In Episode 5 of our true crime podcast, we hear from one of the snipers’ victims who survived being shot. At 13, Iran Brown was also the youngest of the murderers’ random targets.
"I'm doing very well," the now 33-year-old Brown tells us from his home near Atlanta. "Most importantly, I'm alive, I'm vibrant, I'm healthy, just living my best life."
Wounded as he was being dropped off at his middle school in Prince George’s county, Maryland, Brown says he was shot in the stomach seconds after getting out of his aunt’s car.
"And of course, you just heard a loud bang," Brown explains. "As if a grenade went off. And immediately I knew I was shot. Of course, with me never being shot before, I guess intuition and just instincts just kicked in and one thing led to another. And next thing you know, I was just fighting and grasping for air. And that day forever changed me."
"Everybody heard it who was in the immediate area," Brown says. "It was literally like a grenade went off and it was just an echo and it was just a loud bang. And as far as I'm concerned, they were already positioned there before I had arrived. And as soon as I got out of the car, she didn't even have an opportunity to pull out of the driveway. And I was shot immediately."
Iran’s aunt, a nurse, put him back in her car and drive Iran to the nearby Bowie Health Center emergency room. "I was gasping for air. I was turning pale. I was losing so much blood. I had to roll the window down to help me breathe. It was. It was a tense moment. I truly thought I was going to die. But I remember praying and just essentially just preparing to pass away. I was telling my aunt how much I loved her."
Brown was eventually taken to Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC where after a number of surgeries he recovered well enough to go back to school.
"Essentially I still have bullet fragments inside of me," Brown tells us. "So, I've always had to deal with the fact that I'll never be a 100%. But I mean, I'm alive, so, you know, you won't find me complaining about anything. I do have nerve damage. I've never been clinically diagnosed, but I do suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some anxiety issues, understandably so. And again, every time I look in the mirror and lift my shirt up, it's just a daily reminder of what I've been through."
It was at that crime scene outside the middle school where police found the first clue left behind by the snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo.
"Once they left the tarot card," says retired ATF special agent Mike Bouchard, "and said 'call me God' at all the subsequent shootings they communicated or left something behind to let us know - it’s us." Bouchard was one of the lead investigators on the case. He’s now retired and living in Williamsburg, VA.
"It was a mind game that they were playing with us. They felt they had control and they could manipulate us."
The tarot card has a white horse and a back skeleton on the front, the word DEATH centered on the bottom margin. On the top margin in blue ink is written: "Call me God." On the back was written: "For you Mr. police. Do not release to the press."
But an image of the card was leaked to the media. That day.
"The toughest thing with this whole thing is there was no playbook for this," Bouchard explains. "Never happened before." Bouchard says discovering the tarot card and the shooting of a child affected those dedicated to tracking down the killers.
"Emotionally, it shook all of us up," says Bouchard who had one child in college another in high school at the time. "You try and check your emotions as best possible. Sometimes your emotions take over. Like all of us. So we were fortunate we were able to stay composed at the time."
There were two more sniper killings that second week of the terror spree. On October 9, 2002, Dean Meyers was shot and killed at a Sunoco gas station in Manassas, VA. It was for the murder of the 53-year-old Vietnam veteran that Muhammad got the death penalty.
Two days later, on October 9, Kenneth Bridges was shot and killed at an Exxon gas station in Spotsylvania county, VA. Bridges was also 53 years old. A married father of six children, Bridges was on his cell phone speaking with his wife when he was killed.
That shooting touched off a massive search of traffic along busy I-95 near Fredericksburg, VA. The killers got away. There would be more fatal shootings. More sadness and more clues left behind with the hunt for the snipers intensifying.
Episodes of "Three Weeks of Hell: The DC Snipers" come out on Wednesdays. You can find episodes on FOX5DC.com in addition to YouTube, and wherever you get your podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeart, and TuneIn. You can also view an interactive timeline here.