MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo unleashed havoc in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Md., beginning on Oct. 3, 2002. The "D.C. Snipers" would eventually kill 13 people and leave six wounded, in six states.
But weeks before the nonstop national coverage of random murders and manhunts in the Eastern U.S., Malvo and Muhammad had stopped in Montgomery.
It was 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday night at the state liquor store on Zelda Road. Sept. 21, 2002.
A bullet from a high-powered rifle tore through Claudine Parker's chest, killing her almost instantly. Kellie Adams was hit in the face and neck, severely wounded.
Ten years later, Adams is tormented by the memory.
"I often wonder if she realized what was happening. Was she scared? Did she feel any pain?" Kellie Adams says of Parker. "Of course, the doctor told me she probably didn't feel anything. They may have been trying to spare my feelings."
Now living in the small town of Lumpkin, Ga., she is still healing, and hoping that people remember not just Parker, but the others who were killed or, like Adams, wounded for life.
Adams remembers that Parker was about to see her nephew play in a high school football game. But the proud aunt would never see that game, nor the rise of Roman Harper -- the son of her sister, Princess Harper -- to University of Alabama football star, nor his part in the New Orleans Saints' 2010 Super Bowl victory.
Adams just wanted to get home to her 16-month-old baby: dinner time, play time, bath time, bed time -- the best part of her day.
Though it would be weeks before anyone realized it (a gun magazine dropped by Malvo near the Montgomery crime scene broke the case) Claudine Parker was the first person to die in the attacks. And Adams was among the first wounded.
She didn't hear a gun. It felt like an electric jolt, not bullets. She saw blood flowing on her left. Part of her face had been blown onto her chest. On instinct, she reached down and placed the mass of flesh where it belonged.
World gone awry
In the following five years, Adams endured 30 surgeries. Complications left her dependent on a tracheostomy tube for three years. For a while, she had to rely on a feeding tube.
Just home from the hospital, she learned of the link between the crime in Montgomery and those affecting dozens of others on the East Coast at the hands of the same two men. Satellite vans from major media outlets descended on the city.
"It was crazy," she said. "I asked the police, â??Is there anything we should worry about? Will they come back?' They felt that nothing would happen down here."
But authorities did ask her to return to Zelda Road to re-enact the events of that night.
For a while after, Adams worked for the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control's central office. But frequent doctors' appointments led to or near Zelda Road. She could not shake the image of Parker, of the dead and injured in the D.C. area, of the two men who continued to shoot people, eluding police.
Anger grew in her.
In October 2007, she saw Muhammad, by then a death-row inmate, on a CNN program, The Mind of a Sniper. Muhammad laughed about his crimes, seemingly taunting his victims and their families. The show aired repeatedly throughout the week.
Adams posted a nearly two-minute response video on YouTube, telling viewers, "He shouldn't be getting airtime on CNN when no one talks to the victims' families, or victims anywhere, to see what we are still doing five years later it's not fair, and CNN should be ashamed."
She told an Advertiser reporter at the time that she hoped to see Muhammad one day.
"The next time we meet, Muhammad will see me laughing from the other side of the execution room window in Virginia as I watch them put him to death for hurting so many people."
Eventually, Lyn Adams moved his wife and child to a new home in Benton, Ky., to put the past behind them. There, Kellie would have more surgeries, and Lyn became her caregiver while he worked full-time, for as long as he could.
Under immense pressure, the marriage faltered and the couple divorced.
Kellie was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was hospitalized. She could break into a crying jag or a flash of anger at any moment. She said her ex-husband's family took action; they would be the ones taking care of her daughter, Brenda, back home in Alabama.
"It was decided that this was not the kind of environment Brenda should be brought up in," she said.
Alone but undefeated, Kellie earned her online degree in veterinary science and worked in a nearby humane society until her next surgery, which required eight weeks of recovery.
Face to face with fate
On Nov. 10, 2009, John Allen Muhammad was executed by lethal injection in Jarratt, Va.
Members of Claudine Parker's family chose to make the trip.
Authorities contacted Adams about attending the execution.
"From the time I was shot, I wanted to be there, but I talked to friends who said it might not be best for my mental state.
"They called, and I broke down crying."
She had come to terms with Malvo's consecutive life-terms prison sentence, however.
"If it wasn't for Muhammad, he (Malvo) wouldn't have done what he did. His punishment fits his part of the crime."
Adams' next move sounds surreal. But in retrospect, it has a certain logic.
The same month of Muhammad's execution, she began work as a ride operator for a traveling carnival.
"I figured it would be full of people who had no direction, and I had no direction," she said. "A lot of the people had criminal records, warrants for their arrest, no family, were homeless."
In her 15-month stint, her fears -- being outside after midnight, constantly dealing with the public, the presence of known criminals -- only grew.
But there was an equal fear of complete alienation. She felt she had nobody. Her mother died when she was 9, and her father was out of the country.
In 2010, Adams appeared on an A and E television special, Aftermath, with two other D.C. Sniper survivors. Her fellow guests, interviewed by William Shatner, said they had a new appreciation for life, embracing their family more than ever. Only Adams remained in tears through most of the broadcast. Near the end, Shatner tried to coax some semblance of hope from Adams. It rang hollow.
Still, earlier on, she had met and grown close to a new man named Steve. The two kept in touch via Facebook. He messaged that he missed her and wanted to be with her.
A year and a half ago, she and Steve settled in the small town of Lumpkin, Ga. In the evenings, the couple walks their two dogs. She is close enough to her dad's home in Georgia to visit, and within a reasonable drive to Millbrook, where Brenda lives with Adams' ex-husband.
But even in tiny Lumpkin, there's risk.
"I almost never go out in public," Adams said. "If I have to go grocery shopping, there is so much anxiety for me to get in and get out. I'm on medications, and they keep me relaxed a little bit, but I'm still hypervigilant. When I do go out in public, I'm very aware of my surroundings and trying to look out for anything suspicious."
The nightmares -- a man chases her with a gun, but has no face -- continue. She never saw the face of Malvo, her shooter, just the lower half of his body. But they come just once a week now. Not every night.
Adams can see her life, right now, as happy. Maybe not the way most would define it.
"Right now, it's as happy as I think it could be. It would be happier if my daughter could live with me," she said. "I'm with someone I love more than anyone I've ever been with. It's nice to have someone you can talk to, who knows what you're going through."
Now, 11-year-old Brenda Adams sees her mother once a month -- plus extended visits on holidays and in the summer. During phone calls there are often awkward silences. Mom and daughter are having to get to know one another again.
Kellie Adams laments the lost time triggered by a meaningless violent act 10 years ago. She was 24, a young mom beaming with hope. Her baby, like all babies, knew nothing of bad things in the world.
"As she got older, she was very aware that, Mommy's got some problems, and she's got to go to the hospital a lot,'" Kellie said of her daughter. "Unfortunately, she's had to grow up fast for her age."
by Teri Greene, Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser