On the morning that Hurricane Irene slammed into the East Coast, most of Damien Echols’s new neighbors had fled their homes, but not Echols, who stood on the balcony of his friend’s apartment in his underwear, staring out over the rooftops, letting the wind and the water wash over him. “It had been almost 20 years since I’d felt rain on my skin,” says Echols, who is living with his wife in an undisclosed city. “Before, all I could do was sit in my cell, listen to the thunder and dream about being out there.”

Echols, 36, who had spent half his life on death row in an Arkansas state prison after being convicted of a notorious triple homicide, isn’t dreaming anymore. In a stunning reversal of fortune last month, he and the two other men commonly known as the West Memphis Three-Jason Baldwin, 34, and Jessie Misskelley Jr., 36 (both of whom were serving life sentences)-were released from prison thanks to a rarely used legal tactic (see box, page 98). Under the terms of an agreement the men made with prosecutors, they could maintain their innocence, but they had to agree that enough evidence existed to find them guilty.

“Offering innocent men, who have spent 18 years in prison, the chance to go free if they’ll say they’re guilty is a cruel temptation,” admits Baldwin, who initially rejected the offer but changed his mind because he feared for Echols, whose body was giving out under the conditions and abuse he suffered on death row. “Once I realized that this could save Damien’s life, it was a no-brainer.”

For Echols, life beyond death row has been surreal. “It’s taking me a while just to learn how to walk again because I’m so used to having chains around my ankles,” he says. But, adds Echols, who hopes someday to publish the journals he wrote while in prison, “I’ve only been out for a couple of weeks, and prison already seems like a bad dream. It seems like something that happened years and years ago.”

It was in May 1993 that life in his blue-collar hometown of West Memphis, Ark., was forever changed, after the savagely beaten nude bodies of three second graders, whose hands and feet were bound, were found in a drainage ditch in a wooded area near their homes. Police interviewed Echols after the murders, eventually moving on to Misskelley, a 17-year-old friend of Echols’s with an IQ of 72. Misskelley confessed after a 12-hour interrogation and implicated Echols and Baldwin. At Echols’s 1994 trial, the prosecution’s case was almost entirely circumstantial, often focusing on the precocious, long-haired defendant’s penchant for black clothing, his love of heavy-metal music and his fascination with the occult. After the convictions, HBO devoted two documentaries (a third will be released soon) to the case, which became a cause celebre for supporters, including Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, Johnny Depp, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.

All the while Echols was locked away alone in a 9 ft. by 12 ft. concrete cell without ever seeing the sun. As the years passed fellow death-row inmates would be led past his cell door, sometimes stopping to say farewell, on their way to the execution chamber. “Afterwards the guards would pass around a pickle jar and collect money for a beer party,” he recalls.

By necessity, Echols retreated into his own thoughts and emotions. “Sometimes I would be scared. Sometimes when I thought about my execution, I would be happy it would all just be over. Sometimes you just can’t accept it. I’d say to myself, ‘These people are not going to kill me for something I didn’t do, are they?'” His only company some nights were the rats that would creep onto his bunk and chew on his hair before he was roused for his standard 2:30 a.m. breakfast. During the day he’d run in place for hours at a time and crank out 1,200 push-ups, coating the dirty floor of his cell with sweat. But over time the stress of spending years in a tiny cell took its toll. Friends worried he would not make it. “I was getting weaker and weaker,” recalls Echols. “There were nights recently when I would lay there so sick and worn down, I thought, ‘This is it. They’re going to find my body in the morning.'” The only thing that eased the pain of his arthritic knees, hips and aching teeth-damaged, he says, from beatings by guards-was eight hours of meditation he learned from the Buddhist masters who traveled to the prison just to teach him. “That and my wife were the only things that saved my life,” he says.

His wife, Lorri Davis, a soft-spoken landscape designer from New York City who moved to Little Rock and married Echols in 1998 after watching a documentary on the case, spoke to him on the phone every day, her phone bill totaling $100,000 over the years. On Fridays she’d drive to the prison, and they’d often sit separated by a 1-in.-thick piece of Plexiglas as Davis would update him on the latest twists and turns of his case. “I only missed one Friday visit in the past 13 years,” says Davis, who quit her job so that she could spend her time trying to get her husband out of prison.

