Before he became the shotgun stalker's first victim on Feb. 23, the 22-year-old man was an electronics whiz whose sharp eyes and nimble hands enabled him to tackle the toughest repairs on VCRs, radios and TVs.

But today he is partially blind, has limited use of an arm and no sense of smell, and gropes to make even a sandwich for himself. The reality of his condition has thrust his mother into a more exacting role at home.

"I have been reading to him, fixing his meals, making sure his hair is combed and that his face is clean," his mother said.

As police press to build their case against the man they suspect in 13 shotgun attacks in the District, the families of the victims are struggling to cope with the harsh realities left behind.

Relatives of Elizabeth "Bessie" Hutson, 28, Edwin D. Fleming, 35, and Nello Hughes, 61, who were slain in the drive-by shootings, have been plunged into the depths of sorrow. Each day, they said, they are engulfed by grief, bewilderment and anger, a range of emotions that keeps them up at night and sticks with them during the day.

Some relatives of the dead have become reclusive, while others have turned to friends and loved ones to help them with the guilt they feel because they are alive and the victims are not. Several family members have found solace in their religious faith, and others have sought diversions, such as writing poetry, to help them get through the loss.

The surviving victims of the drive-by attacks, two of whom are partially blind and another of whom is recovering from a baseball-sized wound in his head, spend their days resting and reflecting at home, when they are not visiting doctors. Careers have been put on hold, and in several cases, money is getting tight.

Two of the victims often shake; for a third, sleep has been an odyssey of nightmares about the gunman. And all the victims acknowledge their fear of walking on the streets at night, the time when they were attacked. They also are angry, but at the same time feel blessed that they were spared death.

Their parents have found themselves in new roles, solely devoted to helping the son or daughter get over the physical and psychological trauma of the violence. Together, the victims and their families grieve, and a day does not pass when that one question -- "Why did this happen?" -- is not asked.

On April 19, police said, they caught James E. Swann Jr., 29, as he drove away from Columbia Heights after a string of midday shootings that left Hughes dead. Swann has been charged with murder in the killing of Hughes, and police said he is a suspect in the 11 other drive-by attacks in Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant that have been linked to the stalker, as well as in a fatal shotgun shooting in a barbershop.

From Feb. 23 to April 19, three people were killed and four wounded in the street attacks. The gunman fired at four other people but missed, and another person eluded the attacker. Police said last week that ballistics tests have linked Swann to another shotgun shooting. Julius "Jack" Bryant, 58, was slain as he sat in a barber chair in Columbia Heights on Feb. 26 by a masked gunman who walked into the shop. Another man was shot and wounded in that afternoon attack.

Police have not released the names of any surviving victims because they are witnesses who could be subject to retaliation. The Washington Post has interviewed four of the victims, who discussed how their lives have changed. Except for one victim who agreed to be identified, they spoke on the condition that their names not be used.

In each drive-by attack, the basic pattern was the same: The stalker cruised along a street within a three-quarter-mile stretch of Northwest Washington, found a pedestrian walking alone and then fired a pump-action shotgun at the person's head. Police said the attacks appeared to be indiscriminate.

"I can't imagine ever feeling joy again," said Tom Hutson, whose daughter, Elizabeth, was thought at the time to be the first person killed by the gunman when she was shot on the night of March 23 as she walked her two dogs in an alley between 19th Street and Park Road NW. "There is nothing in my life that is unaffected by Bessie's death."

Hutson, 53, said he is so devastated by his daughter's death that he wakes up in the wee hours of the morning weeping for "Bessie, Bessie, Bessie."

He was unable to continue the French language training he was receiving from the State Department to prepare him for a political counselor's job in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

"I got to a point where I would lose it and could not be in a classroom," he said. Hutson wears a purple lapel ribbon each day, indicating that his family is a victim of violence, and has begun lobbying for stricter gun controls. He and his wife visit their daughter's grave at Rock Creek Cemetery about once a week.

Elizabeth's mother also has had difficulty coping. Since her daughter's death, Arija Hutson holds a private vigil of sorts each week. Every Tuesday about 9 p.m., the day and time when Elizabeth was killed, her mother sits on the porch of the house they shared with their daughter, thinking that if she had come home minutes earlier she would have walked the dogs, possibly sparing Elizabeth from death.

"I think about her death and how things could have been different if I had come right home and not stopped to get gas or talk to a friend," she said. "I feel guilt in that sense."

Whenever she leaves or enters the house, she says out loud, "Hello, Bessie" or "Goodbye, Bessie." She has not changed a thing in her daughter's room since she died.

Elizabeth's brother, Peter, 27, who lives in Monterey, Calif., 10 miles from where his sister was born, said he suffers, among other things, "a recurring horror and flashes of panic" each time he thinks of the way his sister was slain. He has written poems in her honor to help him with his grief.

