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It is the end of a long workday and she is out for a run.
Shortly after 9:00 P.M. on April 19, 1989, a young woman jogs ...
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It is the end of a long workday and she is out for a run.
Shortly after 9:00 P.M. on April 19, 1989, a young woman jogs alone near 102nd Street in New York City's Central Park. She is attacked, raped, savagely beaten, and left for dead. Many hours later, she is found lying in the mud, her body thrashing violently.
When the young woman -- soon to be known around the world simply as the Central Park Jogger -- arrives in the emergency room, her body temperature is 85 degrees, she is comatose, and she cannot breathe on her own. She has a fractured skull and has lost so much blood that the doctors can't understand why she is still alive.
I Am the Central Park Jogger recounts the mesmerizing, inspiring, often wrenching story of human strength and transcendent recovery that involved a family, a hospital, a city -- in fact, an entire nation -- of supporters.
Even today, more than a decade after the attack, the Central Park Jogger is still in the news. As she writes this story, the headlines scream jogger once more. Startling new information about the crime emerges. Because of the nature of her head injuries, she remembers nothing of the attack. Whether one man or several nearly took her life, the damage was done.
And for the Central Park Jogger, the crime was not the climax but the beginning of her journey. This indelible, moving, tough-minded self-portrait weaves the stories of ER workers, doctors, nurses, investigators, family, colleagues, friends, and strangers into a haunting narrative of courage, survival, and healing against seemingly impossible odds.
She tells us who she was -- a well-educated young woman working on Wall Street -- and who she is now. Post attack, she must relearn to read, write, add, subtract, tell time. Once a distance runner, she must learn to walk again. She was a woman who guarded an unhealthy secret that defied treatment until after the violence, when it magically healed; a young professional who worked twelve- to fourteen-hour days but who, post attack, had the courage to reclaim her life and focus on what matters most.
Once comfortable in a high-pressure corporate boardroom, she is a woman who has had to learn to talk again, and is now a powerful and inspiring speaker. She is not the woman she was -- physical and cognitive "deficits" linger -- yet she is stronger and more alive than she has ever been. The event meant to take her life gave her a deeper one, richer and more meaningful.
Meet Trisha Meili, the Central Park Jogger.
The author will make a donation to The Achilles Track Club, Gaylord Hospital, and The Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program from her proceeds of the book.
At 5 P.M. on the day of the assault, I turned down a dinner invitation from a friend because I had too much work to do at the office. This was not unusual. At age twenty-eight, I was on the fast track at Salomon Brothers, one of the top-tier investment banks on Wall Street, and often worked late; it was one way to stay on the track.
Before I left the office, Pat Garrett, a colleague of mine who worked in the adjoining cubicle, asked my advice about a new stereo system. Three months earlier I had moved into a building on East 83rd Street and had bought a hi-fi that I had described to Pat as ideal for a smallish New York apartment.
"Why not come over and take a look at it?" I suggested.
"Sure," he said, delighted. We had become good friends at Salomon, though our romantic attachments lay elsewhere.
"Come around ten. That'll give me time to go for a run before you get there."
There was no chance I'd forgo the run. I was obsessed with exercise and had run marathons in Boston and many 10K races in New York City. Since I normally arrived at work at seven-thirty, running in the morning would have meant getting up too early. Besides, a night jog was a fine way to relieve the stress of the day. I varied my route occasionally, as the mood struck me, but often, after entering Central Park on 84th Street, would turn north to the 102nd Street crossdrive. At night, this area of the park was secluded and dimly lit, but the only concession I made to its potential danger was to go there at the beginning of my run, rather than later at night. That friends had warned me about running alone at all at night may have goaded me to continue. I had been running there for two and a half years without their advice, and I didn't need it now. Like many young people, I felt invincible. Nothing would happen to me. I can be determined, defiant, headstrong - and maybe there were deeper issues that drove me to take the risk.
"Great," Pat said. "I'll be there at ten."
And while I remember the five-o'clock call, I don't remember the conversation with Pat; I've reconstructed it here after later talks with him. Indeed, the dinner invitation is my last memory of anything - words, events, people, actions, touch, sights, pain, pleasure, emotions; anything - until nearly six weeks later.
* * *
Just before nine that night, a group of more than thirty teenagers gather on 110th Street, the northern end of Central Park, for a night of "wilding" - senseless violence performed because it's "fun and something to do." They throw rocks and bottles at cars entering the park; punch, kick, and knock down a Hispanic man, drag him nearly unconscious into the bushes, pour beer over him, and steal his food. They decide not to attack a couple walking along the path because the two are on a date, but do go after a couple on a tandem bicycle, who manage to elude them. They split into smaller groups, then come together, then split again, like dancers in a sinister ballet. In all, eight are assaulted, including a forty-year-old teacher and ex-marine named John Loughlin, whom they beat unconscious.