She often came with bad news, explaining efforts to get new trials failed, but there was also good news: In 2007 celebrity supporters raised enough cash for a new defense team, which was made up of more than a dozen of the nation’s top forensic scientists and attorneys.

On Aug. 9 Echols’s life changed when the state’s attorney general shocked everyone by setting up negotiations between prosecutors and defense attorneys that stretched out 10 days. “I lived in horror that at any given moment they’d come back and say, ‘We changed our minds,'” recalls Echols. “I didn’t sleep for four days. I just paced my cell. That was more stressful than all the 18 years before.”

On Aug. 18 the three were transported from their prisons to a jail in Jonesboro, Ark. The next day at a nearby courthouse, guards removed the defendants’ ankle chains and handcuffs, and a judge-after ejecting a victim’s family member for his vocal objections-set them free. “I didn’t know if it was some kind of game or what,” recalls Misskelley. “But when I came out of that courtroom and got in the car, I told my sister, ‘Go, go, go. Let’s get as far away from here as we can.’ ”

After a quick visit to pick up ID cards at a local DMV, Echols and Baldwin attended a hotel rooftop party with Vedder and Maines, then hopped a private jet provided by supporters (Echols’s first time ever on a plane) and left Arkansas, vowing never to return.

Of the trio, Echols’s transition will undoubtedly be the most poignant. He’s having to relearn the most basic skills, like how to eat with a fork and how to work his new iPhone. Even a recent trip to the movie theater took some getting used to. “Being in a dark room and having people sit behind me and not expecting them to stab or hit me in the back of the head is really nice,” says Echols, who now wears glasses to correct the vision he lost after years in a cramped cell. “There are so many things he needs to relearn,” says Davis, watching him eat a salad with his hands.

At present, friends have been helping the couple out, providing them with a place to stay and stocking the refrigerator with pizza and chocolate milk (his favorite foods). While Echols says he has no idea what the future holds, he plans to travel to New Zealand in October to spend a month with director Peter Jackson and his wife, who donated untold millions to his cause. But for now, he spends his time wandering the streets, soaking up the sights, and visiting doctors and dentists. One recent afternoon Echols seemed almost giddy, peering into shop windows and watching passersby on the streets. Seeing all that he has missed, is he angry? “If I sat around and dwelled on it, I would be. But I’m not,” he says, explaining anger would be too stressful. “Then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy all of this.”

“I promised I’d never give up”
Shortly after Jessie Misskelley’s arrest in 1993, his father pulled a tarp over Jessie’s old Chevy truck and left it parked in the yard. Misskelley insists that when his life finally settles down, the first thing he wants to do is get it running again. “I’m gonna fix it,” says Misskelley, who hopes to one day become an auto mechanic. The former lifer insists that realizing so many people were following the case made all the difference. “Every day I told myself, ‘That’s something to live for,'” he recalls. ” ‘Don’t let them down.'” His biggest challenge these days? “I wake up every night with my back hurting,” Misskelley says with a laugh. “I’m just not used to sleeping on a soft bed.”

“I knew one day we’d be free”
These days Jason Baldwin has only one request of his friends. “I’ve been going around telling people not to pinch me in case this is all a dream,” he says. Since being set free, Baldwin, who is staying at a friend’s house, has been working in construction, in between dentist and doctor appointments. “I lost track of how many times I was attacked in prison,” he says, adding that a day never goes by when he doesn’t think about the three young victims in the case. “Our lives will always be linked together.” This month he hopes to begin taking college courses. After that, law school. “I want to help guys who are in a situation similar to the one we found ourselves in.”

Free, but Still Felons
The three men were able to walk out of prison after agreeing to a complicated legal maneuver called an Alford plea that allowed them to maintain their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict them. “What the defendants are saying is, ‘I think the prosecution has the evidence against me, but I didn’t do it,'” says Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson. Under the agreement, defendants get their freedom, but they are unable to sue the authorities for false arrest, and prosecutors get to say the case is solved. Indeed, police have never identified another suspect in the case, and though Gov. Mike Beebe has the power to pardon the West Memphis Three, he has already said that he will not exonerate them unless new evidence is revealed. “Guilty pleas are supposed to resolve things,” says Levenson. “Alford pleas resolve things legally but leave a huge question mark in the air about what really happened.”


