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Feb 27 2009

Dart Award Winner

A Stolen Soul

"I Think He Knows I'm Coming"

The red, white and blue Trailways bus pulled out of Bangor on a snowy Sunday just after 7 a.m.

The red, white and blue Trailways bus pulled out of Bangor on a snowy Sunday just after 7 a.m.

Bus 909 was Boston-bound.

It was the start of a two-day trip to Baltimore for Yong Jones. It also promised the end of an even longer journey that she had begun four years earlier. Soon she would learn if her son's stolen soul could finally rest in peace.

James Langhorne, the man accused of shooting Yong's 24-year-old son during a robbery, would go on trial in two days. Yong believed that if Langhorne were convicted, her son's spirit would no longer be damned to wander between Heaven and Hell waiting for his murder to be avenged.

As the bus rumbled south on Interstate 95 to Boston, Yong thought about how her son died. How the bullet entered his left eye at a downward angle. A Baltimore homicide detective had told her her son may have been kneeling when he was shot.

She could not drive the image from her mind. Was he begging for his life? Was he struggling with his attacker? Above: Yong Jones clutches the locket she carries containing a college graduation picture of her slain son, Laurence Jones Jr. The memento comforted Yong on her journey to Baltimore to attend the trial of the man accused of shooting her son in 1993.

She stared vacantly at the black ribbon of road stretching before her. A gold, heart-shaped locket hung around her neck. Inside was a photograph of her son, smiling in his blue, college-graduation gown.

She squeezed the locket, thinking of the 600 miles that separated her from Baltimore and her son's soul.

Somewhere south of Portland, Yong began to feel nausea. She headed down the bus aisle to the bathroom. Her younger sister, Yong Im Chung, and Yong Im's son, Jea, watched as she slowly stepped to the back of the bus.

Yong Im stared at her boots. Yong was her only surviving sibling. Their brother, Wonhee, had died of pleurisy soon after the Korean War.

Now Yong Im worried that her older sister would soon die, too. She was certain a verdict of ''not guilty'' would kill Yong. Please let my sister live, she asked God.

Jea gazed out the window, alone in his thoughts. He anxiously awaited his first glimpse of the man accused of murdering his cousin. Jea and Larry Jones Jr. had spent so much time together growing up that they were more like brothers than cousins. Jea wished Maryland still had public hangings. He believed Langhorne deserved to be strung up in the city square. Above: In the weeks before James Langhorne's murder trial, Yong Jones grew increasingly worried that the man accused of shooting her son would be found "not guilty."

Four hours after they left Bangor, Jea, his mother and aunt waited at Boston's South Station to board a bus headed for New York. They looked for Brenda Lawson, Yong's close friend. Brenda had traveled from her Winterport home the day before, staying the night with a friend in Boston to break up the long trip.

Years ago Brenda had taken a bad fall, injuring her knees. She now used a cane to walk and suffered constant pain in her legs. Though it would be excruciating for her to sit in a cramped bus seat for 10 hours, she wanted to do it for Yong. Over the past four years, Brenda had spent hundreds of hours comforting Yong and helping her keep the pressure on the Baltimore police while they investigated Larry's murder.

She wasn't about to abandon her friend now. Like Yong, Brenda had to see this journey to its end.

Just after 12:30 p.m. the bus pulled out of South Station, bound for New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Later that night, as millions of football fans watched the Super Bowl match between the Denver Broncos and the Green Bay Packers, Yong, her sister and Brenda left their hotel and walked toward West 38th Street for dinner at a Korean restaurant.

Yong ate most of her beef soup and nibbled on rice and spicy Korean vegetables. After dinner, she pressed her chest and grimaced. On the walk back to the hotel, she suddenly covered her mouth and bent to the gutter, releasing her dinner. ''Oh, no,'' she murmured, as her sister grabbed her arm, helping her to stand.

Less than 20 steps later, Yong leaned to the gutter again. ''Oh, Lord,'' Brenda said quietly. ''I don't know how she's stayed alive. She can't keep anything down anymore.''

The three of them, Yong held up by her sister, Brenda hobbling on her cane, made their way past the yellow-bricked St. Francis of Assisi Church. A likeness of the saint ascending to heaven stared down at the trio. Slowly they walked back to the hotel.

The next morning Yong tried to sleep while the bus headed toward Baltimore. Early in the afternoon, the bus passed a green highway sign that read ''Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University.''

Yong thought of the prestigious school and her son's hope of getting his master's degree in psychology there. Three months after he moved from Bangor to Baltimore to pursue his dream, he was shot and killed.

The bus pulled into the Baltimore terminal. Yong clutched the railing as she wobbled unsteadily off the bus. Brenda watched her and shook her head. ''Her iron will is the only thing that has kept her going,'' she said.

Yong handed her bags to a cab driver and gave him the name of their hotel. She gasped and tried to stifle her sobs as the cabbie drove toward downtown. The bewildered driver handed her a paper towel to dry her eyes.

''My whole life is in this city,'' she said, dabbing at the stream of tears rolling down her cheeks. Yong's sister sat quietly by her side, wiping away her own tears.

As the city's skyline loomed closer, Yong asked the driver: ''Do you know which building is Johns Hopkins University?''

''No,'' he said. ''Sorry.''

''It's OK,'' she answered in a thin, empty voice.

Yong stared out the window at the tall glass buildings that glittered in the afternoon sun. ''I think my son's soul is floating around here somewhere,'' she whispered. ''I think he knows I'm coming.''

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Barbara A. Walsh

  • Barbara A. Walsh is a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter working on special projects for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. Walsh was one of two principal reporters at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, who worked on a yearlong series about Willie Horton Jr., a convicted killer and furlough escapee whose crimes drew attention to the flawed Massachusetts prison system. The series won a 1988 Pulitzer Prize.

David A. Rodgers

  • Rodgers has been a photographer at The Portland Newspapers since 1988. He previously worked for the Rocky Mountain News and the Boston Globe. Rodgers won third place in the National Press Photographers' Association's international pictures of the year contest this year for his work on the newspapers' Island Odyssey series, which ran in the summer of 1996. Rodgers also has won numerous regional and state photography awards.

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