Reports from that time allege that between eight and fifteen of them spot a young woman jogging alone along the 102nd Street crossdrive. There they tackle her, punch her, and hit her with a sharp object. Soon they drag her down into a ravine where one of the teenagers rips off her jogging pants. The woman is in excellent condition, and she kicks and scratches at them, screaming wildly; it is difficult to pin down her arms and legs. Finally, she is hit in the left side of the face with a brick or rock. Her eye socket shatters and she stops fighting and screaming.
By this time, John Loughlin, having regained consciousness, has been found by the police and reported his assault. He is taken to a hospital. The cops, now aware of the attacks from reports by some of the victims, have fanned out, looking for the assailants. The park goes quiet.
Three and a half hours later, two policeman, Robert Calaman and Joseph Walsh, sitting in an unmarked car at the 102nd Street crossdrive, are approached by two Latino men, shouting excitedly about a man in the woods who has been beaten and tied up. The policemen drive closer to investigate. Walsh gets out of the car and sees a body in the mud off the pavement, lying faceup and thrashing violently.
The men were wrong. It is the body of a woman. Naked except for her bra, which has been pushed above her breasts; her running shirt has been used to gag her and tie her hands in a praying position in front of her face. Walsh tells her he's a policeman.
"Who did this to you?" he asks. "Can you speak to me?"
There is no response. She is bleeding profusely. One of her eyes is puffed out, almost closed. The policemen call an ambulance. EMTs arrive. She is taken to Metropolitan Hospital, known for its acute-trauma care, and rushed to the emergency room. She is met by Dr. Isaac Sapozhnikov, attending physician in the ER, who instantly calls Dr. Robert S. Kurtz, director of Surgical Intensive Care, at his home. Dr. Kurtz issues instructions for the immediate care the Jogger needs and comes in early that morning. He will supervise her treatment for the seven weeks she is at Metropolitan.
It is astonishing that the Jogger is alive. She is in deep shock, her blood pressure so low that the ER staff are unable to get an accurate reading. Her body temperature is eighty-five degrees, and she is unable to breathe on her own. A technician stands by her side to pump oxygen down a tube in her throat. Last rites are administered.
The woman is bleeding from five deep cuts across her forehead and scalp; patients who lose this much blood are generally dead. Her skull has been fractured, and her eye will later have to be put back in its place. When it comes time for surgery, Kurtz will be surrounded by a crackerjack team: two plastic surgeons, an expert on severe injuries to the eye; an ear, nose, and throat specialist. But for now, he - and Dr. Sapozhnikov before him - has only the emergency room staff to assist him.
The victim's arms and legs are flailing violently, the aftereffects of massive brain damage, and that night have had to be tied to the gurney since there are not enough night nurses to monitor her constantly. The jerking and thrashing mean that both halves of her brain have lost their ability to control the movement of her extremities, to say nothing of her ability to think or feel. Many will stand by her bed in coming days and interpret this as the Jogger still fighting for her life.
There is extreme swelling of the brain caused by the blows to the head. The probable result is intellectual, physical, and emotional incapacity, if not death. Permanent brain damage seems inevitable.
* * *
As promised, Pat gets to Trisha's apartment building at ten. He rings up. No answer. Funny, he thinks, she must still be in the shower. He waits, rings again. When there's no response, he goes to a phone booth at the corner and calls her. He gets her machine. "Hi, I'm not able to answer the phone right now, but if you'll leave your name and number ..."
"Trisha, where are you? It's the story of my life, women always standing me up," he jokes. "I'm going home. Hope everything's okay." A tendril of worry takes root, grows. How could she have forgotten that they were supposed to meet? He calls Trisha's former boyfriend, Paul Raphael, since Paul and Trisha often ran together. Paul doesn't know where she is either. Pat considers calling the police, but doesn't, thinking they'd laugh at him. It's a regret he carries to this day.
Trisha is usually the first one in the office, so when Pat gets in around eight the next morning and doesn't see her, the alarm bell rings more loudly in his brain. He asks Joanne, Trisha's secretary, if she might be traveling. No, Joanne answers. His concern mounts.
Meanwhile, Peter Vermylen, a more senior member of Salomon's Energy and Chemicals Group, and one of the people who has strongly warned Trisha against running in the park at night, is driving from his home in New Jersey to the PATH train that will take him to New York City. On the way, he listens to a radio report so disturbing that when he gets to the parking lot, he stays in his car until it finishes. A young woman has been attacked in Central Park, and he knows that Trisha jogs there almost every night.
He reaches Salomon Brothers and looks toward Trisha's desk. It is empty. She usually gets in before he does, he thinks. He asks Joanne if she has heard from Trisha. She says no. He asks her to call Trisha's apartment. No answer. Deeply worried now, he decides to contact the police, and after a couple of unproductive calls he reaches the precinct where a group of detectives have been assigned to the case. He tells the detective who answers the phone that he might know the victim and gives him Trisha's name, age, occupation. The detective describes the victim's hair as curly and medium brown, and Peter feels reassured: Trisha's is dirty blond and straight. But then the detective asks if the woman wears a "distinctive piece of jewelry." Peter puts his hand over the mouthpiece and asks Joanne about it. She describes it to him - it is a gold ring shaped into a bow - and he passes the information to the detective. "It's her," the detective says, and Peter hears him call to his colleagues, "We've got her. She's an investment banker." He asks Peter additional questions, but Peter can't talk. He's gasping for breath.
