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Posted at 06:41 PM ET, 03/21/2011

Journalist stumbles upon the scene of the Lululemon yoga store killing


(Photo by Eric Athas/The Washington Post)
The doors at Lululemon Athletica swing open, and a stretcher emerges.

An area that was buzzing with curiosity falls silent as paramedics wheel the injured woman onto the sidewalk and toward an idling ambulance.

The woman is lying on the stretcher. Her face is covered in blood and her forehead is bruised. Her eyes are shut. She’s thrashing about – maybe in pain, or perhaps it’s involuntary. The stretcher is hoisted into the ambulance.

Without even knowing it, I just caught a 30-second glimpse of Brittany Norwood, the woman who police say was posing as a victim and is charged with the Match 11 murder of her co-worker.

Originally, police said two men wearing ski masks beat and sexually assaulted the two women in what began as a robbery. As my colleagues Dan Morse and Dana Hedgpeth reported, Norwood was allegedly lying the whole time. Police now say Norwood beat and stabbed Jayna Murray to death, inflicted injuries on herself and tied herself up. Norwood is due in court Monday.

It’s rare for a journalist to stumble upon the scene of a killing before police arrive. But that’s what happened the morning of March 12 when the body of Murray, 30, was discovered in the yoga store, and the events developed in front of my eyes.

I woke up early that day and decided to take a drive to the Apple retail store in Bethesda Row. It was only 8 a.m., and I hoped to beat the crowd.

When I arrived, the area was beginning to wake up. Two men on benches were chatting. A security guard stood inside the Apple store. A Dunkin’ Donuts was packed with families getting an early start on the day. Workers were arriving to open up various shops.

One of the stores was Lululemon. From my car, I watched as an employee walked out of the front door with an unsettled look on her face. She asked one of the men who had been sitting on the bench if he could go into the store. She said it looked like “something” happened inside.

I didn’t think much of it, but something was off, so I paid close attention.

They went in and after a few minutes returned, cell phones in hand. A police cruiser pulled up and the officer rushed across the street.

“Watch out!” the officer said as she hurried past onlookers and into Lululemon. I got out of my car and joined others on the sidewalk who were trying to piece things together. We didn’t know much, except that there were two people inside — one dead, one alive and bound.

As the seriousness of the situation became obvious, I sent the information I had to our Local desk. I snapped some photos and watched as the quiet Saturday morning backdrop gradually transformed into the staging area for officials attempting to crack a murder mystery.

More police cruisers quickly descended on the block of Bethesda Avenue. Five feet of the sidewalk in front of Lululemon was taped off. The employee who first entered the store was crying. The bystander who discovered Murray was talking to police. Two police officials stepped in front of the sidewalk to get a wider perspective, and one of them gestured toward Lululemon.

A line of Apple customers watched as Norwood was wheeled out. At the time, there was no debate among the group — she was one of two victims.
(Brittany Norwood /Montgomery County Police)

Hours after the gruesome scene in Lululemon was discovered, I interviewed Charles Lott of Poolesville, Md. Lott was one of the people who saw Norwood being brought out to the ambulance.

“While I was standing in line at the Apple store, we saw the poor girl come out, in the stretcher, looked badly bruised and beaten with blood on her face. But she was alive, thank God.”

It didn’t take long for the entire block to get the yellow crime scene tape treatment, and for television news photographers to assemble outside the perimeter. Their cameras all pointed at Lululemon as officials moved in and out of the store.

Across the street, people expecting to find crowds of shoppers and diners walked into a circus of police and media. Bethesda Row is best described by the names of some of the shops that encompass it — Pink Palm, Dolcezza Gelato, Urban Country Designs and Cecile Jeanne Paris. So it’s not surprising that it had been decades since the last murder.

I walked to the other side of Bethesda Avenue to take photos and was bombarded with questions from observers. “What happened?” One man asked me. “Did someone get sick or something?” Asked a woman. “Did it happen at The Papery?” A woman asked me, referring to the stationary shop next to Lululemon.

It was a puzzling image for people to grasp, and only became murkier as information tumbled out in the days to come.

After a busy morning in Bethesda Row, I went home and looked on as the story continued to unravel throughout the following week. The article headlines in The Washington Post illustrate the twists and turns that would proceed:

Sunday, March 13: Employee is killed in Bethesda Row store

Monday, March 14: Slain Bethesda store employee is remembered as a ‘fighter’

Tuesday, March 15: Both yoga store workers were beaten and raped

Saturday, March 19: Purported victim becomes suspect in Bethesda killing

Sunday, March 20: Motive sought in Bethesda slaying

More than a week after Jayna Murray was slain, curiosity continues to build as police search for a motive. And I’m sure the question on my mind is shared by many others: What will tomorrow’s headline be?

By Eric Athas  |  06:41 PM ET, 03/21/2011

 
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