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One of the articles Blair was found to have lied in - 10 February 2003

[What follows is the entire New York Times article, written by Blair and published on 10 February 2003.

The article can be accessed on the paper's website here. The article is The New York Times' copyright but is published here in full. As with all other articles on this site, I ask the publishers to recognise the historical value of having their work readily accessible in one place. This site seeks no commercial gain, only to serve as a resource for the future.

Any questions, queries should be directed to kieren@jaysonblair.com.]

February 10, 2003

Peace and Answers Eluding Victims of the Sniper Attacks

By Jayson Blair

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 -- Denise Johnson has advocated stronger gun control laws and focused on her children since her husband was killed last October. Kellie Adams is back at work, but on seven medications -- one for the pain in her back, another for the scars in her throat and another for depression.

Doriel Charlot, who is homebound with Alzheimer's disease, no longer has her husband to cook, clean and fill her prescriptions.

Three months after John Muhammad and Lee Malvo were charged in the Washington-area sniper attacks, those who lost loved ones or were shot in what investigators say was an eight-month rampage by the men are struggling to stitch their lives back together.

The losses have touched hundreds, from the relatives of Keeyna Cook, whose killing on Feb. 16 at her aunt's house in Tacoma, Wash., is the first tied to the sniper suspects, to the family of Ms. Johnson, whose husband, Conrad, was killed on Oct. 22 in the last sniper attack.

In total, Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo are suspected in 21 shootings that killed 15 people and wounded 6.

Some survivors have had to learn to walk and talk again, and others struggle to pay the bills and cope with scars and lingering pain. The relatives of victims are raising children without a spouse, managing family finances minus one income, and dealing with court appearances where cameras flash in their eyes and they face the men accused of the shootings.

''I have spent a lot of time praying for the other families,'' said James Ballenger III, a part-time preacher whose wife, Hong Im, was killed in a Sept. 23 robbery in Baton Rouge, La., tied to the two men. ''Praying that they have the ability to forgive, to forgive everyone, so that they can finally find peace in their hearts.''

For many, that peace has been elusive.

Kellie Adams, 24, was shot in the neck and face on Sept. 21 in a robbery at a liquor store where she works in Montgomery, Ala. Another clerk, Claudine Parker, 52, was killed.

Ms. Adams ticked off the seven medications she takes and the many doctors she has seen, the persistent back and neck pain, and spoke of the difficulty of depending on others to drive and even dress her. ''It makes you feel sometimes less than human,'' she said.

One recent evening after returning home from her second operation to remove scar tissue from her throat, Ms. Adams explained how she finds herself furious at some moments and equally afraid at others. She wondered out loud about buying a handgun to protect herself and her 21-month-old daughter, Brenda Lynn, when her husband, Lyn, a local supermarket truck driver, is at work. Noting that she has never been a fan of guns, Ms. Adams said buying one would be about protecting her psyche as much as her person.

She does not care whether the men are ever tried in Alabama, only that they are convicted and receive death sentences.

But still, in her search for answers, Ms. Adams, whose mother died when she was 9, has sought out and begun corresponding with Annie Jackson, the woman who raised Mr. Muhammad after his mother died when he was 3.

''There are similarities in our backgrounds, and I see bits and pieces of myself in even them,'' she said of Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo, who was abandoned by his father at a young age.

What she wonders most, Ms. Adams said, is how either man could have done ''something that left so many children without a parent.''

Denise Johnson betrayed a warm grin when the bus pulled up in front of her Oxon Hill, Md., home at Christmas and drivers dressed in Santa hats came tumbling off with gifts for her sons, Dante, 14, and Devon, 8. Ms. Johnson's husband was gunned down in the aisle of the bus he drove on Oct. 22, in the last shooting. Since then, the $30,000 Ms. Johnson got from the sniper victims' compensation fund has helped. But Ms. Johnson has also had to rely on smaller donations from others.

In January, she joined other victims' relatives in filing a lawsuit against the Tacoma gun store where the assault rifle used in the attacks came from and the gun's manufacturer, Bushmaster Firearms. Ms. Johnson said the lawsuit was not about the money but about her hopes that it would ''prevent other families from experiencing the pain the suffering we are currently enduring.''

''I don't want my children or anyone's children to be afraid to go outside,'' she added.

The shootings affected the old and the young.

Pascal Charlot, 72, a retired carpenter, had been caring for his wife, Doriel, for two years since she developed Alzheimer's disease.

On Oct. 3, Mr. Charlot cooked his wife's dinner and then went out to refill a prescription. As he stepped off the curb on Georgia Avenue in Washington, he was struck just below the neck. He was the fifth victim on the bloodiest day of the attacks.

