D.C. Snipers Killed Harper's Aunt 2 Years Ago

It wasn't shaping up to be an especially memorable day for Roman Harper – Bama beating a non-conference Southern Miss 20-7 (in a 10 win season) and Harper registering one tackle on the stat sheet – until the call came in that marked September 21, 2002 in history for him and his family.

John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the two men who terrorized the Washington D.C. metro area with random sniper-shootings for a three-week period in October 2002, passed through the South just a few days earlier.

That September night while Harper was eating dinner with his parents and other friends, Harper's mother got the call that his aunt, Claudine Lee Parker, was shot in the neck. His family sped home before learning that Parker died before getting to the hospital.

Parker, a manager at a Montgomery ABC store, was preparing to go home for the night when two men tried to rob the store.

"They were actually closing up shop and the little boy (Malvo) came up to her. Things didn't go right or whatever and all the sudden she was shot," Harper said. "She was paralyzed instantly and she died on the way to the hospital."

Roman Harper comes from a big family. He has three brothers and one sister, along with several cousins. He usually has an entourage of family and friends waiting for him after every Tide home game. Harper said his Aunt Claudine came to a few games, even though she wasn't enamored with Alabama.

"She's a big Alabama State fan, not a big Alabama fan," Harper said of his late aunt. "To let her tell it Alabama State could probably beat Alabama. She's a hornet but she came to a couple of games to support me."

"She tried to take credit for me being a football player," he said. "She was real big on aerobics and a healthy person. Out of all my aunts and relatives she was the healthiest one and she was the first one to go. We were like all her kids. All my cousins, she pretty much took care of us a lot of times. She was always happy."

Roman debated whether to make the trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas with his team the following week, but rightfully, family obligations won out. It's the only game Harper has missed in his career at the Capstone, and this Saturday's game will be the first time he's played in Fayetteville.

"I think about it a lot. I read about it just the other day in the hotel saying how I missed one game my freshman year," Harper said.

The team won handily without Harper that night, in quarterback Brodie Croyle's first ever collegiate start. Saturday Harper will be there helping his squad, and the Tide will have a different first-time starter at quarterback, Marc Guillon.

Harper said he doesn't think about what happened to his aunt as much two years later, but every time he steps on the field for a game he's reminded.

"I write a little token to my aunt. Every game I've played in since then I write her name on my wrist and just remember it. I kiss it every now and then during the game. Just little things like that make me think about her."

In all, 13 people were killed over the course of that horrific month. It wasn't until later that he found out his family's tragedy was more than just a random hold-up, and was a link to a story that gripped the nation.

"I did not find out until after the funeral," Harper said. "At first we thought it was some random guy trying to rob the liquor store. Come to find out it was the snipers. It was just weird. It was more of a shock. I happened to lose one of the people I loved just like everyone else did."

For most people, the story ended on October 24, 2002, when Muhammad and Malvo were arrested at a rest stop near Myersville, Md., after a motorist spotted the car and alerted authorities. But Harper's mother, Princess, testified in the State of Virginia's murder case against the two, identifying her sister as the Montgomery victim.

In March of this year, Muhammad was given a death sentence and Malvo was sentenced to life in prison for the shootings in Virginia. There are no plans to prosecute the two in Alabama, Harper said.

"I'm glad that it's all over with. He got sentenced and I don't think they're going to prosecute him here. It's about the same time it happened about two years ago. It's still on your mind but you just have to move on."

Harper has moved on with his football career. The junior has started in 17 consecutive games, dating back to the 2002 Hawaii contest, and he was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week after his season-high 11 tackles against Ole Miss this year.

This season he's the team's leading tackler with 15. He's had two tackles for loss, one sack, three pass break-ups and one interception returned for 26 yards. Harper said the death of his aunt has change the way he looks at life, and even the way he plays the game.

"You've got to be able to live every day like it's your last and just try to enjoy yourself every time," he said. "That's what I do every time I go on the field. I just try to enjoy every minute of it. I love practicing, I love going to the games. I love being out with my teammates hanging out in the locker room. You have to learn how to love it and love every minute of it. You never know when you can be cut short at any time."

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