"We didn't want school crossing guards out there with the uniforms and the vests standing there as targets," he said. "So we pulled them out, but we asked for volunteers. And we had several hundred people come forward and say they were willing to help kids cross the street, help kids get to school, knowing that they could be a target."

While there appeared to be no end in sight to the shootings, investigators soon caught a break. They identified a fingerprint at Benjamin Tasker Middle School as Malvo's, learned of his relationship with Muhammad and found that Muhammad had registered a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice in New Jersey. Police named the suspects, described their car and called on the public to report any sightings.

Early on Oct. 24, a refrigerator repairman from Pennsylvania spotted the Caprice at the I-70 rest stop near Myersville and dialed 911. Police swarmed over the scene and arrested the pair without incident.

Muhammad and Malvo were charged, tried and convicted of six counts of murder in Maryland and two counts in Virginia.

During Malvo's trial in Maryland, he described the pair's plans to take their terror to Baltimore, where they planned to kill a pregnant woman and a police officer. At the police officer's funeral, he said, they planned to lay improvised explosive devices, similar to the roadside bombs used by insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, to cause more deaths.

In Maryland, Muhammad and Malvo were each sentenced to six life terms without possibility of parole. In Virginia, Malvo was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of patrol. Muhammad was sentenced to death.

Snider attended the trials and was present Nov. 10, 2009, when Muhammad was executed. She described it as "very medical."

"I didn't expect closure," she said. She says she and her family have decided to focus on the positive: her brother's love for them, and for life.

She says he was committed to his community, where he volunteered with the Boys and Girls Clubs and Crime Stoppers. Her family has established a foundation in his name that continues to award scholarships to young people.

But as Snider tries to look forward, she finds that each new shooting in the news — at Virginia Tech, at the "Batman" movie premiere in Aurora, Colo. — freshens the pain.

"I wish there were more we could do in gun control," she said. "I was so devastated when the assault weapon ban expired [in 2004]. ... If it could happen to us, it could happen to anyone. I just feel like somebody else is going to get that knock on the door."

LaRuffa, now 65, sold his restaurant in 2008 and lives in Southern Maryland. For nearly two months after the attack, he was shaken nightly by vivid flashbacks — worse, he says, than any nightmare he had ever had.

Then police found Muhammad and Malvo with his laptop, solving the crime, and the flashbacks ended.

When LaRuffa learned that Malvo had laughed and bragged during his initial interviews with investigators, he was furious.

"I would say things like, 'I'm 55, but I'll take my shot. Put me in a room with him and give me a shot.'

"But that feeling changes because I learned — and I'm glad I learned or figured it out or something, somehow — that if you keep that feeling, you destroy yourself. ... If you hold that anger in you, then he wins far past shooting you."

LaRuffa dismisses Muhammad, who never admitted any wrongdoing, as a sociopath. He skipped his execution, he says, because he didn't want to let him steal another day of his life.

"It's not going to make me feel better watching him die," LaRuffa said.

Malvo, in contrast, has shown remorse and apologized to the families of some of his victims. Over the years, LaRuffa has thought about reaching out to him.

"I believe there's a chance he is a different person," LaRuffa said. "Not in any way that he's not responsible or they should let him out or anything. But I think somehow, humanly, he's different than he was."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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