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Amid Relief, a 'Lifetime of Healing' Remains for Family and Friends

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 22, 2009

MODESTO, Calif., Feb. 21 -- Chenault Drive emerges like a suburban mirage in the flat industrial farmland of the San Joaquin Valley. After endless miles of black fallow fields, gray orchards and fragrant feedlots, the street doubles as a haven, its prosperous homes separated by neatly trimmed lawns and exotic trees: birch, olive, royal palm and, on Saturday, the satellite dishes once again sprouting in front of the home of Robert and Susan Levy.

"We have the trucks in the front of the house again," Chandra Levy's mother, Susan, informed her sister-in-law, who returned from vacation to a stack of messages from CNN. Susan Levy noted that she had already done about 40 interviews.

Word that an arrest could be imminent in the 2001 death of their daughter brought a stream of reporters to the white brick ranch all day. Each was greeted at the door by a middle-age man in a leather vest and a gray ponytail. Rick Muniz smiled grimly under the high overcast and introduced himself as a member of Wings of Protection, a group formed by the parents of missing and slain children.

"The media was here today and said, 'You have closure,' " said Muniz, who with his wife dug up the body of their son Jerome Joseph in 2001. He was 18. "There is no closure. For us, we have a lifetime of healing to do here."

The living room was arranged for interviews: two chairs facing the interviewer's. Cable and lights coiled on the carpet. On a black upright piano was an outsize lavender card that served as a backdrop: "Remembering the Courageous, Young Life of Chandra Levy. April 14, 1977 -- May 2001."

"The media here again to re-talk about things, to re-exhume the case, is very hard," Muniz said.

The parents agreed.

"Yeah, it's true," Susan Levy said. "It gets revived. You go back to square one in the sense of emotional trauma."

Robert Levy nodded from the seat to her left. Behind him were the pool and the horses. Life was good here.

"Because of what happened, we're always at a lower level," he said. "We're never what we were."

"The intensity is pretty amazing," Susan Levy said. "In this case, we've already gone through an intense period. This is another part."

"Part two," said the woman seated between the parents. Boni Driskill lost her daughter, Lacy Ferguson, in 2003. The homicide remains unsolved.

Susan Levy nodded.

"Part two," she said.

The group helps. When Chandra went missing, neighbors brought food and support. "And relatives, too," Robert Levy said. But the specialization meant something.

"The core here are people who have suffered not knowing what happened to their loved one," Susan Levy said. "Having to go through the horrible experience of seeing their child die, it's tough."

"It's bad," her husband said, and he leaned so far forward that his head lay nearly on the table.

"It's bad," his wife said.

His head was all the way down now, his voice so low that the words barely carried across the table. "Oh, God," he said.

Word that the case might be ending ricocheted swiftly around the country, through the network of Levy relatives and friends and -- especially -- those who once fell under suspicion in her disappearance.

Gary A. Condit, the former California congressman who lost his seat after his affair with Chandra Levy became public, said yesterday that, in addition to vindication, he felt good for the Levy family.

"We are glad they are finally getting the answers they deserve," Condit told WJLA (Channel 7) of Washington from his home in Arizona. "For my family, I am glad that their years of standing together in the face of such adversity have finally led to the truth."

Sven Jones, a friend and colleague of Chandra's at the Bureau of Prisons, had initially been investigated by D.C. police and was asked to submit to a polygraph test. He said he was relieved to hear that an arrest appears near.

"I put myself out there to be of help because she was my friend," said Jones of his involvement with investigators. "But my personal life really suffered for it.

"I had job interviews, and people said, 'What's with the Chandra case?' And the interview would go no further. I can't tell you how many job opportunities I lost. It was a pretty huge impact."

But ground zero, once again, was the Levy family.

"I have goose bumps. I'm sad, and I'm happy," said Linda Zamsky, Chandra's aunt and confidante. She first heard the news from reporters, calling as she journeyed home to Maryland from a vacation in Honduras.

"This is a part of my life that I put away," Zamsky said. "I'm just standing at the back of the plane wishing I could cry, and I can't."

Vick reported from Modesto. Staff writer Sari Horwitz contributed to this report from Washington.

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