Her Name was Linda Franklin
The year is 2012 and I’m in a parking lot at the Seven Corners Shopping Center in Fairfax, Virginia. On my car radio, I’d just heard a cheeky news report about the rapture and Mayan calendars predicting our imminent demise without a hint of seriousness. These snarky voices echo in my ears before I realize the world did end, right here, for someone in particular: 47-year-old Linda Franklin was shot outside Home Depot on October 14, 2002, at 9:15 p.m. EST. Earlier in the day, she was on the phone with her dad, Charles, who begged his daughter to stay inside. A gunman was on the loose. She told him not to worry and that people needed to carry on with their lives. Being an FBI intelligence analyst, Linda Gail Franklin knew all the right things to say in situations such as these. I imagine she probably enjoyed the fact that she was out and about, what with her colleagues white-knuckling at their desks, hoping for one more day without reports of an unknown shooter at a gas station, park bench, or somebody’s front porch.
She must have seen the writing on the wall with her department’s necessity being called into question as The Bureau was going through post-9/11 overhauls. That’s probably why she and her husband bought a townhouse farther away from the McLean office. Maybe on October 14, 2002, Linda Franklin didn’t like the way her doorknob needed to be pushed upward before opening, and maybe that’s why she took a slight detour after leaving her office, consciously breathing so she wouldn’t seem so on-edge when she walked through that front door, having to push up that stupid knob again. She’d been told since basic training she couldn’t take her work home. So, presumably, as part of this unwinding, this method of self-calming, Linda Franklin pulled into the Seven Corners Shopping Center at approximately 9:12 p.m. on October 14, 2002, to buy a regular doorknob.
She was not a mark; she was not a planned target. So, I ask myself, why the hell she was chosen. I can only surmise that out of some fatefully bad luck, Linda Franklin approached the entrance of Home Depot and stopped next to the flower nursery under the florescent lights, and searched through her purse after a rush of worry overcame her that maybe she had left her keys in the car. How could she have known that stopping right here, right where I’m standing ten years later, she had become a perfect stationary target? A target for the 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo, who was controlling his breathing, so the barrel of the Bushmaster rifle didn’t shake.
At 9:14 p.m. and 45 seconds, that 17-year-old boy stared through a hole cut in the trunk of a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice with the backseat folded up so he could lay prone, and slowly pulled the trigger. I imagine right before the moment of Linda Franklin’s death, Malvo was receiving instructions, incantations even, from a man in the front seat, staring into the rearview mirror, knowing his boy had found his mark. John Allen Muhammad. Be clear on this: a man, not a monster but a man, named after the greatest of prophets, who whispered instructions to breathe in and breathe out, and make sure to hold the rifle steady as his boy stared through the scope. A man, not a monster but a man, who met this boy on the island of Antigua. A man, not a monster but a man, who told Lee Boyd he was his father and told him not to look him in the eye as he molested him over and over and over, whispering orders to call him God. Call me God, he would say. I am your father, he would say. This same man who, before all this happened, tied this young boy to a tree and said listen to God, listen to me; leaving him there for days without food or water. His throat dry, his stomach expanding, the migraine’s worsening, then-15-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo eventually heard his father’s voice in the rustling of the trees, the crackling of the branches, and this man who’d taken the name of the greatest of prophets was his father, his God. And he listened to his God’s echoing growls as he slowly pulled the trigger and then came an alienated pop from the rifle at 9:15 p.m., followed by the sudden confusion of the few witnesses present, the near-disbelief something like this could happen in Fairfax County while Linda Franklin lay dead, wet in her blood. Hand, still in her purse, with her last mortal thought being concern her keys might’ve fallen in between the seats of her Toyota Corolla.
I, nor anyone else, knows the last words of John Allen Muhammad as he gave no final statement on the night of his execution in 2009. He was silent as the prison guards punctured his arms with the syringe and turned the key, sending the Pavulon and potassium chloride down the tubes connected to his body. If there was remorse, there was none shown but I believe, though it is only a belief,that his last thoughts were of the Beltway Ten: James Sonny Buchanan, landscaper; Prem Walekar, taxi driver; Sarah Ramos, babysitter, housekeeper; Lori-Ann Lewis-Rivera, mother and nanny; Pascal Charlot, retired carpenter; Dean Meyers, civil engineer; Kenneth Bridges, entrepreneur who supported black-owned businesses; Conrad Johnson, bus driver; James Martin, Vietnam veteran. I and everyone else can never be sure what he thought because he gave no closure to the victims’ families. One final perversion before confronting the dark that emanated from his own heart.
But what I do know is I am standing at the front entrance to what is now a Michael’s in the Seven Corners Shopping Center and I can see where the single bullet came from that hit Linda Franklin in the chest, killing her instantly on October 14, 2002, at 9:15 p.m. EST. And while people ducked for cover, that Caprice drove off the lot, onto Route 50.
The next day on October 15, 2002, I woke up to this news and listened to the coverage on my mother’s car radio while she turned onto Peachtree St. to drop me off for another day at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Herndon—just thirty minutes down the road from Home Depot. I remember my mother looking into the rearview, sideview, over her shoulder, going through stop signs quicker than normal. When we saw police cruisers circling the lot next to the school, my mother’s deep breaths only increased as she looked back at me trying to smile, realizing I hadn’t a clue about what was happening. But I know now. I know now what it must have been like for her to see all my teachers standing in a line next to the carpool lane. There was Mrs. Bolka who told me the previous year about the towers falling. Mrs. Taylor who spent extra time with me when multiplication tables were hard. Mrs. Ambrosino who thought I had a pretty decent jump shot for my age. The librarian Mrs. Andres who gave me my first taste of Oscar Wilde with a Great Illustrated Classics edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Even our principal Mrs. Cargill was there. They stood with arms locked at the front of the school, wary of any vehicles they did not recognize. Given their normally regimented and reserved demeanors, I was given a jolt of reality when Mrs. Andres quickly opened the back-passenger door and said,” Move, move, get behind us,” I slipped behind them and they locked arms again. A fierce, unarmed phalanx. Ready.
My school could’ve been next. They could have turned onto Peachtree that Wednesday morning and shot them down in a domino-style drive-by, and my teachers would have stood there. I was afraid of their unity at the time, how stone and stern they were. As soon as I walked into the school, I heard Mrs. Cargill call out, “Clear!” and I went about my day under the thin illusion it was just another school day, where I occasionally glanced out to the blacktop for any cars I didn’t recognize.
Now, ten years later standing at the front entrance of this Michael’s at the Seven Corners Shopping Center, I can’t help but feel sorry. Sorry for the poor 20-something Home Depot employee wearing a neon orange apron who (after the news vans had packed up and driven away, after police had questioned everyone they could, after the Caution tape was cut and left to flap in the autumn wind several days later) was tasked with scrubbing the dried blood of Linda Gail Franklin.
Note: This was partially inspired by an article about Linda Gail Franklin that appeared in the November 3, 2009 edition of the Virginian-Pilot by Matthew Jones.