Inside the walls of Tijuana’s La Mesa prison, two dozen men accused of everything from petty theft to felonies pace in an outdoor holding cell. Earlier, these men appeared before Mexican judges for crimes that could keep them behind bars for months or years. Now, penned and angry, they glare menacingly through a chain-link fence—until a tiny figure in nun’s habit appears. “Mamá, mamá!” they shout, shoving fingers through the barrier, trying to touch her. “How are you, my sons?” replies the cheerful woman they call Mother Antonia. She leads them in prayer, urging them to ask forgiveness from their victims. The men nod like shamed schoolboys. And weep.

For 28 years, Mother Antonia, 78, has lived among the inmates, now numbering 6,000, in what was once one of Mexico’s most dangerous prisons. Working to improve the lives of those incarcerated, the Roman Catholic sister is also beloved by guards, who say she has helped make their jobs safer and more humane. Outside La Mesa, the Sisters of the Eleventh Hour of St. John Eudes, a religious community Mother Antonia founded in 1997, serve Tijuana’s poor. “Mother Antonia brings hope to men and women here,” says La Mesa’s warden, Francisco Jiminez, “And they find hope themselves. She spreads the love of God.”

Even more remarkable is the road she traveled to reach San Diego’s border city, Tijuana—a journey chronicled in a new book, The Prison Angel, by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan. Born Mary Clarke in Los Angeles, Mother Antonia grew up amid money and movie stars, married twice and raised seven children before finding her calling. Those who know her best aren’t surprised by the choices she’s made. “The greatest gift my siblings and I had was that our mom was on loan from God to raise us,” says her oldest son, Jim Brenner, 57, a Los Angeles ink salesman. “Now she’s taking care of the rest of the world.”

Starting with the forgotten men and women of La Mesa. The only member of her order allowed to dwell inside the penitentiary, Mother Antonia subsists on a weekly budget of $20 for food, sleeps in a tiny cell and spends 10-hour days working (see box). Her deeds, which are funded by benefactors on both sides of the border, include advising mothers separated from children and making donated clothing presentable. She also be-friends and protects the most vulnerable members of the prison’s population—transvestites and the elderly. And in Tijuana’s neighborhoods she and other Sisters of the Eleventh Hour provide support for the families of both inmates and guards, even helping arrange funerals for those who die in prison. “She’s the most important person here,” says a 63-year-old female prisoner sentenced to 10 years for heroin trafficking. “She never rests.”

Doctors say she should. Stricken with problems that include blocked arteries and two leaky heart valves, Mother Antonia keeps an oxygen tank by her cot to help her breathe. But she ignores advice to leave the prison. “Giving to others is a privilege,” she says. “The only thing I’m concerned about is that I’m not doing enough.”

It’s far from the life Mary Clarke was born into. The daughter of a wealthy Los Angeles businessman, she grew up in a Beverly Hills mansion in the ’40s, with Hollywood stars Dinah Shore and Cary Grant for neighbors. By her teens, Mary was a striking beauty who was offered a job in a play by choreographer Busby Berkeley, but she turned him down. Raised by her father, Joseph, a devout Catholic who was widowed when she was 3, she hungered for a more traditional life. “All I ever wanted,” she says, “was to be a good wife and mother.”

In 1946 she became a 19-year-old bride to sailor Ray Monahan, but the union ended in divorce after four years. Within a year she wed college athlete Carl Brenner and raised children James and Kathleen, from her first marriage, alongside their kids Theresa, Carol, Tom, Elizabeth and Anthony. Stirred by her faith, she also threw herself into collecting for the poor. Long hours devoted to charity work became a source of tension in the Brenners’ marriage, and in 1972 they divorced. “That wound,” she says, “is like a knife in my heart.”

By then Mary had been making church-sponsored relief visits to La Mesa, and in 1977, with her marriage over and her children grown, she felt a powerful spiritual pull to do far more. “I wanted to dedicate my life to the poor,” she says. “I didn’t want to just pity them. I wanted to become a significant part of their lives.” Convinced established orders would not accept a woman her age, she sewed her own habit, drove to a church and whispered her own vows of obedience and service. That Easter she told her kids. “None of us were surprised,” says son Tom, 49, a California clothing manufacturer. “She’s always had a passion for helping others.”

