A Stolen Soul

In the dark Yong Jones stood by the river's edge.

The Kenduskeag River rushed by her feet. Startled by a noise, she turned to look at the woods behind her. Fear squeezed her neck like a giant unseen hand. She turned and ran home, panting and crying beneath a blanket of black sky and stars.

It was June 1997, and Yong had once again found herself sleepwalking a half-mile to the Bangor river where she and her husband once enjoyed early morning strolls. She usually woke at the bottom of the wooden steps that her son had built years ago as a Boy Scout.

It was always 3 a.m. when she arrived at the river - the same time of night that her son had been shot and killed on a Baltimore street nearly four years earlier.

Alone in the dark, she talked to her dead son.

''Junior, what are you trying to tell me?''

Yong's doctor believed her sleepwalking was a symptom of the stress and grief that had dogged her since her son, Laurence Jr., was murdered. Though police had arrested a suspect in the fall of 1996, the trial had been postponed three times.

A new trial date was set for Jan. 27, 1998. Each morning Yong pushed herself from bed, knowing she must stay alive to witness justice for her son and for her husband, Laurence Sr., who had died of a heart attack two years after his son's murder.

Four days before she was to board a bus to Baltimore for the trial, Yong sat at the kitchen table in her Bangor home. As each day brought her closer to the moment she would face her son's killer, the pains in her stomach grew stronger. Above: The Rev. Foster E. Williams and his wife, Mary Jane Williams, pray with Yong Jones in her Bangor home on Jan. 22, three days before she is to leave for Baltimore to attend the trial of the man accused of shooting her son. Portraits of Yong's son, Laurence Jones Jr., and of her husband, Larry Sr., adorn the wall of Yong's living room.

She could not help but ask herself: ''What if the verdict is not guilty? What if my Junior's soul must wander forever?''

A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. Yong's minister, the Rev. Foster E. Williams, and his wife, Mary Jane, had stopped by to pray. They followed Yong into the living room and sat on the couch.

Yong told them the trial was set to begin the following Tuesday. Williams promised he and his congregation would pray for Yong on Sunday as she headed to Baltimore.

''You're not going down there on your own strength,'' he told her. ''You're going on the strength of a tremendous amount of people and God's strength.

''Let's have a word of prayer before we go,'' he added.

Yong knelt before the minister and his wife. They held hands and he began the prayer in a solemn, low voice: ''Lord, we pray that in some special way you'll be with Yong. May the results bring justice for her. And may she be able to come back and be able to go on with her life. Keep her close to you. Amen.''

''Amen,'' his wife said.

''Amen,'' Yong said, her eyes closed tightly.

After the minister and his wife left, Yong headed to the yellow-painted Columbia Street Baptist Church to pray by herself. Before she stepped inside, Yong gazed at the bell hanging high above the church door. She and her husband had bought it in memory of Junior. Each day, it rang 24 times - once for every year of her son's life.

On many days, she came to the church at noon to hear the bell toll. She counted each peal and thought of her son as a baby learning to walk, as a young student learning to play the violin, as a Boy Scout, as a college graduate. And she thought of his soul trapped above the Baltimore street where he had been shot.

Inside the church, she sat alone on the red-carpeted floor by the altar. There she focused on a large wooden cross hanging on the far wall by a stained-glass window. Yong had bought the cross in memory of her husband. He had seen a similar one while traveling in Quebec with Yong. He liked its rustic look and thought their Bangor church should have one.

Sometimes while she sat on the church floor, Yong talked to her husband and son. ''You know I miss you, honey,'' she told her husband. ''I miss you too, Junior.''

On days when she felt strong enough, Yong would leave the church and drive to the local YMCA. There, she headed upstairs to a tiny room with wooden floors and white walls.

Inside the racquetball court, she repeatedly struck a small blue ball, venting her anger like a poison gas.

Dressed in her blue shorts, tiny white sneakers and white socks, she looked like a schoolgirl. Her legs were thin sticks. Her clothes hung loosely from her body.

''I hit the ball for everybody. Yes, you criminal. You justice system,'' she said, slicing the air with her racquet.

''See right there on the wall, that's James Lang- horne,'' she said, spitting out the name of the man accused of shooting her son. She wound her arm back, grunting with exertion as she struck the ball again and again.

For 30 minutes her grief gave way to anger. Here on this court she was no longer a victim.

Here she was in control. There were glimpses of the woman who was once whole and strong. The woman who had survived the Korean War as a child and had gone on to earn a law degree. The woman who had come to be known affectionately as ''the Korean mother'' among central Maine's Korean immigrants, who depended on her legal expertise when they got in trouble.

For 30 minutes on this racquetball court, the ghosts of this strong-willed woman came back to life. For this brief time, she did not seem so broken, so fragile.