A Stolen Soul

Laurence Jones could hide his grief no longer.

''God, I miss him,'' he told his wife, Yong.

Her husband's words startled Yong.

She sat up suddenly in her recliner chair.

''Who do you miss?'' she asked.

''I sure miss Junior,'' Larry said.

''You sure got a funny way of showing it,'' Yong told him.

Eighteen months had passed since their only child, Laurence Jr., had been robbed and killed on a Baltimore street. While Yong grieved openly for her son, her husband guarded his emotions like military secrets.

Laurence Jones had served 20 years in the Air Force. Military men didn't complain. They never showed weakness and they certainly never cried.

Yong had mistaken his stoicism for indifference. She had grown resentful, thinking he didn't love their son.

Her Korean culture had also driven an uncomfortable wedge between Yong and her husband. Her husband didn't share Yong's belief that their son's soul was damned if the police never caught his killer.

Before he had proposed to Yong, Larry had wondered about marrying a woman from a culture so starkly different from his own. Now, some 31 years after their wedding, Larry was watching his concerns come to life. Above: Years before the 1993 murder of their son in Baltimore, Yong and Larry Jones pose for a family photograph. As the second anniversary of their son's death approached, Larry Jones proposed a vacation; but Yong would have none of it. "I cannot go on vacation when my son is in such pain."

He had given up trying to convince Yong that their son was waiting for them in heaven. Most nights, the couple sat in the living room of their Bangor home, saying little to each other, eating take-out food or frozen dinners as they stared blankly at the television.

Now, on this spring evening in 1995, Larry Jones suddenly revealed the pain that festered inside him.

''Remember when he was playing hockey?'' he asked Yong, smiling at the memory. ''He'd be so cold tears would be running down his face.''

''You'd put his skates right under your arms to warm his feet,'' Yong said.

''I used to hug him and call him my little polar bear,'' Larry said. ''I used to tell him, 'You're great, Junior, you know that? You're the best hockey player on the ice.' ''

Yong stared at her husband. Her chest ached at the sight of him, his face flushed red with grief as he sat in his recliner.

''He loves Junior as much as I do,'' Yong thought.

''Honey, why don't we go on a vacation together?'' he asked her, remembering the wonderful trip they'd taken to Europe for their 25th anniversary. ''Let's go someplace, any place, to forget about this for a while.''

Yong's sympathy quickly soured. How could he even think of wanting to vacation while their son's tortured soul begged for justice?

''I am his mother,'' she said. ''And the meaning of mother is love. I cannot go on vacation when my son is in such pain.''

''I can't bear to see you like this,'' Larry said. ''This is eating away at you. You're going to die and I can't live without you.''

Yong couldn't be swayed. There would be no joy in her life, no vacations, no rest, no laughter, until she rescued her son's soul. Each week, sometimes twice a week, she called the Baltimore police, asking for updates. Always it was the same. Sorry, nothing new.

While Yong became more obsessed with saving her son's soul, Laurence Jones continued to worry about her health and their future together. He slipped deeper into depression as the second anniversary of their son's murder approached. He feared that the faceless killer who had stolen his son's life with a bullet would also put his wife in an early grave.

He also felt betrayed by a country that he had spent his entire life honoring. One evening before he left for work, he told Yong: ''I'm proud to be an American. I'm proud of my country. I served 20 years in the military. But when I need them they're not there for me. When I need help from the system, it fails me. Don't fight anymore, honey; you can't win.''

Despite her husband's pleas, Yong made plans to return to Baltimore. She hoped that speaking face to face with the homicide detectives and their bosses would convince them they needed to work harder to solve her son's murder.

She dreaded telling her husband about the trip. Rather than tell him in person, she gave him the news on the phone while she was at work.

''Don't go,'' he begged her.

''I've already made arrangements. I'm going in November,'' she told him.

When he answered, his voice was barely a whisper. ''Is that right?'' he said.

Yong could hear his disappointment. He fell silent, then told her: ''I'm going to get pizza for dinner, OK?''

Later that evening, Yong returned home from work. The smell of cheese and warm pizza dough greeted her as she walked inside the breezeway.

''Honey,'' she called, heading toward the kitchen.

Two unopened boxes of pizza rested on the counter near the sink. Her husband lay on the linoleum floor on his back. His chest was still. He wasn't breathing.

Yong screamed and dropped to his side. She shook her husband. Pressing her face to his, she cried: ''Honey? Honey! Please don't leave me!''

Yong ran to the phone to call for help. But the only emergency number she could remember was from her childhood. Over and over, she dialed 119, the Korean equivalent of 911. Finally, she called the operator.

''Please! I need a doctor,'' she screamed. Yong dropped the phone and held her husband in her arms.

Minutes later, an ambulance arrived and the rescue workers rushed to Larry Jones' side. Within seconds they knew they were too late.

''He's dead,'' they told Yong.