A Stolen Soul

Yong Jones stood on the sidewalk where her son had lain cold and alone.

She stared at the patch of dark dried blood marking the spot where he fell.

''Junior,'' she whispered.

Her son, Laurence Jones Jr., had been shot in the face 24 hours earlier just a few doors away from his apartment.

Numb with tranquilizers and grief, Yong stood on this Baltimore street agonizing over her son's last few moments of consciousness. Did he cry out for her? Was he in pain? Did he know he was dying?

Yong looked up and down the street where her son had been gunned down. ''How could he live here?'' she thought.

Junior had moved from Bangor to Baltimore just three months earlier. Yong and her husband had never seen the gritty Bank Street neighborhood where he had lived.

On a blustery Sunday, four days before Thanksgiving, they stared across the street at the desolate housing project. ''It looks like a prison,'' Yong thought. Broken glass, beer bottles, wads of trash littered the courtyards separating the blocks of apartments. A chain-link fence shrouded the buildings, casting long shadows in the waning afternoon light. Above: Yong Jones feared for the life of her son, Laurence Jones Jr., shown her in his Bangor High School photo. As she was taught by her grandmother while growing up in Korea, she believed her son's spirit would be damned to some netherworld between heaven and hell if his murderer was never found.

''What kind of place is this?'' Yong wondered, as her husband pulled her inside their dead son's apartment.

They gathered a few of Junior's possessions. From his closet, they selected a navy blue suit to bury him in. It was the same suit he'd worn a year earlier when he graduated from college.

Later, as Yong and her husband sat in the Baltimore airport waiting for their flight home to Bangor, Yong worried about her son's body. ''How do we know Junior will be on the plane with us?'' she asked her husband. ''How can we be sure he's there?''

A ticket agent overheard Yong and assured her that her son's body was on the flight. The agent bumped Yong and her husband from coach to first class.

''You'll be closer to your son that way,'' she explained. ''He'll be right below you as you sit on the plane.''

On the flight home, Yong stared at the floor the entire trip. It gave her some comfort to know Junior rested beneath her feet.

''Junior, Momma's still here,'' she told him.

The day before Thanksgiving, Yong and her husband sat by their son's black casket. Junior was dressed in his navy blue suit. A gold chain with a green cross hung from his neck. His college graduation picture rested next to him. White and red carnations lined the casket.

Hundreds of mourners, relatives, friends and Junior's college buddies came to his wake. Korean-Americans traveled from Portland, Bangor and dozens of small towns to comfort Yong.

Since she and her family had moved to Bangor in 1976, Yong had earned a reputation as a leader in the Korean community of central Maine. She was fondly known as the Korean Mother. Above: Laurence Jones Jr., shot it the face, fell on this Baltimore sidewalk in the early morning hours of Nov. 20, 1993. The 24-year-old Maine man had moved to the city, hoping to pursue his master's degree in psychology at Johns Hopkins University.

She had organized festivals, parades, religious gatherings. New Korean immigrants frequently called her, knowing Yong had a Korean law degree and could speak English well. They relied on her when they got into legal trouble or needed help finding a home or a job. And sometimes they just called her when they wanted someone to listen to their frustrations or fears.

Now, many of her Korean friends were shaken by the sight of this strong woman on whom they had come to depend.

Yong wept and wailed for her son. ''My son's gone,'' she cried. ''What is this? This isn't real!'' she cried over and over.

It was as if she could not comprehend that the lifeless body in the coffin was really her only son. The child she had nurtured and caressed since birth. The child she had driven from hockey practice to swim practice to violin practice to baseball practice. Her Eagle Scout, her University of Maine graduate, her boy who had moved to Baltimore to get his master's degree in psychology. Her sweet, loving son.

By the end of the wake, she could not stand. Her husband and family carried her to the car. During the funeral and her son's burial she was no stronger.

At the cemetery, Yong stood before the hole in the earth where her child was to be buried. The sight of her son's final resting place overwhelmed her, and she collapsed to the frozen ground.

Days after the funeral, days after the tranquilizers and sleeping pills wore off, Yong sat at the kitchen table with her husband.

As they drank coffee, she told him: ''Call the Baltimore police. I want to know who did this. I want to go back to Baltimore to see what kind of monster, what kind of thing did this to my son.''

When her husband phoned the police, he learned they knew very little. ''They don't know who did it. They have no suspects.''

''They don't know who did this to Junior?'' she asked. ''They don't know who murdered my son?''

She could not bear to think that her son's killer was free to walk the streets.

Then it struck her.

''My son's soul,'' she cried.

The childhood beliefs that she thought she had long forgotten came rushing back to her memory. She could hear her grandmother's voice telling her: ''The soul of a murder victim never rests until their killer is brought to justice.''

''Oh, we have to go back to Baltimore,'' she pleaded with her husband. ''We have to find Junior's killer so his soul can rest in peace.''

''Honey, Junior is in heaven,'' her husband told her. ''It's OK.''

''How do we know?'' she asked him. Though she had joined a Baptist church when she moved to America, Yong could not put aside her Korean beliefs. She could not ignore the possibility that what her grandmother had told her 44 years ago was true. What if their son's soul was damned to roam between heaven and hell until his murder was avenged?

''I am the mother,'' she told her husband. ''I must help Junior. I must save my son's soul.''