Linda Cox, a 32-year-old United Air Lines stewardess, heard a knock and opened the door of her suburban Woodbridge house to find a small boy.
"I wasn't scared of him. He was only about 12 and he was littler than me," recalls Cox. But moments after the boy entered her house "to borrow a plastic bag," Cox says he lunged for her throat, stabbed her 15 times, kicked and beat her, and left her for dead.
Police have charged a 12-year-old boy with attempted murder for the Oct. 16 attack, which authorities call one of the most vicious in recent county history. The youth was already on probation for a burglary conviction last year, according to Prince William County police.
Five days later and less than four miles away from the Cox stabbing, a 14-year-old boy allegedly stabbed his 10-year-old brother in the chest while he slept, then lay in wait and plunged the same knife into his father's back. That boy has been charged with two counts of attempted murder.
"We've got out problems," says Investigator Wilson Garrison of the two attacks, declining to comment more on the county's child violence problem. In July, a 12-year-old boy was charged in the shooting of four members of his family about 10 miles from the scene of the Cox stabbing.
The two recent attacks have left residents of the normally sedate middle-class neighborhoods of Woodbridge where Cox lives deeply troubled and fearful. They have left school officials at Rippon Junior High School, where both boys were students, in shock. And for Cox, the physical wounds have healed much faster than the emotional scars she says bears from the attacks.
"Every night when I go to sleep I picture the whole scene over and over again. I picture myself lying on my back and think what's going through his mind as he's stabbing me. What kind of thrill can he get?" says Cox, who was left with a punctured ear drum, a punctured lung and multiple stab wounds.
"I'm scared to be alone. My mother flew in from Oregon to be with me. My husband had deadbolt locks put on the door. I won't open the doors to anyone," says Cox.
Before the attack, neighbor Kay St. Jean said Cox was "very trusting, very open, and a lover of kids."
Cox now is on painkillers. Her appetite has fallen off to a single small meal a day, and her ear continues to cause her pain.
"I feel like I'm in an echo chamber. Noises bother me. If you whisper in it, I can hear what you are saying."
The ear injury will keep Cox, a 10-year United veteran, grounded until her ear drum mends or is corrected surgically, she says. Prior to the attack, she was a lead flight attendant on jumbo jet flights to the West Coast.
Cox says the youngster appeared at her door shortly after noon. Her husband was out visiting a friend. She went into the kitchen to get a bag and when she turned around, she saw the youth standing in the kitchen, knife in hand.
The boy demanded money, she says. When she refused, he attacked her.
"He was so calm when he was stabbing me. He said, 'If you scream I'll kill you.' I didn't scream but he just kept stabbing me," recalls Cox. Back home after a week in the hospital, she stills wears a black-and-blue eye and moves stiffly about her living room.
Investigator Garrison said there was no attempt to assault Cox sexually.
A Rippon school official says he has little knowledge of the boy allegedly involved in the Cox stabbing because the child moved into the school district just last year. He comes from a "low socio-economic background" and was a poor student, the official said. "But he seemed happy and didn't seem to have many problems. He was just an average kid. He didn't come to the attention of anyone."
The child police are holding in connection with the stabbing of his brother and father had been enrolled in a learning disability class, but was described as a better than average student. "He was outgoing and seemed to be fine," the official said.
"The first [Cox] stabbing we just sort of dismissed and said the boy hasn't been here long enough. The second one really shocked us. Everyone is in shock right now."
Residents in the area say the incidents have caused them to think twice before opening their doors to anyone, and many are anxious to see how the courts deal with the youth.
"We don't want him to just get a pat on the head. He's dangerous. He's 12 now. My God, what's he going to do when he's 18?" asks Kay St. Jean, who found Cox lying on the floor crying for help.
Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Elbert says he will ask for the maximum sentence against the youths. If convicted, that could mean they would be sent to Beaumont School for Boys west of Richmond until they reach the age of 18.
Ebert also suggest the media coverage of one crime may lead other to break the law.
"Publicity breeds camaraderie among these students who try to outdo each other. It becomes a popular thing to do," he said.