Sally Fleming, whose son, Edwin, was fatally shot in the face April 10 as he walked home on Holmead Place NW from a rare night on the town, said she is living with regrets that she never visited her gay son in the District, where he moved with a lover eight years ago from his home town of Clinton, S.C.

"We were very close, and I had planned to come up in July to see his apartment and meet his friends, but none of that is going to happen now," Fleming, 60, said in an interview from Clinton.

Fleming said her grief keeps her up at night and she suffers pounding headaches from crying and anxiety. She has become more private, she said, and leaves her home, which she shared with her husband until his death in 1983 from cancer, only to go to her job at a nearby hosiery mill, to sing in the church choir or to visit her daughter nearby.

"All I really do is think of him and the horror he went through," she said. The hardest thing in her life, she said, was seeing her disfigured son lying in the coffin during his funeral on April 17 in Clinton.

"I could tell by his hands and parts of his face that it was him," she said.

The stalker's Feb. 23 victim, the 22-year-old electronics whiz, recently underwent a fourth operation that he hopes eventually will enable him to dabble in electronics again. "It bothers me to depend on people to get things done," he said, "but hopefully that will change one day."

His mother said he shakes at times and breaks out in red bumps on his face, from fear.

The drive-by gunman's second victim, Willie Gilchrist Jr., 43, was on his way to buy beer the night of March 4 when he was shot in the head on a Columbia Heights street.

"Every day I ask myself why this guy was out to kill people and how did I end up on the other end of his shotgun," Gilchrist said.

Since undergoing two operations to remove a life-threatening blood clot from his brain and patch up the wound, Gilchrist has been living with his mother at her home.

"I clean and dress his wound twice a day," his mother, Vashti Love, said. "I cook for him, wash his clothes, get his mail and check on his apartment."

But life has been tiring for the 62-year-old woman since her son moved in. She also helps her brother, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease and cannot care for himself, and takes her blind cousin to receive kidney dialysis several times a week.

As for her son, Love said, the shooting has taken a sizable toll on him.

His head trembles a little, and his judgment of distance is poor, she said. "His balance is off, and the doctor has warned him against going into crowds, where he might get confused."

Gilchrist, who is unemployed, said his doctors told him that he will not be able to work until the beginning of next year. The prognosis is frustrating, he said, because when he was shot, he was in the final week of a six-month course on word processing and office skills, and he had hoped to land a job soon.

"Now, my life has been placed on the top shelf with a big ribbon on it saying, 'Do not open until next year,' " Gilchrist said.

He said that he has no savings and that caring for him is a hardship on his mother, who is on a fixed income. But Gilchrist said he plans to pay her back as soon as he can work.

For the time being, his mother said, she does not care about the money. "I keep thinking that if the pellets had gone a half-inch closer to his brain, I wouldn't have a son," she said.

"It's going to be a real problem for me to let my guard down when I walk on the streets," Gilchrist said.

The gunman's third victim said she feels the same way. The 23-year-old woman was shot in the face on the night of March 17 after parking her car in the 3100 block of 19th Street NW.

The woman said that despite attempts by doctors to save her right eye, it will be removed at the end of May. She said that since the shooting, her life has been somewhat stabilized by her father, who came down from Port Washington, N.Y., to stay by her side.

"Some days I feel so depressed that I don't want to get out of bed, take a shower or go outside," said the woman, who still has the use of her left eye. "And other days I want to put on makeup and hop in the car."

Her shooting and the cancer-related death of her mother around Christmas 1991 have her questioning her religious faith, she said.

"It was hard to go back to church after I got shot," the woman said. "I would say to myself, 'I'm in here praying to you even though you took my mom and now you've taken my eyesight.' "

Her father, who is 67 and retired, said he was just getting used to living alone when his daughter was shot, a crisis that he was able to get through with the help of God, brisk walks and yoga.

But the father, who headed back to New York on Thursday, acknowledged that some things in their lives will never be the same. For one thing, he said, he doubts that he and his daughter will ever feel as safe as they once did.

"I also realize more than ever that life is tenuous, whether you are young, middle-aged or old," he said.

The woman said that she has nightmares about the shotgun stalker. In one, she dreamed that she was forced to hide in a closet after the gunman broke into her house.

But she says she has been inundated with cards and greetings from people, something that "has shown me how compassionate human beings can be."

However, the woman, who returned to work Thursday after a six-week hiatus, said that the horrific memories of being the stalker's third victim will be hard to shake: "When I go outside, sometimes I feel I'm walking a tougher walk. I'll live with that little bit of fear, and will be looking over my shoulder, for a while to come."