Backfire

By Tamara Jones
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 1, 2005

MATTHEWS, N.C.

It all comes back in slow-motion replay now, looping through a mother's unsparing memory. First the ringing phone, piercing the silence of that winter night three years ago, jolting Mary Belle Danahey awake on the couch. Then the sheriff's voice, calm and authoritative:

"There are some officers coming to your house. Please open the door."

Mary Belle could see flashlight beams weaving slowly across the lawn. The light swept up the face of the house and back down again. A prowler, she thought groggily. Someone must have reported a prowler.

"Do not hang up," the voice on the phone instructed. "Lay the phone down and open the door."

Two deputies stood on the doorstep.

Where's Janet? they asked.

Mary Belle remembered that her 23-year-old daughter had come up from Greensboro -- a rare weekend together for the four Danaheys. Her husband, Dave, lumbered down the stairs now, bewildered, demanding to know what this was about. The deputies wouldn't say.

We need to see her, they insisted.

Mary Belle led the way, past the living room where a replica of the Olympic torch Janet had carried through her home town as a Girl Scout was proudly displayed. Midway up the stairs, the deputy following Mary Belle turned and called down to his partner: "Keep an eye on the father." Dave froze.

In the guest room, Janet's light was on. The paperback she had been reading when she nodded off was cradled across her chest, and the faded pink bedspread was pulled up over her clothes. Janet's dusky blue eyes blinked open as her mother called her name.

She rose, face ashen, and held out her arms. One of the deputies snapped on the handcuffs.


CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company