A Stolen Soul
A sensitive and thorough portrayal of Yong Jones' struggle to bring her son's murderer to justice against the backdrop of her cultural beliefs. Originally published as a series in the Portland Press Herald, Portland, ME, in May and June, 1998.
A Mother's Journey Begins
The calls came in the middle of the night to an empty, darkened house.
Bangor police had urgent news for Laurence Jones Sr. and his wife, Yong. They called at 4 a.m. At 5. At 6.
No one picked up the phone.
Just after sunrise Yong came home from working the late shift at a local paper mill.
The blinking red light on the answering machine caught her eye. She pressed the Play button.
"This is the Bangor Police Department. Would someone please call us back?"
Yong called, wondering why the police had phoned her at such an odd hour.
The officer who took her call asked her: "Do you have a son?"
''Yes,'' she said, fear rising like poison in her throat.
''He's had some kind of accident,'' the officer explained. He told her to telephone a hospital in Baltimore.
A nurse there 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?''
It was Nov. 20, 1993. Just three months earlier, Yong's only child, Laurence Jones Jr., had moved from Bangor to Baltimore. He'd hoped to get his master's degree in psychology at one of the best schools in the country, Johns Hopkins.
Now he lay dying in a hospital bed, shot in the face during a late-night robbery outside his apartment.
Yong and her husband chartered a plane to Baltimore later that morning. The flight would mark the beginning of an excruciating journey for Yong, a journey for justice that would stretch four years.
In that time she would grow desperate to see her son's murderer caught and punished. Her grief and rage would be intensified by cultural beliefs she had learned long before she came to this country.
As a young girl in South Korea, Yong was taught that the spirit of a murder victim was damned to roam between Heaven and Hell until the killer was brought to justice.
Soon after she buried her son in the cold Maine ground, Yong would become obsessed with avenging his murder and freeing his stolen soul.
Her crusade would test her strength, ravage her health and nearly kill her.
It would be a grueling journey, but it was one that Yong could not abandon. She was a mother. A mother hoping to rescue the soul of her only child.
A Childhood Lost in War
The 5-year-old girl with the almond-shaped face and solemn brown eyes looked to the sky as the sirens screamed over Inchon, Korea.
Yong Cha Han listened for the buzzing plane engines and the whistling bombs as her mother wrapped Yong and her older brother Wonhee in heavy blankets.
''Go!'' Hak Ye Han shouted to her children. ''Hurry. Hurry. Run!''
Yong clutched the hand of her brother and raced for the caves carved into the hillsides near their home. There, in the dark shelters, they huddled with other children and waited for their mother.
In the blackness, Yong could not see the faces of those pressed near her. She saw only the whites of their eyes. She shivered as the sirens wailed.
It was 1945 and World War II was drawing to a close, but for Yong the turmoil in her life was just beginning.
When the war ended, Yong, already a timid, quiet girl, withdrew even more into herself. As the next few years passed, she spoke little. Her silences worried her mother, who had high expectations for her children.
The Hans had been blessed with good fortune and were considered wealthy among their Inchon neighbors. They lived on a sprawling complex that had once been an orphanage. On one corner of the grounds they ran a small flour mill.
Yong's parents schooled their son and daughter in the teachings of Confucius. They taught Yong that if she lived an honorable life, she would be rewarded with a chance to be reborn.
Yong also learned lessons about her soul from her grandmother. Just as Yong had the power to taint her own soul, the old woman told her, her spirit's destiny could be harmed by others.
The soul of a person killed by another would not rest until the murderer was caught and punished, her grandmother explained. If the killer was never found, the victim's soul suffered eternally, trapped in limbo between Heaven and Hell.
Her grandmother told Yong about a young girl from Inchon who was stabbed and left on the road to die. The girl's death was never avenged, and her spirit haunted the streets of Inchon for years afterward.
The fate of that girl's tortured soul troubled Yong. But at the age of 10, Yong had little time to anguish about the afterlife. Just before her 11th birthday, the Korean War broke out and the sirens screamed once more over Inchon.
On June 25, 1950, an emergency radio message warned South Koreans that North Korea had invaded. Within a few days, the North Koreans were expected to march to Inchon Harbor.
Most of the men in the city, including Yong's father, feared they would be seen as a threat by the oncoming Communists. Believing he'd be executed if he stayed in the city, Hak Sik Han hugged his wife and his children and fled. He promised to return when it was safe.
Weeks after her father left, Yong watched North Korean soldiers gather on the street outside her home. From her bedroom window, she listened to the soldiers shout orders to a dozen men who had chosen to stay in the city. The soldiers bound their prisoners, strung their hands together and ordered them to stand in a semicircle.
Suddenly the North Koreans raised their rifles, and shots rang out. One by one the men crumpled like broken dolls to the ground.
Yong saw their faces as they fell, their blood spilling onto the street.
She swallowed her screams and closed her eyes. Later that day, she was stricken with a fever and crawled into bed. Her mother fretted about her daughter, who lay still and silent for weeks.
Even after Yong's fever subsided, she remained mute, never telling her mother about the massacre.
''What is wrong?'' her mother asked. ''My child, she is too sensitive. She takes the war on all by herself.''
Over the next several months, Yong, her mother, her brother, and her baby sister Yong Im sought shelter from the falling bombs. Each day they walked three hours into the countryside to hide.
On these daily journeys, Yong carried her year-old sister on her back. Yong tried to comfort the tiny child, who clung to Yong, wide-eyed and trembling.
During the day they sat in fields, watching smoke rise over Inchon. Each night, in the darkness, they returned home.
One morning, before Yong and her family could head out on their daily journey, they heard the familiar buzz of plane engines, then the explosions.
''Get out! Run!'' her mother screamed.
Yong ran with her sister into the street. She heard a deafening blast and felt something sting her knee. It was shrapnel from a bomb. Before fleeing for safety, she turned to look one more time at her home. Flames flickered in the windows like yellow and green fingers. Black smoke billowed from the rooms where she had once slept and played.
Yong stood paralyzed by a terrifying symphony of screams, planes and explosions.
''This,'' she thought, ''must be the sound of Hell.''
A Young Woman Finds Sudden Love
The child with the terrifying memories wanted to be a judge.
Yong Cha Han had lived through two wars, witnessed executions and watched her home burn. Now at the age of 20, she yearned for justice.
The horrors of war had made her bitter, but they had also given her strength. Surviving such turmoil had carved Yong into a young woman determined to succeed.
She believed she could overcome any hardship that came her way. After all, what could be worse than war, she asked herself. She never imagined that in the years to come fate would hand her a tragedy far worse than anything she'd experienced during her childhood.
But in the late 1950s, Yong wasn't looking too far into her future. Her immediate desire was to earn a law degree. At the time, there were few women lawyers in Korea and it was difficult to get accepted into law school. Yet Yong persisted in her dream and became one of two women enrolled at Seoul National University's law school.
She took classes at night and worked during the day at a U.S. Army post in Seoul, where she had a job as a bank secretary.
Her life was simple. She worked and she studied. She socialized little.
One warm summer night, though, her co-workers convinced Yong to come to a party. There would be lots of nice men there, they teased.
Reluctantly, Yong agreed to go, and was surprised when an American Air Force officer caught her attention. Above: Laurence Jones was an officer stationed at the U.S. Air Force base in Seoul during the Korean War.
She knew his face; she had seen him before in the bank. He was handsome in his uniform. His blue eyes were bright with promise and laughter. ''Why am I looking at this man?'' Yong thought. ''I never look at men this way.''
Later that night they were introduced.
''I'm Laurence Jones,'' he told her.
''I cannot pronounce your first name,'' she said, laughing. ''I never hear that name before.''
He asked her about the war that had brought him to her country.
''What was it like?'' he wanted to know.
''There's not much to talk about,'' she told him, not wanting to dredge up memories she had so carefully buried.
Before he left the party, he asked her: ''If I say 'Hello' to you at work, will you say 'Hi' back?''
Surprised at the question, Yong answered: ''Yes, I'll say 'Hello.' ''
''I've heard about you,'' he explained. ''People ask you out on dates and you always say 'no.' ''
Yong had never thought much about the offers from American soldiers. She'd been content to stay within her safe, sheltered world of work and study. A few days later, Laurence Jones kept his word and asked Yong out for coffee. She accepted, and soon they were going out to lunch, then dinner.
Though he was growing fond of this bright Korean woman with the solemn brown eyes, Larry Jones knew he could never marry her. Her culture was so different from his that he believed such a marriage could never succeed.
Over the next few years, Yong pursued her law studies, and eventually earned her degree in 1962. Larry traveled back and forth between Korea and the United States. While in Seoul, he spent much of his free time with Yong.
Larry continued to deny his feelings for Yong until he learned of a rush-hour stampede at the Inchon train station. When he heard that hundreds of people had been killed in the accident, panic swelled in his chest. He knew Yong took the train to and from work each day.
His hands shaking, he called overseas and waited to be connected to her home.
''Yong,'' he said excitedly. ''I thought you were killed. You're OK?''
''Yes, I'm fine,'' she said.
''I love you,'' he blurted out.
''Love?'' Yong replied, stunned.
''Will you marry me?'' he asked. ''If I come back to you? Will you marry me? I'm on my knee right now.''
Yong fell silent. She didn't know how to answer this sudden question.
''I do not know,'' she told him.
''You don't have to answer me now,'' he said, and he promised to return to Seoul in the spring of 1964.
When he came back, Yong met him at the airport. They took a long walk in the countryside near the American base. As they strolled along a dirt road, they passed farmers bent over rice fields, dropping seeds onto the black earth.
''I cannot live without you,'' he told her. ''Will you marry me?''
Yong blinked back tears. ''Yes, I will marry you,'' she said, hugging this kind, gentle man who had taught her to laugh again.
Less than six months later, on a crisp October day, Larry and Yong climbed the steps to the office of the American consul in Seoul.
Yong was 23 and wearing a yellow-green, two-piece dress.
''You always look stunning in that outfit,'' he told her.
Yong gazed at her soon-to-be husband in his blue uniform. His black shoes were polished, his trousers pressed and starched.
''I am so lucky to have found such a trusting, good husband,'' she thought.
The clerk at the embassy had little time for romance. He told them: ''I'll marry you, but I'm late for an appointment.''
He instructed them to sign the marriage license, and he quickly stamped the piece of paper. He handed it to them and said: ''OK, there you go.''
As the clerk hurried out the door, Yong turned to Larry and asked: ''Husband, are we married?''
He grinned. "I think so," he said.
Loss of One Baby, Birth of a Second
The bleeding began on the plane ride home.
''I'm going to die,'' thought Yong Jones.
She and her husband were returning to Korea from a vacation in Japan when Yong hurried to the back of the plane. In the tiny airplane bathroom, she discovered she was hemorrhaging.
As soon as the plane touched down in Seoul, Yong and Laurence Jones rushed to the hospital. A doctor examined Yong, and told her: ''You've had a miscarriage.''
The news stunned Yong. She hadn't known she was pregnant.
The doctor explained that she was three months pregnant and had lost the baby because it began growing in her fallopian tube rather than in her womb.
Yong began to cry. ''To find out I am a mother and on the same day to lose the baby is too much.''
The doctor had worse news. ''It's unlikely you'll be able to have children,'' he said. ''You have less than a 50 percent chance.''
Yong sobbed harder now.
Larry held her as they left the hospital. ''It's OK, honey,'' he told her. ''We don't have to have children.''
A few years after Yong's miscarriage, the young couple left Korea and moved to Loring Air Force Base in northern Maine, where Larry was stationed.
They lived in a two-bedroom trailer near the base. Though Yong missed her family, her husband made her happier than she ever thought possible. Larry delighted in sharing American culture with his wife. He took her golfing, bowling, to drive-in theaters, to fancy restaurants and to McDonald's.
''I want to show you something new every day,'' he told her.
Despite their love, an unspoken sadness churned inside each of them. Their attempts to have a baby in the years after the miscarriage had failed.
Yong prayed for a child she could hold in her arms, bundle in blankets and take for long walks on Maine's country roads. As more time passed, she grew increasingly forlorn, believing she would never be a mother.
Laurence Jones secretly dreamed of a son he could teach to play baseball and football. A boy he could fish with and wrestle with. A son who would one day have children of his own.
Reluctantly, they had each accepted the possibility they might never be parents. Larry promised to take Yong on trips to lift her spirits. But his military travel came first. Above: Laurence Jones Jr. was a miracle baby for Laurence and Yong Jones. After a miscarriage, his mother was told by a doctor that there was a good chance she would never be able to have a child.
In the fall of 1968, Yong hugged Larry tightly, squeezing back tears as he headed to Guam for temporary duty.
Not long after he left she was overcome with waves of nausea and sluggishness.
''Maybe I'm sad about my husband being gone,'' she thought. Then another idea crossed her mind: ''Maybe I'm pregnant.''
A visit to her doctor confirmed she was going to have a baby. She drove to the base and told officials there she needed to talk with her husband in Guam.
Because he was stationed on a remote part of the island, an officer used a military radio to connect her with Larry. When she heard her husband's voice she couldn't hold back her news.
''Honey, I'm pregnant!'' Yong shouted.
''What did you say?'' Larry's voice crackled back.
''Honey, I went to the doctor's today. I'm two months pregnant.''
Finally Larry understood. Yong listened to him whoop with joy. ''We're going to have a baby,'' he hollered.
Larry returned to Maine a few months later, and he and Yong began decorating the spare bedroom for their new baby. Larry insisted the room be decorated blue and yellow.
