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Joy Keo, paralyzed after being shot by boyfriend in 1982, dies of respiratory illness at 45

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By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 8:21 PM

Joy Keo's on-again, off-again boyfriend took her one summer afternoon in 1982 to a shallow grave he had dug. She would end up in that hole, he told her, if she continued to try to break up with him.

Six weeks later, he was in a rage when he tracked down Ms. Keo, then 17, at a friend's house in Oakton. He broke through the door of a bedroom where she had taken refuge and flashed a handgun, yelling "You're gonna die, bitch!" before shooting her four times.

She bled for two hours before police found her, then spent seven weeks fighting to survive. Doctors saved her life, but not her spinal cord: Ms. Keo was paralyzed from the neck down.

Her case riveted Washington for months. But the headlines eventually faded, and Ms. Keo's efforts to fashion a life continued in private. She was 45 when she died Dec. 8 of a respiratory illness at her home in Alexandria.

A striking Thai American beauty, she had been a popular honor student, cheerleader and soccer player at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Fairfax County. Her 19-year-old boyfriend, Chuck Brewer, had been deemed "most attractive" in the Stuart yearbook.

After the pair started dating, Ms. Keo fell out of touch with her wide circle of friends. "It was a really passionate relationship that kind of exploded," said Janis Kupferer, a friend of Ms. Keo's from high school. "She became very isolated."

Within months, Ms. Keo had left school, despite her mother's objections. She ran away with Brewer to Florida, where he became increasingly possessive and aggressive, she later told reporters.

At one point, he tied her to a bed and gagged her, she said. When he untied her, he punched her and broke her nose.

Ms. Keo fled home to Virginia, and her mother filed charges against Brewer of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. A Fairfax judge ordered Brewer to stop making contact with Ms. Keo, but he continued to call her, threatening to commit suicide if she wouldn't see him. She couldn't manage to cut off contact.

"She was the rescuer," her mother told The Washington Post in 1983. "He would tell her, 'You are the only person who understands.' "

Ms. Keo had avoided Brewer's phone calls Aug. 28, 1982, the day he shot her.

In the months that followed, local media covered each turn in the story.


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