Undaunted by bitter cold or treacherous roads, a caravan of Hispanic men and women has driven for up to an hour daily to offer 30 seconds of support to one of their own: Lorena Gallo Bobbitt, the Ecuadorean-born, Venezuelan-raised star of Manassas's infamous malicious wounding trial.
Clutching placards saying "Free Lorena Bobbitt" and, in Spanish, "El Salvador is with you," the people in the group cheer Bobbitt as she leaves the courthouse each afternoon. And then they leave.
"I think it's important for her to see people are supporting her, and that we understand what made her do that," said Nina Guiterrez, 30, a Falls Church resident and native of Mexico.
"She's alone in this country, and I wouldn't want that to happen to me," said Gladys Orrala, 44, of Alexandria. Orrala helped organize the contingent, which has grown to as many as 200 people since the afternoon vigils began Friday.
Those in the group don't all agree on whether Bobbitt should go to prison for severing her husband's penis, but their collective support is as solid as the sheet of ice beneath their feet.
"I don't condone what she did, but I understand it," said Orrala, a native of Ecuador. "We have to show Lorena that she's not by herself."
The effort began as an impromptu suggestion on a popular Laurel-based Spanish radio talk show called "Heating Up the Morning." It evolved into a regional outpouring from people whose only concern is that Lorena Bobbitt is Hispanic.
Calls have flooded Radio Borinquen, WILC (900 AM), according to the station's general manager, Alejandro Carrasco. As sentiment turned into plans to meet at the courthouse, logistical problems were worked out over the air.
Some people needed rides to Manassas, which is 30 miles west of Washington and at least 10 miles beyond Metro's last stop. And so a call went out for cars and vans, and gathering points were designated -- Hechinger Mall in Langley Park, the Silver Spring Metro station, the Ballston Metro station.
When transportation still looked tight, a dozen Hispanic cabdrivers from Virginia, the District and even Maryland volunteered their services.
So enthusiastically have listeners responded to Carrasco's broadcast that Orrala actually has turned down offers of financial help for the demonstrators.
For some of the Hispanic women, part of Lorena Bobbitt's story also is their story, both Orrala and Carrasco said. They have called with personal accounts of spousal abuse, which is the underpinning of Bobbitt's defense.
"Some have shared their stories with me and cried on the phone," Orrala said.
Outside the courthouse yesterday, Guiterrez talked about how being raped 13 years ago had made her feel. She said she thought that Bobbitt "felt very much alone" after striking back at her husband in June.
Police estimated that there were about 60 people gathered when Bobbitt left the courthouse shortly before 6 p.m. yesterday. Some were from as far as Baltimore, including some members of a group called Men Against Rape.
"This case symbolizes a lot of what we think is wrong with our society," said Chris Murphy, 32, a professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. "This society and media has focused almost exclusively on John Bobbitt's penis. It has demonstrated an utter disregard for Lorena Bobbitt's story and suffering."
As her supporters waited for her departure, they chanted alternately in Spanish and English. Their voices melded into a single "Lorena, Lorena" as she walked out carrying a bouquet of red roses. She smiled broadly and waved to the crowd before climbing into a car driven by her attorney, James Lowe.
Supporters began leaving too. Jose Limon, 36, wearing nothing warmer than a hooded sweat shirt and jeans, started walking to his home two miles away.