''What about pink?'' Yong asked.
''Oh, no, it's going to be a boy,'' he said.
Yong gave in, buying blue and yellow baby blankets, pajamas and sleepers.
On a warm spring morning, Yong felt a sharp pain in her abdomen and told Larry: ''The baby is coming.''
On May 14, 1969, she gave birth to a boy. Yong had never experienced such happiness. She felt like she was floating as she held her son.
Her husband rushed out to buy gifts. He returned with a baseball bat and a train set. ''This is for Larry Junior,'' he said proudly. Above: When he was 2 years old, Laurence Jones Jr. and his parents visited his extended family in Inchon, South Korea, where is mother's parents showered him with gifts and good wishes. The colors of the boy's celebratory Korean clothing symbolize his bright future and his potential for respect and wealth.
''Oh, is that what we're going to name him?'' Yong asked. ''Junior?''
Bundling him in blankets, they took Laurence Jones Jr. home to their trailer. They marveled at his patch of light blond hair and the hazel-blue eyes that would later darken to brown.
Within eight months, Junior was stretching his chubby legs and walking in the field behind their home.
When Junior was 2, his parents took him to Inchon to meet Yong's parents and her sister.
Though they had missed Junior's first birthday, his Korean grandparents celebrated the important milestone during his visit. In keeping with Korean tradition, they showered money, food and good wishes on the child.
During the celebration, Junior wore a traditional silk rainbow-colored Korean shirt and a black-and-gold cape. The vivid colors of the rainbow represented his bright future. The cape represented respect and wealth, qualities his family hoped he would attain during manhood.
Dressed in his Korean finery, Junior posed for pictures with his parents and grandparents. He stood behind a large kitchen table filled with rice cakes, fruits, sweets and stacks of money.
The boy grinned into the camera, relishing the attention. His parents smiled too, proud of their son.
''He is destined to have a bright future and a long life,'' a family member predicted.
Pride, Promise of Mother's Son
'I want the world to see him,'' Yong Jones thought as she pinned the red, white and blue badge over her son's heart.
On a chilly spring evening, the local Bangor Boy Scouts troop gathered to honor Yong's son, Laurence Alton Jones Jr. Junior had earned his Eagle Scout badge, the highest rank in scouting. Yong had watched her son work toward that goal for nearly five years. He had built steps leading down to a popular Bangor riverfront park and had hammered together picnic tables for the elderly. He'd honed his camping, swimming and leadership skills.
''That's our son,'' Laurence Jones Sr. whispered to his wife as Junior stood on stage in his pressed khaki uniform, his new Eagle Scout badge hanging from his shirt pocket.
It was March 25, 1987, and their blond boy was 16. From the moment they had first cradled him in the delivery room, Yong and Larry had begun dreaming of the wonderful life they would give this child. They wanted him to be thankful for his family and his comfortable home.
But they also hoped to nurture his soul and teach him the importance of helping others who did not share his good fortune.
Yong tried to set a good example. She used her law degree to help other Koreans who got into trouble after coming to the United States. She volunteered to translate for them and often helped new immigrants settle into their homes and find work.
''Helping others is good, Junior,'' Yong told her son.
At the age of 5, Junior already seemed to understand his mother's advice. He came home one day from kindergarten, his white shirt bloody. When Yong asked him what happened, he explained that a little girl had fallen and skinned her knee. He took his shirt off to wipe the blood away.
Though he was a sensitive child like his mother, Junior also pleased his dad with his athletic ability. Not long after he learned his ABCs, he was playing hockey and baseball, excelling in both sports. Above: Laurence Jones Jr. chose lyrics from a song by the rock band Van Halen to appear with his yearbook photo at Bangor High School - "...And someone said fair warning Lord will strike that poor boy down..." The quotation would prove to be prophetic.
He also did well in school, and with his mother's encouragement he learned to play the violin.
''He is everything a parent could wish for,'' Yong thought.
Junior's achievements did not go unrewarded. Yong and her husband doted on their only child. They bought him a dirt bike when he was a teen-ager, a motorcycle after he got his driver's license. They gave him money for gas, pizza, clothes and whatever else he asked for.
On his 18th birthday they presented him a special gift: a 24-karat gold ring with a fire opal stone that shone in the sunlight like the colors of the rainbow. Yong and Larry had had the ring made in Korea when Junior was a toddler.
Larry Jr. wore the ring on his left hand, and rarely took it off. He was proud of it, and saw the ring as a link to his mother's Korean heritage. He planned to pass the ring on to his own son someday.
Now out of high school, Junior was eager to move away from home and begin college. In August 1987, his mother and father drove him to Orono, where he enrolled as a freshman at the University of Maine.
''Please be careful, Junior,'' his mother cautioned.
''Oh, Mom,'' he groaned.
''Junior, until I die you'll always be my little baby.''
While his mother fretted about her only child heading off to college, young Larry quickly made new friends and reveled in his newfound independence.
He was known around campus for his raucous laugh and his adventurous nature. Like many freshmen, he liked to party and stay out late drinking beer in local bars.
He joined the Delta Upsilon fraternity and quickly became one of its more popular members. He was athletic, bright and handsome. His easygoing personality drew people to him.
He seemed perpetually optimistic and sure of himself. He never doubted that he could succeed in whatever came his way.
Initially a computer science major, Larry quickly realized his passion was people, not machines. He eventually switched his major to psychology.
During his last summer at school, he landed a research job at a Syracuse, N.Y., university. Laurie Walter, another University of Maine psychology student, worked with him. Together, they evaluated senior citizens with high blood pressure to see if they suffered memory loss or bouts of muddled thinking.
When they weren't working, Larry and Laurie explored Syracuse. At first, Laurie was reluctant to go out.
Six years earlier, she had been raped, and the assault had left her frightened and withdrawn. Larry refused to allow her to remain a victim. He dragged her to restaurants, pizza joints, bars and festivals.
''C'mon, we're going out,'' he'd tell her. ''Don't worry. I'll be with you and I'll make sure nothing happens to you. Promise.''
While Laurie was overly cautious, Larry was fearless. He roamed Syracuse and strange neighborhoods at all hours of the night.
''Larry, you should be more careful,'' Laurie told him, knowing that bad things did happen to people. Two of her friends had been murdered in the past couple of years. ''There are a lot of crazy people out there.''
''Oh, Laurie,'' he'd say, shrugging off her concern. Nothing could hurt Larry Jones.
Mother's Omen: "I Feel So Scared"
Yong Jones blinked back tears as she watched her son load the U-Haul van.
''I don't want him to go,'' she thought.
Her son, Laurence Alton Jones Jr., was moving from Bangor to Baltimore. Junior, as his parents fondly called him, hoped to fulfill a dream in Maryland. He wanted to get his master's degree in psychology at one of the country's top schools, Johns Hopkins University.
Like any mother, Yong wanted the best for her son, but she also longed to keep him home, where she could protect him from harm. She worried about her only child moving to such a big city.
''Junior, do you have to go?'' she asked.
''Yes, Mom,'' he told her gently.
Laurence Jones Sr. chided his wife: ''Cut the apron strings, honey. He's 24.''
''You promise to call collect?'' she asked.
''Yes, Mom.'' Above: Laurence Jones Jr. holds his tiny cousin, Jea Chung. As boys, the two shared a bedroom for a while after Jea and his family moved to America from South Korea.
Yong wasn't the only one who would miss Junior. Junior's cousin, Jea Chung, and his family lived next door to the Joneses. Only a year younger than Junior, Jea and his cousin were like brothers.
When Jea's parents and grandparents moved from Korea to America in 1976 they lived with Larry Jr. and his family. For two years, the boys shared Larry's small bedroom at the top of the stairs.
Though they couldn't communicate with words at first, the boys had no trouble playing together. Larry showed his train set and race cars to Jea. ''Fast car,'' Larry explained.
As they got older, the two cousins shared a passion for baseball and hockey. When Larry got his dirt bike, he and Jea spent many afternoons roaring along muddy trails in the woods around Bangor.
Now, on this August afternoon, Jea swept his sadness aside as he helped Larry load the truck. Though he had mixed feelings about his cousin living 600 miles away, Jea knew Larry hungered for the hustle of a big city.
''There's nothing to do here,'' Larry routinely said of Bangor.
As the August sun dipped in the sky, Larry fastened the lock on the U-Haul's door. ''I better get going.''
He hugged his mom, dad, grandparents, Jea's parents and Jea.
''Be careful on the ride down, honey,'' Yong said, hugging her son one more time.
Her chest tightened as she watched Junior hop in the truck and drive down Grace Court, away from the white, two-story home he grew up in, away from his family, away from Bangor.
A day later, Larry parked outside a stretch of rowhouses on Bank Street, a Southeast Baltimore neighborhood. Despite the U-Haul's dying engine and his tired eyes, he grinned at his new roommate, Tonia Hodge.
A childhood friend, Tonia had offered to let Larry stay rent-free at her apartment until he found a job. Her three-story rowhouse apartment bordered Little Italy and was a 15-minute stroll from Fells Point, a waterfront neighborhood with an abundance of bars, restaurants and trendy shops.
While bright lights and the scents of cappuccino and homemade pasta lured tourists to Little Italy and Fells Point, the children of Bank Street jumped rope and played hopscotch amid discarded drug needles and broken beer bottles. Drug sales, shootings and robberies were common on the poorly lit stretch of streets, where rows of squat, tan-brick public housing projects kept silent vigil to the violence.
Larry paid little attention to the dangers lurking on the bleak Baltimore streets. Whenever he drank at the Fells Point bars, he walked home alone, often at odd hours of the night.
One of his neighbors, Norman Hock, warned Larry he needed to be more careful. Baltimore wasn't like Bangor, Hock told him. ''You can't walk these streets alone at night,'' he said.
Larry told his neighbor not to worry.
Nearly three months after he'd moved to Baltimore, Larry called his parents, excited about a job prospect at the Johns Hopkins medical school. He'd been called back for a second interview. If he got it, he'd be working with mentally handicapped children.
''My chances look pretty good,'' he told his mother. ''Then hopefully I can start taking classes soon.''
Yong smiled as she sat in bed, pride swelling in her chest.
Junior told her he'd be driving home to Maine as soon as he was finished with his interview. He hoped to be heading back to Bangor the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
''OK, Mom, see you soon.''
''Aren't you forgetting something?'' she teased.
''Oh, Mom,'' he groaned. ''I love you.''
''I love you, honey. Make sure you call me before you get in your car to come home.''
Before hanging up, Junior talked to his dad. They talked about his upcoming interview, then Junior remarked about a few of Baltimore's gritty neighborhoods. He never mentioned that he lived in one of them.
As Larry Sr. hung up the phone, he grinned. ''Boy, I love that guy. He's really growing up.''
Yong nodded, unable to speak. A wave of chills had suddenly washed over her. She felt as if someone had poured ice water down her back.
''What's wrong?'' her husband asked.
''I've got chills all over. I don't know why. Our son seems so happy and he's coming home for Thanksgiving next week.''
''Maybe you're coming down with the flu.''
''Maybe,'' she said, shutting off her light and sinking beneath the blankets. As she lay awake in the dark she thought about Junior. It had been nearly three months since she'd seen him. She should be excited about him coming home.
''But then why do I feel so scared and so cold?'' she wondered.
Gunshot Takes a Treasured Son
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.
Case Stymied by Lack of Clues
The killer left few clues.
There were no spent bullets. The only blood found at the scene belonged to the victim. None of the killer's hairs or clothing were found on the victim's body. Homicide Detective Donald Ossmus Jr. scanned the deserted sidewalk in the predawn darkness. He'd been dispatched to the 1400 block of Bank Street just after 3:30 a.m. An anonymous caller had told police there was an injured man lying on the sidewalk.
Officers had found a man in his 20s bleeding from a head wound. From the amount of blood on the pavement, Ossmus knew the young man didn't have much of a chance.
The detective stared at the chalk outline of the victim's body. He'd been found unconscious, on his back, within a few steps of Apartment 1405, one of the rowhouses that lined the street.
A purple and blue jacket and a set of keys were found next to him. A single nickel was the only thing left in his pockets. His wallet, if he had one, was gone. He had no ID on him.
Rescue workers had tagged the victim as a John Doe and rushed him to the nearest hospital, the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
As doctors tried to save the young man's life, Ossmus pulled his collar tighter against the biting November wind. The temperature had dipped into the 20s that night. The streets were deserted.
Ossmus searched for movement across the street at the Perkins Housing Projects, a bleak collection of brick buildings surrounded by chain-link fencing. He saw no one. No cars drove by.
He knew it would be a bad night for trying to track down witnesses. It seemed everyone had hunkered down in their homes.
The only movement came from a rusted metal glider seat that scraped against the wall of one of the rowhouses. It creaked back and forth in the wind, as if trying to tell the detective what it had seen.
While Ossmus went to the hospital to see if the victim was alive, uniformed officers started knocking on doors hoping to find a witness.
Few people got out of bed to answer the cops. The police weren't surprised. Shootings were common in Baltimore. Nearly four people were shot every day in the city. Most of the victims lived in neighborhoods like Bank Street, where crack and heroin were sold in courtyards and on street corners.
After rapping on a dozen doors, police found one woman who heard a gunshot between 2:30 and 3 a.m. She lived four doors from where the body was found. She heard and saw nothing else.
Police also rousted Tonia Hodge from her sleep. The young woman explained that she had gone to bed early and hadn't heard a thing. She lived at 1411 Bank, two doors away from the shooting.