Mr. Charlot's daughter Mrytha Cinada, 38, and other relatives have taken over Ms. Charlot's care. The new burdens, Ms. Cinada said, are insignificant compared with her grief. ''That is a big hole in my life that will never be filled by anyone else,'' she said.

Katrina Hannum will soon give birth to her first child. Her mother, Linda Franklin will not be there. On Oct. 14, Ms. Franklin and her husband, William, were loading their car outside a Home Depot in Falls Church, Va., when Ms. Franklin, 47, became the 11th sniper victim.

At court hearings for Mr. Malvo, who is charged in Ms. Franklin's death, Mr. Franklin has sat silently behind prosecutors. He was the only relative of a victim to testify at a hearing to determine whether Mr. Malvo should be tried as an adult. After the hearing, Mr. Franklin would say only, ''I am doing O.K.''

Ms. Hannum's mother-in-law, Penny, said getting answers and maintaining privacy were the family's two main objectives. ''We just want to keep everything calm, nice and quiet during this time,'' she said.

Most of the others who were shot but survived have said little about the attacks. Iran Brown, 13, who was shot on Oct. 7 outside his middle school in Bowie, Md., spoke briefly at an event at Children's Medical Center last December, but said that he wanted only to return to classes and play basketball with his friends.

Two other survivors have asked the authorities to withhold their names: a 43-year-old woman who spent a week in the hospital after being shot in Fredericksburg, Va., on Oct. 4, 2002, and a 37-year-old man who is recovering at home in Florida after being shot on Oct. 19 in Ashland, Va.

On Sept. 5, almost a month before the sniper attacks captured public attention, Paul LaRuffa, 55, was getting into his car after closing the pizzeria he owns in Clinton, Md., when he was approached and shot by a man with a .22-caliber pistol.

After the arrests on Oct. 24, investigators were able to link the attacks to Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo through a stolen Sony Vaio laptop found in their car. Mr. LaRuffa said that he was doing well physically and that the flashbacks and the nightmares had begun to fade.

But he said he was upset that the compensation fund, which has awarded 14 survivors and victims' relatives, does not consider him eligible for help because he was not shot from a distance and the crime was not considered random. ''They keep saying that mine was just a robbery,'' he said. ''I got shot six times. To me it was not just a robbery.''

''I am more emotional about this than anything else,'' he added. ''It's all about acknowledgment, it is not about money, although money is money. It's about acknowledging that it was more than just a robbery. He tried to kill me first and then happened to take my computer.''

For the relatives of Ms. Cook, described as the first known victim, and of others who were killed in the months before the Washington-area sniper attacks, the arrests raised as many questions as answers.

Police investigators in Tacoma now say they believe Ms. Cook's aunt Isa Nichols, who had testified against Mr. Muhammad in a child custody case, was the intended target.

Still, Linda Nichols, another of Ms. Cook's aunts, says the family struggles with troubling questions, like whether the police could have done more, or whether the killings would have ended more quickly if they had mentioned Mr. Muhammad as a suspect.

What troubles them the most, Ms. Nichols says, is the prospect that the men will never face trial in Washington State in Ms. Cook's death. Some relatives, she said, have talked of flying to Virginia for the first trials of the men.

''We want them to see the senseless damage they have done to our family,'' she added.

Dinku Endale, a cousin of Million Waldemariam, 41, who was killed in an attempted robbery in Atlanta on Sept. 21, said it was not important to him that the men are tried in Georgia or that they face the death penalty. ''I just want them to get a fair trial,'' he said. ''Nothing that's done is going to bring Million back.''

Mr. Ballenger met his wife, Hong Im, when he was stationed in Korea with the Army. He tried to put his hand on her leg, she backhanded him, and soon they were dating. A couple of years ago, Mr. Ballenger retired and began volunteering at a local prison. His wife took a job selling beauty supplies. They spent a lot of time at church and raising their sons, James IV, 20, and Joshua, 11.

Since Ms. Ballenger was killed in a robbery outside the beauty store on Sept. 23, Mr. Ballenger has taken a job in a doughnut shop to help pay the bills, and has relied heavily on the donations of others. Much of his time has been spent helping the boys cope. James IV has left college, but plans to return in the spring.

Mr. Ballenger said his wife's death had forced him ''to grow up emotionally,'' to listen more and take on the role of both parents.

''My boys miss their mommy,'' Mr. Ballenger added recently as he fought back tears. ''My little boy came to me and said, 'Don't get mad, but I had to cry.' I said, 'It's O.K., you lost your momma, your best friend.' ''

Mr. Ballenger has also spent much time taking a message of forgiveness to church pulpits and television programs across Louisiana, arguing ferociously that Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo should not be executed.

''Everyone sins every day, even me, and I am nowhere near perfect,'' he explained. ''In order for me to be forgiven, I have to forgive them. Their deaths will not heal or help me.''