After selling her belongings, she drove to Tijuana, persuaded La Mesa’s warden to let her stay and began the dangerous task of winning inmates over with small acts of kindness. Soon other women began approaching Mother Antonia to help. “I’ve never met a soul she hasn’t stopped to take care of,” says Sam Thompson, minister of the Christian Life Fellowship in Orange, Calif. “She’s a walking gift of love.”

For Mother Antonia, there is no higher praise. “It’s such a joy to give yourself to someone else,” she says. “I guess you might say I’m in love with these people who the rest of the world finds unlovable.”


Valerie Harper has accumulated more than four decades’ worth of television memorabilia during the course of her extraordinary career, and right now much of it is cluttering the dining room of the cozy 1930s Spanish-style bungalow she shares with her husband of 26 years, Tony Cacciotti, in Santa Monica, Calif. Among the keepsakes: the signature head scarves from her hit series Rhoda, her four Emmys, and nine neatly stacked piles of well-worn scripts from Rhoda and its television forerunner, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. “I’m just putting them in order,” she says, pointing to the scripts, many of which are filled with personal scribbles. “This is the very first one-the pilot. Look at how cute this is. There are notes like, ‘dinner with Betty'”-i.e., Betty White, her MTM costar. “They were in the garage and I just got them out. I don’t know what I should do with them.”

Until just seven weeks ago, the unsentimental actress-who hasn’t even watched most of her own shows-rarely looked to the past. But now she is eager to reflect on a life well-lived and impart the lessons she has learned along the way. “All my life, people have had a connection to me because of Rhoda,” Harper, who seems decades younger than her 73 years, says of her beloved TV alter ego, working gal Rhoda Morgenstern. “Now there are things I want to share.” What Harper calls her “transformative moment” would be catastrophic news for most people: On Jan. 15 doctors informed the star that she has a rare and incurable form of brain cancer that can prove fatal in as little as three months (see box). The disease, which accounts for less than 2 percent of all cancers, “progresses quickly,” says Harper’s oncologist Ronald Natale. “It is a terminal diagnosis.” The grim finality of it “hit me like a sledgehammer,” says Harper, who until now has only shared the news with a handful of close friends and family members. “‘Incurable’ is such a concise word,” she says, her eyes brimming with tears. “I was terrified.”

And yet in the weeks since, Harper-a nonsmoker who successfully beat lung cancer in 2009-has resolved to tackle what little time she has left with the same wry humor, grace and plucky pragmatism that has endeared her to generations of fans. “Cancer makes real what we try to obscure from ourselves,” says the candid star, who is fond of peppering her conversation with Rhoda-esque wisdom (see box). “We spend our lifetimes thinking, ‘I’m never going to die.’ But cancer says, ‘Hey, not so fast.'”

In fact, the showbiz veteran had recently been revving up her career. At work on her new memoir I, Rhoda and preparing to take her Tony-nominated one-woman show Looped on the road, “every thing was going so smoothly for her,” says Tony. “I thought we were all set.” But in August she began noticing a strange tingling in her midsection. “I felt this funny little band moving around from my back to my waist,” she recalls. Then in December she was driving between errands in Santa Monica when she suddenly became violently ill. “My windshield was obliterated with vomit, and I hadn’t felt sick,” she says. “Later I found out that is a benchmark for a seizure.”

She visited several doctors and underwent a battery of tests, but the results were inconclusive. On Jan. 11 she was rehearsing for Looped when “the right side of my jaw felt like I had Novocaine in it,” she says, pausing to review the scrupulous notes-including dates, medical information and important phone numbers-she has been keeping in a three-ring white binder since her diagnosis. “I asked the director, ‘Do I sound funny?’ Tony came and took me to the hospital. They thought I had a stroke.” But after running more tests, doctors detected cancer cells in her spinal fluid, ultimately leading to the terminal diagnosis. “I held it in, but I broke down later,” Tony says of his reaction. “I didn’t want to show her I was angry and hurt. I didn’t want to believe it. It’s like a cleaver in your heart.”