Hodge didn't think much of the police and their questions until her neighbor asked if her roommate, Larry Jones, was home. Hodge said he'd been out for the night and hadn't returned. An officer asked her to get a photograph of Larry.
She found one in his bedroom. The officer looked at the picture and told her: ''You better go to the hospital. Your roommate isn't doing too good.''
While Hodge tried to help contact Larry's parents in Bangor, the police searched for more witnesses. They had little luck and gave up as the dark sky gave way to a soft gray light.
Ossmus didn't like the way the Larry Jones case was unfolding. He knew the first 24 hours were key to solving a murder case. If there were any witnesses out there, they were more apt to talk right after the shooting.
But give them a day, or two or three, and the murder slipped from their minds like a bad dream. Homicide had lost its shock value in a city that averaged 320 killings a year.
And 1993 would turn out to be the most murderous year in Baltimore's history. Three hundred and fifty-three people would be stabbed, shot, drowned or beaten to death. Laurence Jones Jr. would be marked as homicide victim 313.
With bodies piling up at the morgue daily, homicide detectives like Ossmus spent 1993 racing from one bloody scene to another.
Ossmus would investigate nearly 50 suspicious deaths that year. And the Laurence Jones homicide would prove to be one of the most frustrating. There were few leads and even fewer witnesses. Ossmus read the file over and over, asking himself: What am I missing? What have I overlooked?
Ossmus had worked 18 years with the Baltimore Police Department before he was assigned to the homicide squad. During the three years he investigated murders, he had cleared every case that came his way.
But time was working against Ossmus on this case.
He only had a few months to find a suspect. He was planning to change jobs, transferring to the Baltimore County Police Department in June 1994. It rankled him to think he might have to pass the case on to another detective.
But with few leads, Ossmus knew he was going to need a miracle to keep this from being the only murder he couldn't solve.
Mother Resolves to Save Her Son's 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.''
"Why Can't I Go to Heaven?"
Sooner or later every homicide detective catches a case that eats away at his gut.
The Laurence Jones case would be the one that taunted Baltimore homicide Detective Donald Ossmus Jr. It crept into his thoughts as he showered each morning, as he mowed the lawn, as he played with his four kids.
Ossmus took most of his cases personally, believing it was his job to speak for the dead, to avenge their violent departures from this world. He also kept the victims' families in mind as he hunted for the killers. He knew making an arrest gave them some small measure of peace. In Yong Jones' case, he felt an even stronger obligation to solve her son's murder.
She called him every week asking for updates.
''We're working very hard,'' he told her.
''Then why don't you have an arrest?''
Ossmus explained to Yong that her son's murder wasn't the only case he was working on. He, like other homicide detectives, juggled as many as a dozen open cases at a time.
The detective's caseload mattered little to Yong. She begged Ossmus to find Junior's killer so his soul could rest in peace.
The idea of this young man's restless spirit waiting for justice haunted the detective. Despite the other murders that demanded his attention, Ossmus found himself working extra hours on the Jones case.
But after investigating the murder for a month, Ossmus was no closer to making an arrest. The only thing he did know was how Larry Jones Jr. had spent his last few hours. Above: Yong Jones sobs as she recalls the slaying of her only son, who was killed in a Nov. 20, 1993, shooting on a street in Baltimore. Jones begged the homicide detective in charge of the investigation to find the killer, or her son's sould would be damned forever.
Larry had been upset the November night he died. A girl he'd dated briefly had broken up with him, and he had sought comfort at several bars in Fells Point, a trendy neighborhood about a 15-minute walk from his apartment. After he left Fells Point on that Friday evening, he made his way to Bohager's, a cavernous bar where live music blared and young men and women danced and drank until the early morning.
Larry left that bar sometime after 2 a.m. and walked a couple of blocks to 430 Eden St. He pounded on the door at the home of Robin Quinlan, a former roommate. He believed Quinlan had taken some compact discs from him when she moved out a few weeks earlier and he wanted them back.
Quinlan's boyfriend, Michael Barker, came home to find Larry drunk and making little sense. Larry was unsteady on his feet and slurred his words when he spoke.
Barker urged him to leave. When Larry refused, the two of them tumbled out the door and down the steps of the rowhouse. A stranger walking by tried to separate them, telling them he was an off-duty cop. Barker stood and went back into his apartment. He closed the door and left Larry with the stranger.
Ten minutes later, Barker and Quinlan heard what they thought was a gunshot.
Just a few blocks away, on Bank Street, Larry Jones lay dying on the sidewalk. Someone had shot him in the left eye.
The killer had taken his wallet and Larry's gold, fire opal Korean ring, a treasured gift from his parents.
At first Ossmus thought someone involved in the scuffle, or the supposed cop, had followed Larry and shot him. For weeks he searched for the mysterious police officer. He had a composite drawn up and passed it out to the media. He showed it to people who lived in the Bank Street neighborhood. A few tips came in, but none of them led anywhere.
At a dead end, Ossmus had no news for Yong when she called each week. He dreaded the calls. It pained him to hear her anguish.
While the detective worked the case, Yong prayed for her son. In her mind she saw his spirit hovering over the streets of Baltimore. She sensed that he was lonely, that he felt abandoned in the city where he'd moved just three months before his death to pursue his master's degree in psychology.
She wondered if her son knew why his soul was damned. She pictured him asking for her help, his wide brown eyes searching for an answer, asking her why. ''Why can't I go to heaven, Mom?''
Yong feared that her son's case might never be solved. The thought of his spirit forever trapped between heaven and hell tormented her.
She couldn't eat or sleep. She had no strength to continue working. She took a temporary leave from her job at a local paper mill. Except for visiting her son's grave, she rarely left her home in Bangor. She paced, and prayed, and cried.
She talked to Junior often. ''Don't worry, Junior. Momma's gonna see that you get justice,'' she'd whisper. ''Momma's gonna make sure you rest in peace.''
Sometimes, she heard her son's voice talk back to her. He spoke to her as he had when he was 4 years old, asking her to put a Band-Aid on his cut finger or skinned knee.
''Mommy, fix it,'' she heard him asking. ''I'm hurt, Mom. Please help me.''
Witnesses: Man with Gun Ran By
The murder scene drew him back again and again.
Homicide Detective Donald Ossmus Jr. found himself driving to the 1400 block of Bank Street and staring at the patch of sidewalk where Laurence Jones Jr. was gunned down.
It had been nearly six months since Larry Jones had been robbed and shot outside his apartment on a bone-chilling night in November 1993. The case stumped the veteran Baltimore detective.
Ossmus returned to the Southeast Baltimore neighborhood dozens of times, turning the case over and over in his mind.
He cruised the darkened streets at 3 a.m., the same hour Larry was shot. He looked for people who might make deliveries at that hour, who might be coming home from work or bars. He searched for anybody who might've seen something.
Sometimes Ossmus would park in his police-issue Chevy Cavalier and stare at the rowhouse where Jones had lived for a few months after moving to Baltimore from Maine. He thought of the young man's mother, Yong Jones. He knew she grieved not only over the death of her son but over his lost soul, which, according to her Korean beliefs, could not rest until justice was done.
For months the detective had struggled to give her some encouraging news.
As he prowled the neighborhood, Ossmus tried to think like the killer. What would I do if I had just pulled a stickup and shot the victim in the face? Where would I run? What would I do with the gun?
Ossmus wondered too about the Perkins Housing Projects. The three-story buildings stood across the street from the sidewalk where Yong's son was murdered. Was there a witness living there who was afraid to talk?
Like many low-income neighborhoods, the Perkins Projects were plagued by drugs, gunfire and robberies. Few who lived there wanted to talk to cops.
Ossmus had managed to get a few witnesses to give him information, but it had been a struggle. Following a tip, Ossmus had tracked down Rhonda Gilmore, a young woman who lived in the projects. The night of the shooting, Gilmore had been up late. She'd been talking to two friends who were working on a car in Spring Court, the blacktop courtyard below her second-story window.
About 2:30 a.m., she noticed two men standing on the corner of Bank and Eden streets by the phone booth. It was obvious the men had no interest in making a phone call; each of them had his back to the booth. One faced Eden Street, the other looked up Bank Street. She'd never seen the two men before.
Before she pulled away from her window, Gilmore saw the two men follow a young man up Bank Street. Minutes later, while she was in her bathroom, she heard a gunshot. Gilmore ran back to the window. The two men were gone.
Gilmore went back to bed. Fifteen minutes later, a siren wailed. Red lights flashed in the darkness. Two police cars and an ambulance had pulled up across the street.
Through Gilmore, Ossmus tracked down the two friends who had been working on a car that night. He pulled William Rice and James Player into the station to talk.
Both of them had heard the shot as they worked on Player's car. Instinctively, they had ducked. Minutes later, they saw two men run by them. One had a gun tucked in his waistband.
Curious about what had happened, Rice walked over to Bank Street and saw the body of a young man lying on the sidewalk.
Before the police and ambulance showed up, one of the men who had run by Rice after the shooting returned to Bank Street. The man had changed his clothes. He looked Rice in the eye and told him: ''I know you seen me running by, but you know I didn't do that.''
''Whatever,'' Rice replied.
After talking to Rice and Player, Ossmus pulled mug shots of criminals who had done time for armed robberies in the Bank Street area. He showed the photographs to Rice and Player. They didn't recognize any of the faces.
When the detective told Yong about the witnesses, she got excited, believing there would be an arrest soon.
Ossmus warned her the case was far from solved. He still didn't have the suspect's name. As far as the detective was concerned, he had nothing. He was still grasping for a solid lead.
Despite Ossmus' disappointment, Yong clutched at the sliver of hope.
''It's going to be OK, Junior,'' she told her son, staring at the white candle she burned for him in her Bangor home. She had lit the candle soon after her son's murder, vowing to keep the flame flickering until his killer was found. Her Korean culture taught that the light would draw his restless spirit home.
''Come home to Momma,'' she told his spirit. ''Stay with me until you get justice.''
While Yong tried to comfort her son's spirit, Ossmus solicited help from Baltimore's criminals. One of the felons he talked to was Alfred Brown. Brown was serving time at the Baltimore City Detention Center for a robbery in the Bank Street neighborhood.
Brown told the detective he didn't know anything about the slaying, but he said he'd ask around and learn what he could. He promised Ossmus he'd get back to him if he heard anything in jail or later on the streets.
Nearly three years would pass before Brown would make good on his promise.
Cries for Help Rise to White House
'This room feels like a funeral parlor,'' Brenda Lawson thought as she walked into the living room of Yong and Laurence Jones.
Brenda was concerned about her friend, and had begun stopping by Yong's home to check up on her and her husband.
Brenda always found Yong and Larry sitting in their darkened living room. Photographs of their murdered son, Laurence Jr., covered the paneled walls. There were portraits of him as a smiling, blond baby. His class pictures, 12 of them in all, hung in a large frame.
His University of Maine graduation photograph loomed life-size on the wall near the television. His brown eyes, bright with promise, stared down at his grieving parents.
Yong and Larry, their eyes glassy and lifeless, sat like mute, broken dolls in their recliner chairs. The ticking of a miniature grandfather clock echoed loudly in the room. Brenda looked at the couple and thought: ''They're really still blown away.''
Six months had passed since the Joneses' son, Laurence Jr., was robbed and shot on a sidewalk outside his apartment in Baltimore. The police had no strong leads, and Yong and Larry had grown increasingly discouraged. Above: This life-size portrait of Laurence Jones Jr., talken at his graduation from the University of Maine in December 1992, hung in the living room of his parents' home in Bangor.
Yong especially was having a hard time handling their loss.
Since her son's death, Yong had gone from a size 16 to a six. Her cheeks, once rounded and full, were now sunken and sallow. She needed pills to settle her stomach, pills to help her sleep and to calm her frayed nerves.
Though she didn't know Yong well before her son died, Brenda empathized with her. Brenda had two kids of her own and she couldn't imagine the heartache Yong felt.
Brenda didn't share Yong's belief that her murdered son's soul was damned until his killer was found. But she knew she had to do something to help ease her friend's pain.
Brenda also realized that the experience she had gained in 25 years as a social worker for the state of Maine could benefit Yong. Brenda understood how bureaucracies worked and she knew how to get their attention.
She drafted a list of powerful people in Maine and Maryland and suggested that they write to them and ask for help in solving the murder. Yong embraced the plan. While she spoke English fluently, Yong had never learned to write well. Brenda became her ghostwriter, putting Yong's words and emotions to paper.
They wrote letters to Baltimore's mayor and police commissioner, and to senators and congressmen in both Maryland and Maine. Though the politicians offered condolences, they said they could do little to intervene in the police investigation.
Dissatisfied with the response, Brenda and Yong turned to the White House.
''Dear President and Mrs. Clinton,'' their letter began. ''We know that you are concerned with the violent crimes occurring in America. We ask for your compassion as parents and for your help as our country's leaders. We cannot be at peace until the persons responsible for our son's death are brought to justice.'' Above: After her son's slaying in Baltimore in 1993, medications became a daily part of Yong Jones' life. She took pills to help her sleep and to calm her frayed nerves.
A presidential spokesman wrote back, telling them their letter would be sent to the Department of Justice for review. Disheartened, Brenda and Yong wrote another round of letters to Maryland's governor and attorney general, and to the mayor of Baltimore. They also pleaded with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to look at the case. Again, they got little satisfaction.
Along with contacting politicians, Yong and her husband offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could lead police to their son's killers.
