A Stolen Soul

The red light on the answering machine flashed in the dark.

Urgent messages awaited Yong Jones and her husband.

Bangor police had begun calling just after 4 a.m. But no one had picked up the phone in the dark, empty house.

A photograph of Larry Jones Jr. accepting his high school diploma hung on the wall abovethe ringing phone. The Joneses' 24-year-old son was the reason police continued to call.

At dawn on Nov. 20, 1993, Yong Jones returned from her shift at the James River paper mill. She walked into the kitchen to check on a 25-pound turkey cooking in the oven. She planned to bring the turkey to a Korean religious celebration later in the day.

On her way through the dining room, the blinking light on the answering machine caught her eye. She pressed the play button.

''This is the Bangor Police Department. Would someone please call us?''

Yong called the police, wondering why they'd phone her at such an odd hour. The officer who took her call asked her: ''Do you have a son?''

''Yes,'' she said, suddenly cold with fear.

The officer explained that her son had been in an accident. He gave Yong the phone number of a Baltimore hospital and asked her to call it right away.

Yong dialed the number, her hands shaking. A nurse at the hospital told her: ''Your son's been hurt.''

''Can he talk?'' Yong asked.

''No,'' the nurse said gently. ''Is it possible for you and your husband to come down here?''

Yong called her husband at Eastern Fine Paper, a mill in Brewer where he worked as a security guard.

''Honey, I think Junior had a motorcycle accident,'' she said. ''Do you remember if he took his helmet with him?''

''I think he did,'' he said. Then he started asking her questions she could not answer. ''Don't worry. Junior will be all right. I'll come home right away.'' Above: This photograph of Larry Jones Jr., showing him as he received his high school diploma, stood near the telephone and answering machine in Yong and Larry Jones Sr.'s empty house on the morning of Nov. 20, 1993. For hours, Bangor police had been trying to contact the Joneses; their son had just been shot on a Baltimore street.

Yong collapsed into a kitchen chair and cried out to her son in a hospital bed 600 miles away. ''Junior. Please be OK. Momma's coming.''

Her husband hugged her when he returned home. Then he called the hospital, wanting to know more about his son's accident.

Yong watched her husband's eyes darken as the voice on the other end of the line told him: ''Somebody shot your son in a robbery. You need to come here right away. He's not doing well. He's on life-support machines.''

Larry hung up the phone slowly.

''We need to get a flight out to Baltimore right away,'' he said.

Unable to get a commercial flight from Bangor to Baltimore, Larry hired a private plane.

''Who did this to Junior?'' Yong sobbed, doubled over in her seat as the small craft flew south along the coast. ''Junior. My baby. How can this be happening to him?''

Her husband sat beside her, his lips pressed tightly together. He said little, knowing there wasn't much he could do.

Just after 3 p.m., they arrived at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

A nurse led them to their son. Junior lay on the hospital bed. Gauze bandages covered his left eye and half of his face. There were tubes in his nose to breathe for him. Tubes in his chest and arms to pump blood and fluids into his listless body.

Gunpowder dotted his cheeks and forehead like tiny freckles. Whoever shot him had pulled the trigger close to his face.

His knees, left thigh, right leg, fingers and forearms were scratched and bruised. The Korean gold ring that he had treasured was gone. His left hand was cut where he had worn the ring. There was little doubt he had struggled before he was shot.

Yong gasped when she saw her child. She picked up her son's limp hand. Sobbing, she whispered to him: ''Mommy's here.''

Doctors explained to Laurence Jones that his son had been shot in the left eye. The bullet tore through his eyelid and into his skull, driving shattered bone into his brain. The slug also bore through Junior's throat, slicing his left jugular vein.

He was found lying on his back, unconscious and bleeding heavily, just a few doors from his southeast Baltimore apartment. The shooting happened shortly before 3 a.m. So far, police had no witnesses and no suspects.

Though rescue workers were able to keep him breathing and his heart pumping, Junior had never regained consciousness. It was unlikely he ever would.

''He's brain dead,'' the doctor said. He explained to Laurence Jones Sr. that he and Yong had to decide whether to take their son off life support. The chance of recovery was bleak, the doctor explained.

Yong begged the doctor: ''I need to talk to my son.''

''He's already dead,'' the doctor told her.

Yong stood by her son's bed. She refused to accept that her only child was gone. She held his hand. ''Junior, I'm here. Mommy's with you now.''

Her husband held her, his own voice wavering as he told her, ''We have to let go.''

''But he just squeezed my hand,'' Yong pleaded.

The doctor shook his head. ''I'm sorry. He couldn't have.''

For the next few hours, Yong clung to her son's side, massaging his hand, caressing his cheeks.

''Please wake up, Junior. Please wake up for Momma.''

As the hours passed, Yong's pleas went unanswered.

By 9 p.m., Yong and her husband agreed there was nothing left for them to do but say goodbye to their son. They stood by his bedside, gripped by a cold and stinging grief that would never fully leave them.

The doctor flipped a couple of switches and the beeping, hissing machines fell silent. Yong crumpled to the floor as her son slipped away.