He calls Terry Connelly in Administration with the news. The detectives want someone from the firm to go to the hospital to identify the victim, and Peter volunteers for the job. No, Terry says, he'll go himself, along with a close friend of Trisha's, Pat Garrett. Peter tells him about the ring.
Pat and Terry go together to Metropolitan Hospital. They're stopped by a security guard in the lobby. The place is a madhouse. Cops are everywhere. Reporters clamor for access and information.
"No one's allowed up," the guard tells them.
"But I'm here to identify her," Pat insists.
"We'll show you a picture."
It's impossible to identify the woman in the picture; her face is unrecognizable. Pat insists on seeing Trisha in person. His reason tells him the woman in the photograph with her battered body, swollen face, and puffy eyes is Trisha. But emotionally, he's not prepared to say, "Yeah, that's her."
Reluctantly, a policeman escorts the two men upstairs. There is a guard outside Trisha's door, and a small group of doctors and nurses whispering nearby. Otherwise, silence. Pat opens the door, looks down at the figure on the bed. The woman's head is covered by bandages. Her face is so badly beaten and swollen it looks like some grotesque Halloween mask, barely human. Pat can't believe that the body before him is alive. He's still not positive it is his dear friend who is lying in front of him. A policeman enters, shows him the ring the victim wore - and Pat's heart breaks. It is a little golden bow.
Pat calls the office to ask Joanne for numbers from Trisha's Rolodex and embarks on one of the most difficult jobs he's ever had to do: he must break the news to Trisha's family.
* * *
The cops have been busy. Acting on tips and interviews, they have soon winnowed out suspects from the group allegedly in the park, among them Steve Lopez, fifteen; Antron McCray, fifteen; Raymond Santana, fourteen; Yusef Salaam, fifteen; Kevin Richardson, fourteen; and Kharey Wise, sixteen. They are black and Hispanic. Some live in Schomburg Plaza, a government-subsidized housing development directly north of Central Park, others in the Taft Houses project on Madison Avenue. Most are from two-parent, blue-collar environments. Nothing in their outward circumstances would mark them as capable of this violence. When two are put into Rikers Island prison, they are beaten by other inmates furious at the nature of their alleged crime.
On April 20, Elizabeth Lederer, one of New York's top prosecutors and a renowned trial attorney, is assigned to the Jogger case by Linda Fairstein, head of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit; it has been put in Fairstein's department because technically this is a sex crime, not yet a homicide. Lederer, already alerted that she will be the lead prosecutor in the case, goes to the 20th Precinct on West 82nd Street at 8 P.M. The investigation has been moved here from the much smaller Central Park station house, where some of the teens were initially taken and interrogated by detectives for hours. Primed by the police, Lederer spends the rest of the night of the twentieth and day of the twenty-first getting on videotape most of the suspects' individual responses to her questions about the attack. The parents of some are there for the questioning, as is usually required for suspects under the age of sixteen, since otherwise what they say may not be admissible as evidence in a trial.
Some of the teenagers are arrogant and hostile; some are more subdued. Some admit to being part of the group who assailed the jogger; one - Wise - tells Lederer "this is my first rape." Later, confessions will be recanted and the defense will argue that they were coerced. Though divergent in many respects, and though no clear physical evidence links the teens to the crime, the stories have enough similarities in their details to convince Lederer they are true. At the same time they point blame in so many different directions that she knows the task of putting together a solid, irrefutable scenario of the events of April 19 to present to a jury will be Herculean.
* * *
The media goes into a frenzy. New York City in 1989, as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert later describes it, is "a city soaked in the blood of crime victims. Rapists, muggers, and other violent criminals seemed to roam the city at will.... Someone was murdered every four or five hours." The "Jogger case" speaks to the city's worst fears, its deepest divisions, and indeed the nation's fears and divisions. The major national stories that have occupied the press - the spread of the spill of oil from the Exxon Valdes, the closing arguments in the Iran/contra trial, the scandal involving House Speaker Jim Wright - are pushed to the sidelines. Because the body wasn't discovered until the early-morning hours of the twentieth, full morning newspaper coverage doesn't begin until the twenty-first, though the afternoon papers already had the story. Once it starts, it doesn't stop. It is the lead story on local and national television for many days, and the newspaper coverage is even more extensive.
Excerpted from I Am the Central Park Jogger by Trisha Meili Copyright © 2003 by Trisha E. Meili. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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|Preface: "I'm Okay"||5|
|Chapter 2||Who Was I?||31|
|Chapter 3||Life Interrupted||51|
|Chapter 5||"Thank You for Your Prayers"||111|
|Chapter 6||Prepare for Departure||127|
|Chapter 8||The Trials||167|
|Chapter 9||Reaching Out||199|
|Chapter 10||Jim and Me||217|
|Chapter 11||The Man in the Wheelchair||231|