Despite the letter-writing campaign and the reward offer, police were still no closer to making an arrest as the anniversary of Laurence Jones' murder drew near. Undaunted, Brenda and Yong wrote more letters, hoping to keep pressure on the police.
Laurence Jones supported his wife's efforts, but as the case got colder he resigned himself to the prospect that his son's slaying might never be solved.
Though he knew he could learn to live with such a disappointment, he feared that his wife would die if her son's killer was never found.
It pained him to watch her fighting such a futile battle. But he knew she would never give up. Since they had met in Korea more than 30 years ago, he'd seen his wife fight relentlessly for what she believed in, whether it was helping her fellow Koreans who got into trouble or standing up for her own ideals.
As long as she could draw a breath, she would continue to fight to free her son's soul. While she focused on finding her son's killer, Larry felt powerless to console her.
''There's nothing I can do to help my wife. I can't reach her,'' Larry confided to Brenda.
It seemed that he and Yong had less and less to talk about before he left for his security job each night. While Larry worked, Yong sat in her kitchen talking to her son's spirit. She told him how much she missed him and she gave him updates on his murder investigation.
At times she felt his presence. Heard his laughter. She had hoped the candle that she kept lit day and night had drawn his restless soul home. It comforted her to think he would wait by her side until his killer was found.
Often, Yong cooked dinner for her son, as she'd done hundreds of times before. She made him Korean fish with spicy vegetables and rice. She would set the table for two, putting his food out first.
''Go ahead, Junior,'' she'd tell him. ''It's OK. You eat first, honey. Momma knows you must be hungry.''
Sharing Sorrow of Broken Hearts
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.
Hope Comes from Strangers
Yong Jones looked to the sky and saw her husband and son standing before a polished golden gate. Laurence Jones Sr. wrapped his arm around his son and told him: ''C'mon, Junior, you shouldn't be outside.''
The father pushed the gate open. Then he and Laurence Jr. walked beyond it, disappearing into a white cloud.
Yong stood by her husband's freshly dug grave as the vision faded. Later, she would wonder whether it was the tranquilizers or her mind playing tricks on her.
It was a crisp September morning, and she had just buried the man she had dearly loved and married 31 years ago. He died two years after their son had been murdered in Baltimore, shot in the face during a robbery.
Doctors said her 58-year-old husband had suffered a heart attack. Yong was certain he had died of a broken heart.
Their sorrow over their only child's murder had tormented both Yong and her husband. But it hurt even more to know that after nearly two years the Baltimore police had not found their son's killer. And as more time passed, Yong knew chances were good there would never be an arrest.
Too distraught to return to her job at a local paper mill, Yong quit. Now she rarely left her home in Bangor. The only trip she made each day was to the cemetery.
Her obsession to save her son's soul had robbed her of her appetite and sleep, but since her husband's death Yong had grown more restless. She had begun sleepwalking in her empty Bangor home. Sometimes she awoke in the darkness sitting on the second-story deck outside her bedroom. Above: Yong Jones visits the site of her husband's and son's graves in Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor. Larry Jones Sr., 58, died almost two years after their son was killed; Yong Jones believed his death resulted from a broken heart, and the bitterness he felt over his son's unsolved murder.
Fearing that Yong might fall, her younger sister, Yong Im, who lived next door, began staying with her sister. Before they went to bed each night, Yong Im tied the bottom of her nightgown to her sister's bedclothes so she would feel a tug if her older sister left the bed.
Yong Im also began cooking dinner for her sister, preparing Yong's favorite Korean foods: spicy vegetables, beef soup, rice and seasoned fish.
For most of her life, Yong had mothered Yong Im. A shy, quiet woman with large brown eyes, Yong Im had vague memories of her older sister carrying her on her back as the two of them fled the bombs that rained on Inchon during the Korean War.
Now, Yong Im hoped to repay her sister, caring for her as if she were her own child. ''Eat, eat,'' Yong Im told her sister each night. But Yong could barely eat more than a few spoonfuls. Often, she vomited the little bit she had swallowed.
Worried that Yong would soon end up joining her husband and son, Yong's close friend, Brenda Lawson, stopped by even more frequently than she had over the past two years. She tried to bolster Yong, telling her that their fight was far from over.
Brenda suggested they turn to the media and the public for support in getting her son's case solved.
One night while visiting with Yong, an idea popped into Brenda's head.
''What about a petition drive to pressure the police?'' she said.
''What if no one wants to sign it?'' Yong asked.
''This is Maine,'' Brenda said. ''People here care about one another. They care if someone's son or daughter is murdered. They'll sign it. Don't worry.''
The two women toiled from early afternoon till midnight, calling and writing more than a hundred civic groups and churches in towns large and small in the Bangor area.
Within a month, nearly 1,700 people had signed a petition urging the Baltimore police to keep the Laurence Jones Jr. murder case open and to renew their efforts to find his killer.
Hundreds of the families and strangers also agreed to contact the Baltimore police. As letters and calls deluged the Baltimore homicide office, an exasperated Sgt. Roger Nolan called Brenda.
''I can't answer all these letters,'' Nolan moaned. ''I'm not getting any work done.''
''I'm sorry, sergeant, but people in Maine really care about this murder,'' Brenda told him. ''They want this case solved.''
Besides putting pressure on the police, the petition gave new hope and strength to Yong. Each day, as new pages of signatures arrived at her home, Yong taped them together. In the middle of the night, she ran her fingers over the names, reading each of them aloud.
''All these strangers care about my son,'' she told herself.
Night after night she would fall asleep, clutching the petition in her arms.
On the last day of February, Brenda and Yong delivered the petition to Republican Sen. William Cohen's office in Bangor. Two of Cohen's staffers took it to Baltimore and planned to deliver it to the police commissioner during a press conference.
But the commissioner refused to meet with them. He wanted no part of the media's glare. The police felt harassed.
''We continue to investigate this case with no leads, no witnesses, no weapon,'' police spokesman Sam Ringgold told the Baltimore Sun. ''It's a difficult homicide to solve, as many of them are. To suggest the department has not aggressively pursued the case or pushed it off to the side is not true.''
Ringgold later asked a Baltimore Sun reporter about Yong. ''Who is this woman from Maine? Who is she connected to? Is she friends with the governor up there?''
''No,'' the reporter answered. ''She's just an ordinary lady who worked in a mill in Maine.''
Despair Inspires Dangerous Resolution
Yong Jones whispered the words over and over, as if they were a sacred mantra. ''Justice. American justice.''
Though her husband, Laurence Jones Sr., had died believing their son's killer would never be found, Yong still clung desperately to the ideals her husband had taught her. Laurence Jones, a Korean War veteran who served 20 years in the Air Force, often told his Korean-born wife there was no better country than the United States of America.
''Here, there is justice for all,'' he'd tell her. ''In America, democracy works. The voice of people is heard.''
Two and a half years had passed since her son, Laurence Jr., became homicide victim No. 313 during the most murderous year in Baltimore's history. After writing and phoning hundreds of politicians and police in Maine and Maryland, pleading with them for help in solving her son's case, Yong and her friend Brenda Lawson had turned to the people of Maine for help. They had gathered nearly 1,700 signatures from Maine citizens, urging the police to work harder to find Laurence Jones' killer.
Yong prayed that the voice of Maine's people would be heard. But as the spring of 1996 folded into summer, police still had no new leads. Though she grew more despondent, Yong continued talking to the spirit of her dead son. She assured him she had not given up on freeing his soul.
Eager for any positive news, Yong was encouraged when Col. Steven Crumrine showed interest in her son's case. In early 1996, Crumrine was promoted to oversee Baltimore's Criminal Division.
A career cop with 24 years of experience, Crumrine made it his priority to review the division's unsolved cases. When he got to the file on Laurence Jones Jr., a colleague told Crumrine: ''This is a case we've gotten a lot of letters and calls on.'' Above: Yong Jones prays and sobs before the altar at the Columbia Street Baptist Church in Bangor. Near the third anniversary of her son's 1993 murder, Jones went to church to speak to God about her plans to kill herself in an attempt to draw attention to the unsolved slaying.
Intrigued, Crumrine took the case home to read. He wasn't the first top official to review the file. The hundreds of letters, the calls, and now the petition had prompted plenty of the department's brass to peruse the case.
After reviewing the file, Crumrine learned little progress had been made on the murder since homicide detective Donald Ossmus Jr. had retired from the department in the spring of 1994. Ossmus had been the first detective to investigate the homicide. The two detectives who took the case over after he left had little luck coming up with fresh leads.
Crumrine decided to reassign the investigation to John ''J.T.'' Brown, a detective who worked in the department's Cold Case Squad. He believed that if anyone could come up with fresh leads, it was Brown. The detective was a hard-working, smooth-talking veteran cop who had a knack for cracking cases that nobody else could solve.
''Do everything you can,'' Crumrine told Brown in July.
Confident that Brown would somehow find the killer, Crumrine made Yong a promise.
''We will solve your son's murder for you,'' he told her.
Despite Brown's efforts, the summer swept by. As the trees began to burn with color, the detective was no closer to making an arrest.
In October, a month away from the third anniversary of her son's murder, Yong paced back and forth in the darkness of her home. She asked herself, ''What haven't I done to save Junior's soul?''
One evening, a rash idea struck her. ''What if I kill myself?''
Yong believed that if she went to Baltimore and committed suicide on the same street where her son was murdered, it would draw attention to the case, and maybe help to solve it.
Unsure whether to carry out her plan, Yong sought guidance in her church. Alone in the quiet sanctuary, she talked to God.
''I know if I commit suicide I can't go to Heaven, but, Lord, I can't take it anymore. I'm Korean. I can't change my beliefs. I need to know my son will rest in peace. Please, Lord, don't let my death go in vain.''
Yong also spoke to Junior, explaining that she must end her life to rescue his soul. She heard his voice pleading with her: ''Mom, you don't have to come join me. I don't want you to go to Hell. Don't do this, Mom.''
She told no one about her suicide scheme, not even her friend Brenda Lawson, who had agreed to go to Baltimore with her.
Four days before she and Brenda were to board a train in Boston, Yong made her friends promise that they would pursue her son's murder if she didn't come back from Baltimore.
One of those friends was Mark Woodward, an editor at the Bangor Daily News, who had supported Yong in her quest for justice.
''Just in case I come back from Baltimore in a pine box, what are you going to do?'' she asked him.
''I hope you don't come back that way,'' Woodward told her. ''But if that happened, I would pick up where you left off.''
Before she went to bed that night Yong told her son: ''It's OK, Junior. Momma's going to be with you soon.''
Solid Lead Breaks Case
Homicide Detective John ''J.T.'' Brown knew the killer had to live near the murder scene.
On the night Laurence Jones Jr. was robbed and shot on Bank Street, a witness had seen two men run by seconds after he heard the gunfire.
Fifteen minutes later, one of the men returned, wearing different clothes. He told the witness: ''I know you seen me running by, but you know I didn't do that.''
The witness, William Rice, lived in the Perkins Housing Projects, apartments that faced the 1400 Block of Bank Street. Rice told the homicide cops that it wasn't the first time he'd seen the suspect. He knew that this young man sometimes hung out in the project courtyards selling and buying drugs.
Rice said he'd also seen the suspect in the area in the months after the shooting. While Rice was familiar with the suspect's face, he told police he didn't know his name or where he lived.
Detective Brown was sure Rice knew more than he was telling, but he also knew the witness was scared about getting shot himself for saying too much.
Brown had no choice but to be patient with Rice. He'd have to gain the man's trust before he could expect any more information. Still, the detective was frustrated. He knew the killer was out there and was probably thinking he got away with murder.
''We've got to identify this guy,'' Brown told himself.
Brown needed more. He reviewed the case file again. He read memos written by the detectives who had worked the case before him. During the three years the case had been open, the detectives had run down plenty of dead-end leads. They'd checked dozens of pawnshops looking for Laurence Jones' stolen gold ring. They had searched for a murder weapon and interviewed several suspects who earned their living robbing people in southeast Baltimore neighborhoods like Bank Street.
The detectives had also tracked down a man with the street name of Skip, who was thought to know the killer. He, too, led nowhere.
''Who's still out there we haven't talked to?'' Brown wondered.
In October 1996, four months after the unsolved murder got assigned to the Cold Case Squad, Brown got the break he needed.
It came from another man named Brown: Alfred Brown, a felon with a fondness for robberies, had some information he wanted to share with the homicide cops. Three years earlier, Detective Donald Ossmus had interviewed Brown, asking him if he knew anything about a robbery gone bad on Bank Street.
At the time, Brown had nothing to offer. He said he'd get back to the detective if he picked up anything on the street.
Now Brown was making good on his promise.
Facing an escape charge for walking away from a halfway house, Brown figured it was a good time to help the cops. He agreed to talk with J.T. Brown about what he knew.
He explained that he had met up with an old buddy, James Langhorne, while the two of them were doing time in March 1996.
Alfred Brown was serving a sentence for a stickup. Langhorne had been locked up for breaking his probation on drug and handgun charges. The two men knew each other from an earlier time, when both had been free, hustling the streets of southeast Baltimore, selling drugs and doing robberies.
More experienced than Langhorne, Brown had taught his friend some tricks of the stickup trade. Now, a few years later, when Langhorne ran into Brown in prison, the two reminisced about old times. Langhorne bragged to his mentor. He talked about a late-night robbery he and a buddy had pulled three years ago on Bank Street.
Langhorne told him that he pulled a gun on a man ''and the guy put up a fight so I shot him.''