Harper herself toggles between moments of hope, grief and no-nonsense realism. She has opted to undergo chemotherapy with a drug that has limited success in killing cancer cells because “I have a fighting chance until I’m gone,” she says. Still, “I’m well past my expiration date already,” she concedes, given that the onset of her symptoms was more than eight months ago. With the cancer concentrated in her brain, an obstruction of spinal fluid is likely and can lead to severe headaches and seizures, as well as a loss of bodily functions and difficulty walking. Ultimately, “the total burden of cancer gets to such a high volume that the body sort of begins to shut down,” says Dr. Natale.

It’s a bleak prospect, but one that Harper refuses to dwell on. “I don’t think of dying,” she says. “I think of being here now.” Famous for her chronic onscreen dieting as Rhoda, she laughs at the fact that her doctors have been encouraging her to gain weight: “Men have never said that to me!” Harper also has finalized her will and is planning final arrangements, which may include scattering her ashes in the Pacific. “I’ve been worried about getting stuff done before this starts affecting my thinking and clarity,” she says. Last week she telephoned a local crematory and learned that “if I booked it by Thursday I could save $150,” she says brightly. “I was thrilled!”

At the same time, she admits to grappling with floods of deep sadness. The past few mornings she has awoken at 4 a.m. and “cried a bit. It can be frightening,” she says. “I think, ‘I don’t want to go.’ But I give myself room to grieve. I give myself the space to be sad or angry and then it passes and I can get back to eating ice cream, which I’ve been doing by the pint.” One question upon which she refuses to focus: Why me? “Why not me?” she exclaims. “I don’t get why I should be exempt. After all, I have so many resources-fabulous insurance, the greatest husband. I’ve had a good run. What more can I ask for?” It’s an outlook she has long maintained, says Harper’s only child, daughter Cristina Cacciotti, 29. “My mother has always embraced life, no matter how bad things have gotten,” she says. “I know what’s going to happen, but I’m not going to focus on the end until it becomes reality.”

For the most part, her mom is taking a similar stance. “You can prepare yourself and your family, but none of us know when we’re going to go,” she says. Born in a New York suburb and raised Catholic by a Canadian-bred mother and a lighting salesman father, Harper studied ballet in New York City and began her career as a Broadway dancer in 1959. While doing theater in L.A. in 1970 she was spotted by a casting agent and asked to audition for the Mary Tyler Moore Show role of brash New Yorker Rhoda, the comic foil and best friend to Moore’s midwestern Mary Richards. The show rocketed her to stardom and led to her own smash spin-off in 1974. “People still stop me on the street and ask, ‘How’s Mary?'” says Harper of the show’s enduring popularity. She also has maintained her long friendship with Moore, 76. “We’re very much like Rhoda and Mary,” Moore told PEOPLE in 2000. “There’s no big turnaround when the camera is off.” Harper had yet to tell her dear friend of her diagnosis but planned to do so in the coming days. “She is a darling,” she says of Moore. “We talk on the phone about her dogs and laugh all the time.”

As a little girl, “I had a picture of heaven,” says Harper. Today she describes herself as agnostic and says that when it comes to her view of the afterlife, “I see death as a passage. I don’t have a lot of certainty about reincarnation, but I have a lot of interest in what lies ahead.” She is still looking forward, noting, “I just got a letter from a friend who’s getting a Congressional Medal of Honor on April 17. I hope I’m around then.” As for any bucket-list trips, she says she’d prefer to spend her remaining time close to home. “The garden sounds good,” she says. “I have plants I always want to pull the yellow leaves off of, but I haven’t done it because so many things have taken precedence. But I think I’ll give it one last whack.”

On a deeper level, “I think one of the many blessings in my life is that I’ve learned how to drop bitter resentment,” says Harper. She worries most about Tony, breaking down when she talks about him. “He’s a strong guy, but I don’t want him to suffer,” she says, lamenting that he can’t stop replaying the brutal diagnosis in his head. Not Harper. “She’s always been such a positive force,” says Cristina.

