave Hamilton any answers when they departed a week after they arrived.

"They just kind of shook our hands and thanked us a lot for letting us take care of them," he said. "They were kind of those people you meet and never expect to run into again."

They said they were headed east.