''What'd you get?'' Brown asked.
''I got his ring and wallet.''
J.T. Brown studied the informant's face as he told his story in the homicide office. Brown had been a cop for 23 years, and reading witnesses and suspects had become second nature to him.
The detective listened carefully to Alfred Brown, waiting for a word, a gesture, something to tell him that the story didn't hold up. His gut told him Brown was telling the truth.
After talking to Brown, the detective went looking for William Rice. He convinced Rice to come to the homicide office to take a look at some mug shots. Rice had little trouble picking Langhorne's mug out of a half-dozen photographs.
''That's him,'' Rice told Brown.
The detective also learned after talking with Alfred Brown that his hunch had been right. At the time of the murder, Langhorne had been living with his girlfriend in a housing project on Ballou Court. Their apartment was just a few blocks away from the murder scene.
Sure that Langhorne was the suspect they had been hunting for nearly three years, Brown got a warrant for his arrest. On Nov. 15, a half-dozen officers drove to the home of Langhorne's parents in Woodlawn, a working-class Baltimore suburb.
Paroled from prison two weeks earlier, Langhorne was surprised to see the police at his mother's door. Joyce Langhorne was even more surprised.
''What's going on, James?'' she asked.
''I'm being charged with murder.''
''Some 1993 murder.''
"We've Got the Guy Who Shot Your Son"
Four days before Yong Jones planned to kill herself on the Baltimore street where her son was murdered, her phone rang.
It was Col. Steve Crumrine of the Baltimore police.
''Mrs. Jones, sit down,'' he told her.
Frightened that Crumrine had bad news, she sat on the stool by her breezeway.
''We've made an arrest,'' Crumrine said. ''We've got the guy who shot your son.''
For three years, Yong had waited for these words. Three years of anguish and sleepless nights. Three years of pleading with politicians and police officers to end her son's restless journey.
She had rehearsed how she would thank and praise the police if they ever made an arrest. But now all she could do was scream and cry.
Overwhelmed with the news, Yong fell from her chair and passed out on the floor.
Later that day, Yong whispered the suspect's name. After three years, she had a name and a face to blame, to hate: James Wilbur Langhorne. Police said it was Langhorne who had robbed and shot Yong's son, Laurence Jr., on a bone-chilling November night in 1993. Above: You can Download a video of Yong Jones telling the story of the phone call: The MoviePlayer video, with audio, will take about 10 minutes to download with a 28.8 modem.
Contents of the audio : When the officer called to tell Yong Jones they had found the suspect, the memory is vividly brought back and recounted on camera:
"Oh, that moment. You see that, I've been waiting three years to get it, that phone call. And he said, 'are you sitting down,' and I said, 'Yes.' 'Last night officer went out to pick up the suspect and we think he is the one.... (long pause, emotion) ....'that's it, that's all I need to hear of it.'"
Though police suspected two men had mugged her son, they told Yong they believed Langhorne had shot him. He'd bragged to a jailhouse buddy that he had killed a guy who didn't want to give up his wallet and jewelry.
Langhorne had also shown his girlfriend the spoils of the robbery, a gold ring and a wallet.
Eleven months before the Bank Street murder, Langhorne had been released from prison after doing time on drug-dealing and illegal handgun convictions.
Yong was stunned when she learned Langhorne had served only seven months of his 10-year sentence for those crimes.
They let this animal out of prison early so he can kill my son, she thought.
Her chest burned with rage. She blamed a failed judicial system and Langhorne for destroying her family. This criminal not only had killed her son, he had put her husband, Laurence Jones Sr., into an early grave. Two years after her son's murder, Yong's husband had died. The doctors said it was a heart attack, but Yong knew better. He had died of grief and bitterness over his son's unsolved murder.
But with Yong's rage came relief. Finally, after three years, her son's soul was one step closer to resting in peace. Once Langhorne was convicted, Yong believed, her son's spirit would finally be freed, finally be able to rise to Heaven.
''Your soul won't have to wander no more, Junior,'' she told him.
Yong also knew that now she wouldn't have to carry out her desperate plan. She had bought a train ticket for Baltimore and had resigned herself to committing suicide on Nov. 20, the third anniversary of Junior's death. She believed taking her own life would draw new attention to the case and possibly help solve it.
Now, after learning of Langhorne's arrest, she had a reason to live.
While Yong was relieved, another mother living 600 miles away was devastated. Above: James V. Langhorne, seated at left, poses with his parents and siblings for a family portrait. After his arrest in connection with the murder of Laurence Jones Jr., Langhorne's mother, Joyce, center, prayed that her son was innocent of the crime.
Joyce Langhorne was a religious woman, and she prayed that her son James was innocent.
James was her baby, the youngest of three children. Joyce and her husband, James Langhorne Sr., had tried to raise their children right. They'd taken their three kids to church, disciplined them plenty, and encouraged them to do well in school.
The Langhornes also had tried to show their children the importance of earning an honest day's wage. Both Joyce Langhorne and her husband had jobs with the Baltimore County school maintenance department.
James showed promise, working at fast-food restaurants like Pizza Hut and McDonald's, where he eventually was promoted to manager. His mother had urged him to take business courses, since he seemed to like restaurant work. Joyce Langhorne thought James might go to culinary school.
But James had other plans. He got involved with a girl and dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. Not long after he quit, he and his girlfriend started having babies.
They relied on welfare and lived in a rundown housing project in southeast Baltimore.
Joyce Langhorne worried about her son. At times he looked so tired, sickly and pale. His eyes seemed dead, dulled by a thin filmy glaze.
She would later learn her son had grown fond of heroin. In his late teens, he began shooting it into his veins and selling it on the streets.
Still, Joyce Langhorne couldn't believe her son was capable of murder. Often she told him: ''Crime, drugs and guns don't pay. Stay out of the system. You'll become a number and then you'll have no name, no future.''
He'd look at her with his big brown eyes and try to comfort her: ''Don't worry, Mom. I'm not going to get in trouble.''
Dark Nights; Days of Prayer and Power
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.
"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.
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.''
Bracing for a Courtroom Confrontation
Yong Jones was ready to look into the eyes of the killer.
She had waited 4 years for this moment. She had fought, pleaded and prayed for it.
On this January morning the state of Maryland would begin to present its case against James Wilbur Langhorne, the man accused of shooting Yong's son during a robbery.
''I feel like ice,'' Yong said as she boarded the hotel bus that would take her to the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse.
''Why am I so scared?'' Yong asked her friend, Brenda Lawson.
''Because it's a scary thing to look at the person that probably killed your son,'' Brenda told her. ''You will take one step at a time like we've been doing all along. Think of all the days you thought that you weren't going to make it, that you were never going to get justice. This is the finale. This is it.''
''I will finish the job,'' Yong said.
To calm her nerves, Yong thought of a time when both her son and husband were proud of her. She remembered the July 4, 1992, afternoon when she spoke in downtown Bangor to help raise money for a Korean War memorial. Moments before she was to speak, her husband, a Korean War veteran, tried to calm his nervous wife. ''It's all right, honey,'' he told her. ''You can do it.''
Yong talked that day about growing up in Inchon, about watching the North Korean soldiers murder her neighbors, burn her city, bomb her home. She also spoke of the American soldiers who invaded Inchon Harbor and sacrificed their lives to rescue her people. She told the holiday crowd: ''The price for freedom isn't cheap. The price for freedom is lives and we should never take that for granted.''
After her speech, her son turned to her with pride and said: ''That's my mother.''
Now, on the bus ride to the courthouse, the memory comforted her.
''Yes, I can do this,'' she whispered. ''Justice.'' MUGGING TURNED MURDER: Laurence Jones Jr. was robbed and shot on Nov. 20, 1993 in the 1400 block of Bank Street.
ATwo men were seen waiting at a phone booth on the corner of Eden and Bank streets at 2:30 a.m. in the morning Jones was killed. Police suspected the men were looking for victims to rob.
BJones was shot in the face sometime before 3 a.m. He was left to die a few doors from his apartment, at 1405 Bank Street.
CJames W. Langhorne, the man arrested in November 1996 and charged with murdering Jones, lived a few blocks away from the murder scene in a Ballou Court housing project.
Dee Gardner, an employee of the Maryland State's Attorney's Office, greeted Yong at the courthouse and guided her to a waiting room. There, she and her family and Brenda waited on black vinyl chairs.
Just before noon, Gardner returned to tell Yong: ''It's time. The trial's going to start now.''
Yong rose quickly, then collapsed back in her seat. Her sister reached for Yong's arm to hold her up. Her nephew took her other arm. With their help, Yong walked slowly down the polished black-and-white tiles of the courthouse hallway.
''Are you ready?'' Brenda asked as they stood outside the wood-paneled door leading into Courtroom 14.
Yong nodded. They entered, and Yong took a seat in the second row of the courtroom. She squeezed her sister's hand and told her: ''Junior's soul is here.''
Yong studied the back of the man accused of murdering her son. He was young - 24 years old, the same age her son was when he was killed. Langhorne was dressed casually in a gray sweat shirt, jeans and sneakers. His hair was shaved short. His beard and moustache were trimmed neatly.
''He looks like a human,'' Yong thought. ''He must have a mother.''
Overwhelmed, she bent over, taking a deep breath.
''At this time the state calls the case of James W. Langhorne,'' the clerk said.
Judge Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman stared down at the attorneys from her ornate marble bench. The two prosecutors stood and announced their names: Ilene J. Nathan and Cassandra Costley.
Nathan, the lead prosecutor, braced herself for a tough battle. She'd tried to prepare Yong for the worst. A veteran prosecutor, Nathan knew the evidence was weak. If she had to place any bets on the verdict, Nathan would've put money on ''not guilty.''
A curly-haired man in his early 60s stood by Langhorne. ''Sam Brave for the defense, your honor.''
Feeling dizzy, Yong struggled to stand and walked out of the courtroom. Just outside the door, she collapsed to the floor.
A bailiff called for an ambulance while someone else helped Yong to a hallway bench, where she lay down.
''You should go home,'' the bailiff told her.
''No, I'm the only one left,'' Yong cried. ''I have to stay. I have to make it. I have to hear every word for my husband, for my son.''
When the paramedics arrived with a stretcher, Yong refused to go to the hospital.
''I'm OK,'' she said as she clutched her locket.
Inside the courtroom, Judge Friedman spent the afternoon listening to Brave argue about photo lineups during which Langhorne was identified as the man seen running from the murder scene. Brave wanted the judge to prevent the state from using the photo lineups as evidence. The judge denied his request and court adjourned at 4:30.
Langhorne, handcuffed and shackled, was escorted from the courtroom. Yong stood as he stepped into the hallway. She wanted him to see her face. She wanted him to know she was the mother of the young man he robbed, shot and left to die on the sidewalk.
Langhorne glanced at Yong and quickly looked away.
Later that night, Yong saw his eyes again as she tried to sleep. ''What did I see? Is he hiding guilt? Is it remorse? Is he really the one who shot Junior?''
The police had told her they believed Langhorne was the shooter. He'd bragged about killing her son to another inmate and he had showed the spoils of the robbery, a gold ring and a wallet, to his girlfriend. Though the evidence pointed to Langhorne, Yong relied on her intuition to tell her who fired a bullet into her son's face.
''I'm a mother,'' Yong told herself. ''I do have instincts. He's the one.''
Was Arrest Made Under Pressure?
Twelve were picked to decide the accused killer's fate.
Three men and nine women would sit in judgment of James W. Langhorne. They were janitors, clerks, a bank teller, a church deacon and a couple of retirees. Like Langhorne, all of the jurors were black.
These 12 people would decide whether Langhorne took part in a deadly robbery that left Laurence Jones Jr. bleeding from a gunshot wound to the face on a cold and dirty Baltimore sidewalk.
None of the jurors was eager to sit on this murder case. They knew the stakes were high for both the defendant and the victim's family.
Juror Jean Randall was a computer analyst and a mother of three. She'd been selected as a juror before on cases involving robbery and drug crimes, but never murder. She worried about convicting an innocent man and putting him away for life.
Valerie Betty had never been a juror, and the thought of sitting in judgment of another person on such a serious crime unnerved her. Like Randall, she was a working mother. She told herself: ''I hope and pray we do the right thing.''
Despite their uneasiness, these 12 jurors and two alternates found themselves seated in the courtroom of Judge Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman, waiting for James W. Langhorne's murder trial to begin.
Yong Jones eyed the jury. They seemed like good people, decent people, she thought. Still, she worried. She knew that Langhorne's attorney had managed to strike all but one white person - an alternate juror - from the panel.
''Will they be fair to Junior?'' Yong asked herself.
Some of the jurors considered the defense attorney's actions in their own minds. ''This attorney believes just because we're black we're going to side with this defendant,'' thought Thelma Matthews, a middle-aged computer programmer who grew up in Baltimore's ghettos.
On a Thursday afternoon, as the sun sent hazy streams of light into the ornate, high-ceilinged court-room, Ilene Nathan, one of the two prosecutors, stood to give her opening statement to the jury. A veteran prosecutor, Nathan was a serious-minded attorney known for winning tough cases. She wore her hair cropped short, and she dressed in conservative dark suits.
She spoke in a stern and steady voice. She told the jury the young man killed in the homicide case before them represented the 313th victim to die violently during the most murderous year in the city's history.
''It is just a number to people who keep records in Baltimore, but in a few days you will see that it represents a lost future,'' Nathan said. ''He came from Maine to Baltimore to live so he could fulfill his dream to work with mentally retarded children. But he was gunned down in another senseless act of violence on your streets.''
