Cover Story

Night and Day

By Laura Wexler
Sunday, June 15, 2008

My brother beat my mom and dad and sister to death with a baseball bat.

At approximately 3 a.m. on April 27, 1984, 16-year-old Jody Gilley spoke these words to a 911 operator in Jackson County, Ore. Two hours before, the overhead light had flickered on in the attic bedroom she occupied in her family's white clapboard house. Then the door to her bedroom opened, and her 18-year-old brother, Billy, walked in with their 11-year-old sister, Becky. He told Jody to keep Becky in the room; then he left again. But Jody was half-asleep and disoriented, and Becky soon followed Billy downstairs.

Within a few minutes, Jody was fully awake because Becky had started screaming. When the screams were replaced by a pounding sound, somehow Jody knew Billy was hitting Becky with his baseball bat. And somehow she knew he'd already killed their parents.

Soon Billy came back into Jody's room, his bare chest and arms spattered with blood.

"We're free now," he said.

Then he told her they needed to leave the house. Terrified both by what Billy had done and what she feared he'd do to her, Jody pulled on clothes and walked downstairs, past the body of her sister and near the bodies of her mother and father, and followed her brother out into the night. They got into their parents' car and drove to a friend's home. When, at nearly 3 a.m., Billy left to get cigarettes, Jody finally told her friend and the friend's parents what had happened and then made her call to 911.

Within hours, her brother was arrested. Within days, her parents and Becky were buried in a cemetery near their Medford, Ore., home. And within months, Jody had changed her last name and begun, as she would later call it, the story of her rebirth.

ON A BLUSTERY DAY IN FEBRUARY, 24 years later, 40-year-old Jody Arlington sits in a small glass conference room at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre in Silver Spring with the team behind the Silverdocs: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Film Festival, which opens this week. They are four women dressed stylishly in shades of black, white and gray, armed with BlackBerries and Mac laptops. They talk frenetically, interrupting one another, planning strategy. At one point, someone mentions there's a problem.

"What's going on?" Arlington says. "What do I need to fix?"

Someone needs to be called to get entree to someone else. Arlington is a communications strategist specializing in festival and entertainment public relations. She managed publicity for the Sundance Institute in 2006 and 2007 and has been Silverdocs' public relations manager since 2004. Her contacts in the documentary film world run deep. She types an e-mail on her BlackBerry and hits send. Problem solved.

Leaving the theater after the meeting, Arlington sets a pace so rapid that it borders on a run. "I feel like if I slow down, I'll lose my balance," she says. It's an observation that also applies to the way she's lived since she ended one self and determinedly set out to create another.

Her re-creation has been successful. She has been a manager at public affairs firm Burson-Marsteller and a vice president at communications firm Fleishman-Hillard, as well as chief of staff of President Bill Clinton's National Campaign Against Youth Violence. She is now building a thriving entertainment division at communications firm Weber Merritt and is one of the founders, and the director, of the Impact Film Festival, which will, for the first time, present films dealing with key social issues to lawmakers, candidates and delegates at the Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer.

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