HANOVER, VA (WWBT) – The Ponderosa restaurant is open and things are business as usual. Town officials won't talk about what happened there seven years ago, how this town has changed since then or tonight's execution. Off camera, the town manager offered a sentiment that residents we spoke with shared: Ashland has moved on.
Ashland resident Wayne Gilbert remembers that Saturday night in October 2002 like it was yesterday. It some ways, it haunts him.
"We didn't know at the time but the two guys that did all this sitting in the restaurant eating and they were watching the police out here doing the investigation," said Gilbert.
Gilbert worked at the Waffle House across from the Ponderosa and saw his restaurant's surveillance tape of Muhammad and Lee Malvo...watching...knowing what they had done. They struck down an innocent traveler enjoying a pit stop with his wife and dropped a law enforcement dragnet the likes of which Hanover County had never seen. What followed was fear. Fear that an Ashland son would be next.
"My son said something to me because I put him on the inside away from the street when we were walking back from school. He would say 'are you scared cuz of what's been happening.' I said 'I am.'" said Gilbert.
Today, Ashland is as it was at its founding. A tiny town built around the train service that runs through it like clockworks. The main drag, Route 54, is busier than ever. Folks who live here see this place as the tranquil center of their universe. With the snipers' capture, Ashland was at a crossroads, live in fear or move on. For Sheila Dawson, slow and steady, but forward.
"You can let your kids ride their bikes in town and you don't worry. I just think its typical small town Virginia. Everybody kinda looked out for one another back then and I think they still do it now," said Dawson.
And even though, that deadly three weeks in 2002 is behind them, Muhammad's execution for many means justice served.
"All the torment that he put people through, I think it's just, yeah. I'm against killing people, but in a case like this, it's no question if he did it or if he didn't do it," Dawson said.
The fact is that shooting seven years ago is a part of Ashland's history, but it's a chapter that closes tonight with Muhammad execution. His accomplice, lee Boyd Malvo, is serving a life sentence at a high-security Virginia prison.