Nathan explained that she would present witnesses who would put James Langhorne on the 1400 block of Bank Street on the night of Nov. 20, 1993. A witness who watched him run past seconds after the 3 a.m. shooting saw him return later wearing different clothes, declaring that he had nothing to do with the deadly robbery.
The state would also call Langhorne's girlfriend to the stand. She would say that Langhorne came home that night upset and worried about a robbery he and a friend had just pulled. A robbery that ended with a man shot and his gold ring and wallet stolen.
An old buddy of Langhorne's would testify that Langhorne bragged to him about the murder while the two of them were doing time in prison.
''Do your duty,'' Nathan said, looking into the eyes of the jurors. ''Do justice for Laurence Jones and find James Langhorne accountable for this murder.''
Langhorne's attorney, Samuel Brave, rose slowly from the defense table. With his curly hair, awkward gait and comical mannerisms, he reminded many of the jurors and trial spectators of Columbo, the fictional character in a 1970s television series about a bumbling, but bright, detective.
''Yes, a tragedy occurred in 1993,'' Brave told the jury. ''But I'm here to see a second tragedy doesn't occur. There was a rush to judgment in this case to convict a man not responsible for the murder. This case, more so than any case I've ever experienced, has been influenced by forces outside the police department.''
Brave told jurors about the hundreds of letters Yong had written to politicians in Maine and Maryland - even to the president - urging them to pressure the police to find her son's killer.
''You're going to find that attempts were made to bring this case to resolution from all corners of the nation,'' Brave said. ''No police department could possibly have been immune to the pressure brought upon them to make an arrest in this case.''
Isn't it odd, Brave asked jurors, that after three years the case is suddenly solved in November 1996 and an arrest is made as a result of a jailhouse snitch?
''And now the pressure is off the police department. Decide for yourself. Does all this pressure play a big part in how this man came to be sitting at the defense table?''
Yong listened to Brave and gripped the locket that held her dead son's picture. Her chest burned and she placed a hand over her heart. She never imagined that her crusade to rescue her son's soul would taint his murder case. She worried that her efforts to see justice done might now help set this accused killer free.
She left the courtroom before Brave finished his opening statement. ''All I am asking for is justice and fairness,'' she said as she sat trembling on a hallway bench. ''Now they are going to use that against me? I am the mother. I did what any mother would do.''
Yong took short gulps of air as she imagined her son's soul forever trapped between heaven and hell because his killer went unpunished.
''Oh no, Junior,'' she cried. ''All Momma wanted to do is help you.''
Fatal Wounds, and a Jail Revelation
Dr. Theodore M. King took the stand to speak for the dead.
On this January afternoon, the assistant medical examiner would tell the jury how Laurence Jones Jr. died.
Yong Jones left the courtroom as King was sworn in by the clerk. She could not listen to the details of how a bullet ended the life of her only child.
King peered shyly at the jury from behind his glasses. He talked about his work with a quiet reverence, his voice barely above a whisper.
He explained to the jury that, during his career, he had performed 2,600 autopsies. He was on duty the morning in November 1993 when Larry Jones' body was brought to the Baltimore city morgue.
The cause of death was a gunshot wound, he told jurors. The bullet entered the young man's left eyelid, fractured his skull and sent bone slivers into the left side of his brain. The slug also tore through his neck, causing severe injury to his jugular vein.
''How serious were Jones' injuries?'' asked Cassandra Costley, the prosecutor.
''The jugular drains blood from the brain,'' King explained. ''That injury alone will cause death rapidly. The victim bleeds quite a bit, in a range of seconds to minutes.''
''What about the brain injury?'' Costley asked.
King explained that the brain injury also could cause death quickly. The combination of the two lethal wounds meant Larry Jones had almost no chance of surviving.
Some of the jurors shook their heads in apparent horror and disgust. The defendant, James Langhorne, listened to King with interest.
The doctor noted that he also found gunpowder stippling on Larry Jones' face, indicating the gun was fired from within 12 to 18 inches. King said that the victim also suffered several bruises, cuts and scrapes before his death.
''The injuries of arms, legs and chest indicates the deceased had been in a struggle,'' King said. ''The injuries were so fresh they had not had time to heal, indicating they occurred very close to the time of the gunshot wound.''
A few jurors nodded their heads. They wondered whether the gunman beat Larry Jones because he refused to give up his wallet and his gold ring, a gift from his parents that he had treasured.
Langhorne's attorney, Samuel Brave, questioned King about the bruises. He hoped to plant the notion that the victim had been injured during a scuffle with some former friends rather than as a result of getting mugged.
''Suppose 10 minutes before the victim had been shot he'd been in some sort of struggle, could the injuries have been inflicted then?'' Brave asked.
''Yes, that could be possible,'' King answered.
Alfred Brown took the stand next. A wiry, thin man, he wore a red, white and blue running suit.
Brown explained that he and Langhorne used to sell drugs on the streets of southeast Baltimore. He told the jury: ''We used to hang tough.''
Brown said he had taught Langhorne a few tips about pulling robberies. When they saw each other a few years later in prison, Langhorne bragged to Brown that he had robbed a guy. The stickup went bad when the victim put up a struggle.
''So I shot him,'' Langhorne told Brown. ''I got a ring and a wallet.''
Brown told the jury he held onto the information until he needed to trade it for a favor. After walking away from a halfway house in October 1996, Brown was arrested again and decided it was time to snitch on Langhorne.
''Anyone promise you anything for coming forward?'' prosecutor Ilene Nathan asked.
As Nathan settled in her seat, Brave stood, scratched his head and walked to the witness stand. He noted that the 10 years Brown faced for escaping from the halfway house disappeared after Brown snitched on Langhorne.
His forehead wrinkling in disbelief, Brave asked: ''So the state didn't have anything hanging over your head?''
''No,'' Brown answered.
Brave grinned. ''You know the system inside out, don't you?''
''I don't,'' Brown said. ''I ain't no career criminal. I've only been locked up twice.''
''You're not going to get a thing out of this?'' Brave asked.
A thin smile sliding across his lips, Brown answered: ''No.''
A few of the jurors smirked at Brown's reply.
Brave moved on to a new series of questions, badgering Brown on what details police had fed him to help his story stand up in court.
''Are you saying under oath, as God is your judge, that detectives never brought up the subject of the ring when you spoke to them?''
''No, James Langhorne told me about it,'' Brown answered.
''Didn't the detectives tell you exactly what they knew before you opened your mouth?''
As Brown stepped down from the witness stand, hundreds of starlings flocked to the fourth-floor windows outside Judge Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman's courtroom. Jurors and court spectators stared at the birds as dusk settled over the city. The starlings chirped and flapped their wings as they came home to roost.
The sound of the birds swooping, circling, darting frenetically outside the windows echoed in the courtroom as the judge dismissed the jury until morning.
Langhorne, his wrists and ankles shackled, walked by Yong as she sat on the court bench. He looked away as she searched his face, trying to read his thoughts. He turned to his sister and parents seated in the bench across from Yong. He raised his eyebrows as a sign of hope and told them: ''See you later.''
Yong looked at the accused killer's mother, Joyce Langhorne. She was a petite woman with dark smudges under her eyes. Her face was pinched, sallow. Her brown eyes reflected little light or hope.
''She is a mother like me,'' Yong thought. ''There is so much pain in her eyes.''
Shadow of Doubt Haunts Courtroom
Brenda Lawson tried to prepare Yong Jones for the worst, the chance that the jury foreman would soon speak those words.
Yong nodded her head and quietly answered, ''I know.''
Like Brenda, Yong's nephew, Jea Chung, dreaded the upcoming verdict. At this point in the trial, the state didn't seem to have enough evidence to convict James Langhorne of killing Yong's son.
They didn't have any eyewitnesses to the shooting. Police hadn't found the murder weapon or Laurence Jones' stolen ring and wallet. And the state had no physical evidence linking Langhorne to the murder scene.
''If I was a juror, I'd still have a shadow of a doubt in my mind,'' Brenda confided to Jea one evening after court.
''I hope they have an ambulance ready for my aunt when the verdict comes in,'' Jea said.
He was also worried about his own mother. Like her sister, Yong Im had hardly slept or eaten since the trial began. ''Someone is going to have to hold both of them up.''
On Thursday morning, the third day of the trial, Nicole Woodard took the stand. She strode forward confidently in her pink blouse and black skirt. Nicole was Langhorne's former girlfriend and the mother of his two young daughters.
She told the jury that she and Langhorne had lived together for about four years at the Ballou Court housing projects. The projects were a few blocks away from Bank Street, where Laurence Jones was robbed and killed. She and Langhorne were still living together the night of Nov. 20, 1993.
That evening, she said, James came home sometime around 3 a.m. He was frantic. Nicole got out of bed and asked him: ''What's wrong with you?''
Langhorne paced back and forth in their living room. Finally he explained: ''I saw someone get shot around the corner.''
''Then why you so upset?'' she asked, knowing shootings were as common as Sundays in the Ballou Court neighborhood.
''You don't want to know,'' he told her.
''I don't want to know what?'' she pressed him.
''My friend shot somebody and I was there,'' he said. ''I was right there and someone might have seen me. Wink robbed somebody.''
He told her he and his friend had gotten some jewelry and a wallet. He showed her the billfold and a gold ring.
Langhorne had been carrying a gun that night. When he got home, Nicole watched him put the gun and the black and red coat he'd been wearing into a trash bag.
He took the bag and headed out the door, telling her: ''I'm going to my brother's for a while.''
Langhorne's attorney, Samuel Brave, stood to begin his cross-examination. Rubbing his chin, he asked Nicole: ''So why didn't you come forward about this murder?''
''I didn't know if it was true. I didn't see anything on television. I just brushed it off.''
Ironically, it was Langhorne who had led police to her door. After they picked him up on the murder charge in November 1996, Langhorne told the cops it was probably his ex-girlfriend who had fed them lies and gotten him in trouble. Above: Defense attorney Samuel Brave consults his calendar as he answers questions from Baltimore reporters outside the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse during James Langhorne's trial earlier this year.
Figuring Nicole knew something about the murder, Homicide Detective J.T. Brown called her and asked her to come talk with him. She talked with Brown for five hours before she gave a taped statement.
His voice ringing with accusation, Brave asked her: ''Did it take five hours to get the script straight? What were you talking about for five hours?''
''James Langhorne,'' she replied evenly.
Brave shifted to a new subject and asked Nicole about her drug habit. She admitted she began using heroin in her early teens.
''Are you having trouble staying awake now?'' Brave asked, implying that Nicole might be coming down from a crack high as she testified.
''No, I'm fine,'' she answered, scowling.
Brave turned on his heels and grinned. Jurors studied Nicole's eyes trying to see for themselves if she was strung out.
Satisfied he'd done some damage to her credibility, Brave moved on to Nicole's motivation for testifying. He asked her to look back to January 1993, when James came home after serving seven months in jail for selling drugs and carrying an illegal handgun.
''When he did come home, wasn't he absolutely flabbergasted when he saw the condition of you and your children?''
''No.'' Above: Maryland prosecutor Ilene Nathan meets with Yong Jones in Baltimore in February. "You never can tell what 12 people will do," Nathan said during the trial of the man accused of killing Jones' son. "We're doing our best."
''He didn't tell you you had to get off drugs because it was affecting you and your children? Didn't he say these children need to come with me?''
''No. When he came home I was working and I wasn't doing any drugs.''
''Miss Woodard, is the reason you're here to testify today because you were assured your children wouldn't be removed if you came to court?''
''No. That's not true,'' she answered, glaring at Langhorne, who scribbled notes on a legal pad.
''You're here to do your duty, to tell the truth and make sure justice is done?'' Brave said sarcastically.
''Yes,'' she told him.
As the trial broke for lunch, Yong tried to get up from the court bench, but fell to her knees. Prosecutor Cassandra Costley walked over to Yong and tried to comfort her. Like Yong, Costley had an only child. Her son was 24, the same age Larry Jones was when he was murdered. Costley couldn't imagine losing her boy.
She held Yong's hand and told her: ''You go get some nourishment. A little rice. A little soup.''
Prosecutor Ilene Nathan hugged Yong and offered her an update on the case. ''It's going the way we want it to. But you never can tell what 12 people will do. We're doing our best.''
''I know,'' Yong whispered back.
Defendant Denies Role in Maine Man's Slaying
The accused wanted to speak.
Attorney Samuel Brave stood and told the court: ''The defense calls the defendant, James W. Langhorne.''
Langhorne walked slowly from the defense table where he had sat for the past five days. He had listened calmly to each of the state's witnesses testify that he had robbed and killed a young man from Maine and left him to bleed to death on a cold November night.
Now it was his turn to tell the story. The Baltimore courtroom fell silent.
The jurors slid forward in their seats. The prosecutors held their pens ready to take notes. Jea Chung and Brenda Lawson watched anxiously as Langhorne raised his hand to be sworn in.
Everyone was eager to hear what Langhorne had to say - everyone but Yong Jones. After waiting four years to see her son's killer punished, she couldn't bear to listen to Langhorne testify. She was afraid she'd cry out and cause a mistrial.
Brave began by asking Langhorne about his youth. Now 24, Langhorne told jurors he'd grown up in a working-class neighborhood in the northwestern part of the city. He had dropped out of school in the 10th grade after he met Nicole Woodard. By the time he was 17 and she was 18, their first child, Michelle, was born. Within a year, they had a second daughter, Jessica.
