Chandra Levy's killer attacked me in Rock Creek Park. Now I'm finishing my run.

Halle Shilling recently returned to the trail in Rock Creek Park where she was assaulted by Ingmar Guandique, the man who was convicted of killing Chandra Levy and on Friday was sentenced to serve 60 years in prison.
By Halle Shilling
Friday, February 11, 2011; 8:50 PM

It's late afternoon in October, and I'm jogging in Rock Creek Park on a trail whose terrain is scorched in my memory. I am with my dad and my husband. It is a perfect day for a run, just like the last time I ran here, nine years ago.

We run steadily, I lead. I need to make a few stops - where I first saw him sitting on the curb; where I felt him leap onto my back; where police found my Walkman on the path; where I was surprised by my reflection in the plexiglass of the Park Police station: ponytail pulled to the side, eyes wide in shock.

At these places, I whisper to the trees overhead. I say a small prayer to the clouds above. I bow in gratitude to a few ghosts.

I visualize the face of a dead woman I never met, a woman whose killer I testified against this morning.

The start of the run is difficult. I can't get my rhythm, and old images roll through my mind: "This was a crime of opportunity, and you created the opportunity," the first detective on the scene telling me; a purple dent in my finger, carved by a human tooth; a pair of knotted black running tights, discovered by police near a skeleton; a Fox News van lurking outside my cul de sac.

My father and husband run behind me, out of respect. Earlier, my dad asked if I'd be okay with this formation.

"Yeah, Dad," I laughed. "I'll be fine. Because I'll know that it's you."

Not some psychopath hunting me. Not like the last time.

We fought. I got away. He went to jail, and I pretended to forget. Except eight years later my attacker, Ingmar Guandique, was charged with the murder of Chandra Levy, whose body I had surely run within yards of that day in the spring of 2001.

In every possible way, I had been helpful to the authorities - testifying before a grand jury, returning to the scene of the crime so the police could videotape me walking there, making vague excuses for having to skip the Halloween carnival at my children's elementary school, piecing together last-minute child care to cover the days when I would be away from home.

I was happy, almost grateful, to do all that. I knew I was a rarity in the world of crime victims. Not only did I have the satisfaction of a conviction for my attacker back in 2002, but I told my story three times in a court of law. I was doing my part to help put away a bad guy. And there was a collateral benefit: Any victim of this kind of violence will tell you how vital it is to feel heard. All three times my voice quavered, but people were listening.

In the years after I was attacked, I didn't think at all about finishing the run. I still ran, of course. But I stuck to beaches, well-traveled roads and group trail runs. The idea of finishing that Rock Creek Park loop didn't come to me until last summer. Once the judge ruled that I would testify at the Levy trial along with Guandique's other surviving victims, I coped with punishing sessions on the treadmill at my gym, weeping most of the time. Running, it seemed, was the only way for me to tap into my feelings about what happened and what was coming.

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