He began shooting heroin into his veins when he was 18. His fondness for the drug got him in plenty of trouble. He did time for selling drugs, for carrying an illegal handgun, for using drugs while on probation and for assaulting Nicole.
''I turned to drugs when I got lonely and seemed to be losing everything,'' Langhorne said, his eyes filling with tears. ''I love my kids.''
The faces of a few women jurors softened as they studied the accused.
While serving prison time for a probation violation in March 1996, Langhorne said he met up with an old friend, Alfred Brown.
''Brown was talking about armed robbery and what was going on in the neighborhood. I told Brown, 'Skip, the man you used to hang with, I seen him shoot a dude during a robbery.' ''
Some of the court spectators wrinkled their foreheads in disbelief. Langhorne's story about Skip conflicted with the testimony of Nicole Woodard. Two days earlier, Nicole, Langhorne's former girlfriend, had told jurors Langhorne had blamed the shooting on his friend ''Wink.''
The jurors eyed Langhorne closely as he recounted his actions the night of Laurence Jones' murder. Langhorne explained that he had spent the evening playing with his kids until they fell asleep. He left his home at 1 a.m. to call a friend to see when he got out of work.
His friend worked at a pizza joint and was out making deliveries. So, Langhorne said, he stood on the corner of Bank and Eden streets, waiting to make another call.
As he lingered by the phone booth he saw Skip, a local hustler from the neighborhood known for pulling stickups. ''Skip said, 'Hey, what's up,' and then he walked up Bank Street,'' Langhorne said.
Langhorne explained that he tried to reach his friend one more time on the phone and then headed up Bank Street himself.
''As I started to walk I saw two guys standing there. I heard a gunshot go off. I looked. I see a dude coming across the street toward me. So I ran. I saw him coming my way.
''I didn't know who was running behind me. I ran. Everybody started running.''
He arrived home breathless and shaken. He remembered telling his girlfriend Nicole: ''Somebody just got shot near Spring Court.''
''She says you were wearing a black coat with red lining and you reached into the pocket and pulled out a .32 or .22 gun. Were you carrying a gun at the time?''
''I was carrying a .22. When my kids and I walk the neighborhood I keep it with me. I've gotten robbed twice in the neighborhood. You aren't going to catch nobody in the projects without a gun.''
A few of the jurors nodded their heads in agreement.
''She says you came home and said, 'We just robbed somebody,' '' Brave said.
''I did not say that. I said 'I just seen a dude get shot.' I went downstairs and put the gun back in the cupboard.''
''Did you put your coat in the Dumpster?''
''I got rid of it because it had a rip under the arm,'' Langhorne said. ''Then I wanted to go back and see what happened.''
When he returned to Bank Street the police and ambulance hadn't arrived yet. Langhorne walked through Spring Court, the Perkins Project courtyard across from the shooting. He didn't see anyone on the street, so he turned around and walked toward a 7-Eleven.
''Ain't no one had conversation with me that night.''
''You didn't tell a man by the name of William Rice, 'I know you saw me but I didn't have anything to do with it?' ''
''He wasn't talking to me,'' Langhorne said, shrugging his shoulders.
''Mr. Langhorne, as God is your judge, did you kill anyone?'' Brave asked, his voice rising to a near shout.
''I never, ever killed a man in my life,'' Langhorne said defiantly.
''I didn't rob nobody. I was working and had money in my pockets. As God is my judge, if I need money I got my parents. Right now I'm sitting here in this courtroom and they're the only two people who believe me.
''I didn't do this,'' he said, his voice breaking as he wiped a tear from his eye.
Judge Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman told the attorneys to prepare for closing arguments in the morning. The jury was expected to begin deliberating by noon Tuesday, Feb. 3, a week after the murder trial began.
Yong's nephew, Jea Chung, shook his head as the last juror walked from the courtroom. ''What a bunch of lies,'' Jea muttered, referring to Langhorne's testimony.
But Langhorne had made a different impression on the 12 people who would decide his fate. More than one juror went home that night thinking: This man is innocent.
Jurors Pray They've Made the Right Decision
Before the sky darkened on this winter day, Yong Jones would learn whether her son's stolen soul could finally rest in peace.
The Baltimore jury had gone behind closed doors to decide whether James W. Langhorne was guilty of robbing and killing her son, Laurence Jones Jr.
Along with determining Langhorne's fate, these 12 men and women would also shape the destiny of Yong and her son. Yong believed a guilty verdict would deliver justice to Laurence Jones' tormented soul, allowing it to rise to heaven. If his murder wasn't avenged, she believed his spirit would remain in limbo, forever damned to hover between heaven and hell.
She had done all a mother could do to bring this accused killer to trial. Now there was nothing left but prayer.
In a small, hot, stuffy room, the jurors sat around a dark wooden table. They were eager to put this murder trial behind them and return to their lives.
One of the jurors, Thelma Matthews, had four young kids and a computer programming job she needed to get back to. Though she felt sorry for the young man from Maine, she wasn't sure the state had proved its case against Langhorne.
''What if we're sending this guy to jail for the rest of his life and he's innocent?'' Matthews asked the other jurors.
Another juror felt uneasy about the letters Yong had written to politicians in Maine and Maryland. She worried that police were pressured to arrest the wrong man.
The jurors took a vote to see where they stood. Eight believed Langhorne was innocent. Three thought he was guilty. One was undecided.
Benjamin Fulton sighed. He knew it was going to be a long day. But he didn't care how many hours he spent in this dark, dingy room. He wasn't going to change his guilty verdict.
Fulton was a 62-year-old retired eye technician. He'd earned a living assisting optometrists in surgeries and eye examinations and was now enjoying a comfortable life.
A stout man who usually whistled as he left the courtroom each day, Fulton loved the opera, liked his shirts tailored and his ties handmade. And he drank his martinis dry, with a twist.
He had no doubt Langhorne had robbed Jones. He wasn't sure whether Langhorne had pulled the trigger or whether it was ''Wink'' or ''Skip,'' the mysterious characters Langhorne had tried to blame the shooting on. But it didn't matter. Fulton knew that under the law Langhorne was just as guilty.
''If I let that son of a bitch off, I won't be able to live with myself,'' Fulton thought.
The jurors shifted in their chairs and talked some more. Though several agreed that Langhorne helped rob Jones, few were certain he fired the fatal bullet.
''It doesn't matter if Langhorne was the shooter,'' Fulton argued. He reminded his fellow jurors of the judge's instructions on felony first-degree murder. ''To convict him of felony murder all we have to believe is that he was there taking part in the robbery.''
Fulton convinced the other jurors to ask the judge for a copy of the felony-murder law. After reading the law, several jurors agreed with Fulton.
But there were still plenty of jurors who weren't sure Langhorne had anything to do with the crime. Matthews was one of them. She didn't believe the state's witnesses.
She thought Alfred Brown, the jailhouse snitch, was an opportunist, and she believed Langhorne's girlfriend was out for revenge.
''So everybody is a liar except the defendant?'' Fulton asked. ''He admits to everything but taking part in the robbery. He says he was at the phone booth. He ran after the shooting. He went home and changed his clothes and came back. Why would he bother coming back to the crime scene?
''And what's he doing standing by a phone booth with a gun at 3 a.m.?''
Matthews had no use for this juror who wore fine clothes and lived in a fancy high-rent downtown apartment. Unlike Fulton, Matthews had grown up in the city's poor neighborhoods. She knew that plenty of people in the projects carried guns for protection and that many of them didn't have phones. Langhorne's actions didn't seem that unusual to her.
''You don't know what it's like to live in the ghetto,'' she told Fulton.
Like Matthews, juror Jean Randall had lived in some of the city's tough neighborhoods. Yet she sided with Fulton. If Langhorne was out at that hour, he was looking for trouble, she said.
Randall also believed that if Langhorne was innocent, he would have snitched on whomever did pull the trigger. ''I wouldn't go to jail for anybody,'' she told her fellow jurors. ''You're putting your life on the line for what?''
The jurors took another vote. They remained deadlocked. Weary of arguing, they broke for lunch.
While the jurors ate, Yong Jones sat in the state attorney's waiting room. She leaned her head on her sister's shoulder and wiped tears from her eyes. The jury had now been out for three hours. What was taking them so long? She cried.
''I promise Junior justice,'' she said softly. ''That's all I want. Justice. Fairness. That's all I live for.''
Fulton knew the prosecutors and Laurence Jones' family were probably worried sick about the verdict. But Fulton knew they had nothing to fret about. He wasn't going home without a guilty verdict. Fortified with a bowl of soup, a sandwich and a dry martini, Fulton was ready to do battle.
He repeatedly argued the details that linked Lang- horne to the robbery and murder. Fulton told his fellow jurors: ''Langhorne was on the street that night. He was seen running. He threw his clothes away. His girlfriend said he came home with a ring and a wallet.''
As the sunlight waned outside, the jurors, one by one, changed their minds. Even Matthews came to agree with Fulton.
''Even if he wasn't the shooter, I guess he was there and committed the robbery,'' Matthews said.
At 5 p.m., six hours after they'd been sequestered, the jury took another vote. It was unanimous. They were ready to deliver their verdict.
Before they headed downstairs to the courtroom, the jurors stood and said a prayer. Several felt sick.
''Lord, I hope we made the right decision,'' Matthews whispered.
Verdict Unleashes a Sea of Tears
As dusk blanketed Baltimore, starlings, hundreds of them, returned to their nightly roost outside Judge Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman's fourth-floor courtroom.
The sound of the birds fluttering and chirping outside the windows had often signaled the end of testimony each day in James W. Langhorne's murder trial.
Now, on this February evening, the starlings darted frenetically beyond the courtroom walls as the jury forewoman knocked on the door. The room fell silent.
The jury had reached a verdict.
Yong Jones bit her tongue to keep from screaming. Within minutes, she would know whether the man seated 20 feet from her would be punished for killing her son, Laurence Jones Jr.
She had fought four years for justice. She had begged and badgered the Baltimore police and politicians in Maryland, Maine and even the Oval Office to solve her son's case. Now she would hear the jury speak words that would either free her son's soul or condemn it to roam between heaven and hell for eternity. Her chest ached with fear.
Yong's younger sister, Yong Im Chung, held Yong's hand and prayed to God and to her dead parents. ''Please. Help us.''
Yong's nephew, Jea Chung, tapped his feet on the floor. ''Guilty. Guilty,'' he chanted to himself. Brenda Lawson, Yong's close friend, held her breath.
Langhorne's parents and his sister sat on the court bench behind Yong. They too could barely breathe as they waited to hear their son's fate.
Langhorne and his attorney stood. Above: Yong Jones pulls away from the cameras and lights that surround trial participants as they exit the Baltimore courthouse where her son's killer had been found guilty of murder.
The footsteps of the 12 jurors sounded like thunder as they walked down the stairs from the deliberation room into the jury box. The attorneys searched the jurors' faces, looking for clues to their decision.
The only sound in the room came from the starlings as they continued to chirp and flutter outside the windows.
''Have you reached a verdict?'' the court clerk asked.
''Yes,'' the forewoman replied.
''In the case of the state of Maryland vs. James Langhorne, what is your verdict as to the charge of first-degree felony murder?''
''Guilty,'' the forewoman said clearly and forcefully.
Yong buried her head into her nephew's shoulder. Her tiny body shook as she sobbed.
Langhorne took a step back and blinked.
Tears flowed down Yong's cheeks. Her sister wept beside her. ''My sister can live now,'' Yong Im whispered.
The bailiffs led Langhorne past Yong, giving him a chance to steal a quick glance at her. Yong stared back at him. ''You are the one,'' she thought to herself. The killer's passive stare was gone. Yong searched for remorse in his eyes as he shuffled past. Instead he gave her a dark, cold glare as if to say: ''So I did it, what do you care?''
Yong knew it was unlikely that police would arrest the man who had helped Langhorne rob her son. But it did not matter. In her heart, she believed it was Langhorne who fired a bullet into her son's face. And now he would finally be punished. Above: James W. Langhorne is led from Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse in Baltimore in February after being found guilty of first-degree felony murder in the November 1993 death of Laurence Jones Jr. of Bangor.
Yong stared at the killer's back as the bailiffs escorted him from the courtroom. When she tried to stand, she swooned to the floor. Her nephew helped her to her feet. ''Justice,'' she said, crying.
Though she was wracked with exhaustion, there was one final trip Yong had to make in Baltimore. She needed to visit the 1400 block of Bank Street, where her son was robbed, shot and left to die.
''I've got to tell Junior everything is going to be OK now,'' she said. ''His soul is waiting there for me.''
Later that evening, a hotel bus driver took Yong, her family and Lawson to the dark street. Boarded-up row houses shadowed the deserted sidewalk.
The glass skyscrapers and pricey hotels of Baltimore's Inner Harbor towered just a few blocks away.
Yong stepped to the sidewalk where her son had been found bleeding with just a single nickel in his pocket. Falling to her knees, she pounded on the pavement. ''My baby died here,'' she wailed. ''My son lie here.''
Yong Im dropped to her knees too, weeping as she rubbed the sidewalk.
Yong's cries grew louder and louder. She howled like a wounded animal. Her dreadful keening pierced the still night air, unleashing four years of anguish.
''Aaaahhhh,'' she screamed over and over, as if wrestling with some unseen demon who pulled the torment from her body. Her cries drew shadows from the sand-colored brick housing projects across the street. Behind the chain-link fence that circled the apartments, strangers slowly stepped toward the sidewalk, straining to see who or what was releasing such agonized cries.
They listened in the darkness to a mother's final goodbye to her son, a mother who had come to the end of a grueling journey to rescue her son's soul.
Jea, who had stood silently watching his mother and aunt scream, suddenly became unnerved by the shadows. He yelled to Yong and his mother: ''C'mon, it's over now. It's over. Get up. Let it go.
''Let it go!'' he shouted, trying to pull the two women to their feet.
''Imagine him lying here,'' Yong choked.
''No, I don't want to imagine it,'' Jea snapped. ''It's over.''
''Yong, it's done,'' Lawson said softly, rubbing Yong's back. ''Tell your son it's all over. Tell him justice prevailed.''
Yong's wailing receded to whimpers, and then into silent sobs that shook her shoulders. She massaged the dirty sidewalk tenderly. Her tiny hands moved in small circles as she traced the ground where her son had lain.
''Rest in peace, honey,'' she whispered. ''You can rest in peace now. You're free. Momma loves you.''
Victory Turns to Emptiness
The phone rang from morning till night.
Strangers and friends, more than a hundred of them, called Yong Jones at her home in Bangor to wish her well. They called from the far corners of Maine, and even from Canada, to congratulate her on the conviction of her son's killer. Now you can have closure, they told her. Now, you can go on with your life.
Strangers sent her flowers. Their cards said: ''You're such a courageous woman.'' ''Welcome home.''
Yong was overwhelmed. She knew these callers meant well, but she could not share their good will.
Yes, the man who had robbed and shot her son on a Baltimore street had been convicted. Yes, she was relieved that her son's murder was finally avenged and his soul could now rest in peace.
But why did she still feel so empty? Why did she feel so lost and alone?
She had fought so hard and rested so little during the past four years to see that her son's murder was solved and his killer punished. Yet, now that she had come to the end of her long journey, she felt no victory. Above: A cross remains lit atop Laurence Jones Jr.'s grave in Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor.
Her only child, Laurence Jr., was still dead. Her husband, Laurence Sr., was gone too.
The night she returned from the trial of her son's killer, Yong had visited the cemetery to talk to her son and her husband. ''Yes, Junior, I know you're in Heaven now, but why don't I feel happy? Why am I so numb?''
She heard her son tell her: ''Mom, you finished your fight. I knew you'd do it. It's OK now.''
She heard her husband's words too. ''You're going to make it, honey. You are stronger than you know.''
When she returned to her empty house, the phone kept ringing. Strangers who had read her story in the newspapers and seen her tear-stained face on television continued to call. I hope you feel better now, they told her.
And in some ways Yong did feel better. Her friends noticed her eyes were not as dark and lifeless as they had been during the past four years. The tightness in her chest, the constant stabbing pain that had plagued her since her son's death, was also gone. It had disappeared the night the jury rendered its guilty verdict.
But some things hadn't changed. She still could not eat. When she swallowed more than a few spoonfuls of food, she vomited. Despite the weariness that weighed her down, she could not sleep.
She roamed her home in the darkness, wondering why the house seemed so much bigger now.
And still the phone rang, repeatedly. By Saturday, her third day home from Baltimore, Yong yearned for tranquility. A place to rest, somewhere soothing, peaceful.
She packed a suitcase and drove to the Bangor airport. ''What flights are leaving in the next few hours?'' she asked a ticket agent.
The agent told her there was a flight heading to San Francisco in an hour. Yong pulled her wallet out and bought a ticket.
As the plane roared off the runway, Yong settled back in her seat. She thought back to 1972 when she, her husband and son had spent six weeks in San Francisco. Her husband had been stationed there briefly with the Air Force.
When the plane landed, Yong checked into a hotel and took a taxi to Golden Gate Park. She and Larry and Larry Jr. had often strolled in the park, walking along the wooded trails and among the brilliant flowers. Sometimes, they would spread a blanket and picnic on the grass.
Now, on this February afternoon, Yong walked alone. She stared across the teal-colored water beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. She smelled the salt air and listened to the seagulls squawk as sailboats glided beneath the bridge.
She walked for hours, admiring the tall cypress trees, the rows of pink magnolias and purple and white pansies.
Though she felt calmer, a gnawing emptiness still tugged at her chest.
''It's still beautiful. It's still the same park. Nothing's different except you're not here,'' she told her husband and son.
She tried to think of reasons to feel good. Many of her friends had told her she should be proud of her accomplishment. Proud that she had fought so hard to win justice for her son.
But now that her journey was over, her crusade to rescue her son's soul finished, what reason did she have to draw another breath? Why couldn't she just lie down between the gravestones of her son and husband, and join them in Heaven?
She gazed at the Golden Gate Bridge and the blue water that lapped at its feet. ''Yes, I fought for my son's soul. I did what a mother had to do. But now what do I have to live for?''
For Wounded Maine Woman, a New Chapter Has Begun
The tiny purple crocuses caught Yong Jones' eye on a warm April morning.
She bent to smell the flowers that had poked through a patch of dirt by her door.
She remembered the Mother's Day when her son had handed her the pot of crocuses. Junior was 14 at the time, and he proudly told her: ''Mom, I got you a present.''
He'd bought the flowers with his own money, earned from raking a neighbor's leaves.
Yong and Junior planted the crocuses so they would bloom each spring and remind her of how much he loved her. As they dug in the earth together, she thought: ''Any mother would be so proud to have him for her son.''
Now, as Yong carefully cleared the dead leaves from the flowers, she realized this was the first time she'd noticed the crocuses since her son's murder.
''They're beautiful, Junior,'' she told him. ''I'm sorry I didn't see them blooming before.'' Above: Yong Jones smiles as she admires one of the purple crocuses blooming alongside her driveway. Larry Jr. bought the flowers for her with money he earned from his first job when he was 14 and they planted them together.
Maybe this is a sign from my son, she thought. Maybe this is an omen that there is something for me to live for.
Though Yong was relieved that her son's killer had been found guilty and had received a life sentence, it did little to relieve her sadness. She had never felt so lonely.
In the months following the February trial, her friends tried to help Yong let go of her grief. They offered suggestions on how she could begin a new chapter in her life. Get out of your house more, they told her. Volunteer. Take leadership once again of the Korean community. Enroll in classes. Do yoga. Walk in the sunshine. Buy new clothes. Renovate your home.
Yong listened to them and nodded her head. She was not ready to start a new chapter.
''Yes, I know I should feel lucky. I have a home to live in. A sister who loves me. Friends who care. Hundreds of strangers pulling for me. Yes, I have so much. But even with these things I have no meaning. I have no reason to get out of bed.''
Often, in her conversations with her dead son, she would ask: ''Junior, what am I supposed to do next?''
He did not answer. Above: Yong Jones searches for the name of a friend's husband who was killed during the Korean War as she stops by the Maine Korean War Memorial after visiting her husband's and son's graves.
As the winter snow melted, Yong continued to make daily visits to the cemetery where her son, Laurence Jr., and her husband, Laurence Sr., rest.
The vision she first saw when she buried her husband in 1995 now came to her often as she stood over his grave. She looked to the sky and saw the brilliant gold gate. Her husband had his arm around Junior's shoulder. They stood on bluish-white clouds highlighted by bold rays of sunlight. The two of them walked together beyond the gate into heaven.
Yong pleaded with them: ''I want to walk beyond the gate too. Why can't I be with you? Junior, I am your mother. I should trade places with you. You should live to have your own family. Your own son.''
As she stared down at her son's grave, Yong told herself no mother should live while her only child lies in the cold earth. Guilt and anger welled up inside her as she touched his name etched in the stone: Laurence A. Jones, Jr. Our beloved son. Born May 14, 1969. Died Nov. 20, 1993.
''How could I have let him go to Baltimore alone?'' she asked herself. ''I am his mother. I should have protected him.''
She also raged at God. ''Why me? Why did you take my son, my husband? Why must I watch killing after killing, bombing after bombing in Korea during the war? Why so many bad things? What did I do in my life that was so wrong?
''Take me too,'' she told God. ''Do whatever you want to me now. Finish my life.''
Death and dying often crept into Yong's conversations with her sister, Yong Im Chung, and her friend, Brenda Lawson. Though they worried about Yong, they had also grown tired of her fixation with the dead.
At times Brenda wanted to shake Yong. Once she yelled at her: ''You want to have cancer and die? You want to change lives with someone like that? We've all lost people we love, Yong. Life is for the living. You've got to get on with it.'' Above: Yong Cha Jones's sister sets out a variety of Korean dishes for Yong Cha and her nephew Jea Chung as the Chung family gathers for their evening meal.
Yong Im, too, tried to lift the depression that shadowed her sister. She still prepared Korean meals for Yong, hoping to make her stronger. Even though Yong frequently vomited her food, Yong Im coaxed her to eat what she could.
''Jupsuseyu!'' she yelled at her sister in Korean. ''Eat. Eat.''
One spring evening, Yong took only small swallows of food and pushed her plate aside. Her sister began to cry, and yelled at her: ''Go ahead and die! Then I die with you.''
Later, Yong Im regretted her harsh words.
''I don't know why she's not getting stronger. I guess she needs more time.''
Despite the uncertainty about her future, there have been signs that Yong is slowly letting go of her sorrow. She has called Brenda and invited her to a movie or to the shopping mall.
During a sale, the two of them spent hours rummaging through racks, buying spring clothes. Yong bought a few colorful blouses and a red suit. Brenda convinced her friend to buy a bathing suit splashed with bold colored flowers. When Yong hesitated, Brenda told her: ''You need to start wearing bright colors, Yong. Stop wearing black. Stop mourning.''
Brenda has also encouraged Yong to brighten the dark living room where she spends many hours sitting alone. So far, Yong has bought some pastel rugs to cover the brown carpet. On her tables and bookshelves, where she once displayed only pictures of her dead husband and son, there are now pictures of the living.
There are photographs of her sister and her family on the small table next to Yong's recliner. A University of Maine graduation photograph of her nephew Jea also rests on her table.
Despite these positive changes in her life, Yong knows it may take a long time to let go of her anger and grief.
To help ease the hurt, Yong has joined the Parents of Murdered Children, a national support group with chapters throughout the country.
Each month, she and other Maine parents who have lost their children to violence talk about their anguish and the open wounds that will never heal.
These mothers and fathers know there will never be closure. Though the killers who stole their children's lives may be convicted and locked up, they, like Yong, will carry scars on their hearts forever.
Other parents in the group tell Yong she must gather strength in knowing that she did all a mother could do to avenge her son's murder and rescue his stolen soul.
Yong reluctantly agrees with them. She takes comfort in this, and in simple pleasures like the purple crocuses that bloom outside her home.
She finds herself stopping to admire the flowers in the early morning light. Sometimes, she caresses their fragile petals and summons the memory of her son kneeling in the patch of dirt, carefully planting the crocuses for his mother.
She sees his innocent boyish face, his blond curly hair and his big grin, and she whispers to him: ''The flowers are beautiful, Junior. They mean the world to me.''
Reflections from the Author
In November, 1996, my editor Tom Ferriter spotted a short AP story about a Korean mother whose only child had been murdered. Yong Jones' son, Laurence, Jr., had moved from Maine to Baltimore to study at Johns Hopkins medical school. Before he could enroll, he was shot in the face during a late-night robbery. He was 24. The story explained that Yong believed that her son's soul would be damned if his killer was never caught and punished. For three years, Yong had begged police to find her son's murderer. While police worked the case, Yong lost her husband, too. The story said Baltimore police finally arrested a suspect three years after Laurence Jones was murdered. A powerful photograph accompanied the report. It showed Yong weeping as she knelt over the sidewalk where her son had been shot.
Our First Meeting
I called Yong and met with her the following January. Her son's killer had yet to be tried. I was overwhelmed by her sadness. She sat in her darkened living room surrounded by dozens of photographs of her murdered son and dead husband. She cried throughout the two hours I talked with her. And at times during our first meeting, I cried with her. Though the local paper had covered her story, no one had told her story from start to finish. No one had explained who this mother was and why she was so desperate to save her son's soul. I told Yong I wanted to tell her story as completely as I could in serial form. To gather enough details for the serial, I'd need to spend hundreds of hours with her. I knew before the story was done, this mother's grief would keep me awake at night and I would not only cry when I talked with her but when I typed my notes and wrote each of the chapters.
I still think of Yong a lot, wondering how she is doing. While I wrote the story, I was pregnant with my first and only child. I couldn't help but wonder how I'd deal with such a terrible loss. My daughter, Emma, was born six days after the birthday of Yong's son. It was tough because Yong hoped my baby would be born on her son's birthday so the two would somehow be spiritually connected. Recently, I wrote an update on Yong. Though she is relieved her son's soul is now in heaven, she still must visit him and her husband in the cemetery every day. I know she will never be truly happy again. There is no closure when the two people you loved the most are gone. Yong and I talk every few months on the phone and get together occasionally for lunch. I know that I will probably keep in touch with her for a long time. I don't believe a reporter should forget or shun someone who has allowed them to write such a personal and painful story.
Yong told me that part of the reason she agreed to tell her story was so she could help others. She wanted other parents to know that they could take on the judicial system and win. She also hoped that her story would comfort others who had buried a child. After the serial ran, the newspaper received several letters from grieving parents. They said Yong's courage and love for her son inspired them to confront their own grief. When Yong read their letters, she was surprised. 'You really think I helped them?' She read their words again and again. And, in a way, I think those letters helped Yong heal.