As another day draws to a close, the indefatigable actress stops on the edge of her lawn to gaze up at the stars glowing overhead. And for the longest time she just stands there in silence, her mouth open, almost in awe, almost as if she’s seeing them twinkle for the first time. “Life,” Harper whispers, “is amazing. Live it to the fullest. Stay as long as you can.”

TV’s Every Woman

Bride on the Go
More than 52 million viewers tuned in to watch Rhoda get married in 1974.

Together Again
“I was so comfortable with Mary,” Harper told People of her costar Moore (in a 2000 reunion special).

“One reviewer called Rhoda a ‘victorious loser,'” recalls Harper (in ’75). “I always liked that.”

Sitcom Mom
In her new memoir Harper writes that being fired from her eponymous series Valerie in 1987 after two seasons was “painful and humiliating.”

Grande Dame
As Tallulah Bankhead in her 2010 Off-Broadway show Looped.

A Rare Killer
Leptomeningeal carcinomatosis is an incurable condition that occurs when cancer cells spread into the fluid-filled membrane—known as the meninges—surrounding the brain. Because of the difficulty in getting chemotherapy drugs into the meninges, treatment options are “few and pretty poor,” says Harper’s oncologist Ronald Natale. Patient survival rates range from 3 to 12 months. What makes Harper’s case so unique is that cancer hasn’t been detected in any other parts of her body. “In my 30 years,” says Natale, “I’ve never seen a case like this.”

Valerie’s List
• Forgiveness is giving up the wish that things could be different.
• Don’t let your fear today rob you of a fun life.
• If you’re not here now, where the hell are you?
• I’ve never been a fan of the good ol’ days. For me the best day has always been this one.
• My mom always used to say, “If you can learn from it, then do. If not, forget about it. That was yesterday.”


Lured by idealism or demons unknown, hiker Christopher McCandless found a lonely death in Alaska

DUSK WAS FALLING WHEN BUTCH Killian called it quits after a day of moose hunting in the Alaska wilderness 100 miles southwest of Fairbanks. Rather than head home that night, Sept. 6, Killian decided to hole up in a derelict bus that had been converted into a shelter for local hunters. But as he stepped into the gloom of the bus, which was outfitted with a table and chairs and a crude stove, a sickening smell hit him. At first he thought that a trapper had left some rotting food. Then he saw a sleeping bag with what appeared to be a lump inside. “I was even thinking of pulling on it,” says Killian. “But then I thought, ‘Something’s not right here.’ ”

Killian fled on his all-terrain vehicle without looking closer. He quickly radioed police. The next day, Alaska state troopers returned to check the sleeping bag, in which they found a badly decomposed corpse bearing no identification. Arrayed around the body were a handful of books—including Michael Crichton’s The Terminal Man, Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago and Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man—a .22-caliber rifle with some shells, and a camera. Also on the bunk was a handwritten log (see box) tersely describing a 113-day ordeal that had ended in agonizing starvation sometime in August. The bus, ironically, was only seven miles from a ranger station stocked with bedding and food.

Judging from the cryptic but heart-wrenching entries, the victim had done his best to hunt game and forage for berries and other edible vegetation before his strength gave out. It took more than a week, but authorities finally identified the body as that of 24-year-old Christopher “Alex” McCandless, a gifted, earnest young man who had been searching for simplicity and spiritual fulfillment in what he had hoped would be the rapturous heart of Mother Nature. He seemed also to be strangely alienated from his former life, ready to cast his fate to the whims of the wilderness. On a board in the bus he had scrawled, “…No phone. No pool. No pets. No cigarettes. Ultimate freedom…. No longer to be poisoned by civilization, he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become Lost in the Wild.”

In his quest for self-sufficiency and disdain for material comfort, McCandless was at odds with his whole background. He was reared by a prosperous family in Annandale, Va., outside Washington, D.C. His father, Wall, runs an aerospace-consulting firm with the help of wife Billie and stepbrother Sam. At times, Alex seemed to bridle at bourgeois surroundings. “In college he could have had a big apartment,” says sister Carine, one of seven siblings. “But he had this tiny room with a table, a chair, his computer and a mattress on the floor.” An outstanding student, he graduated in 1990 from Emory University in Atlanta, where he worked on the school paper.

After graduation, McCandless packed his car and headed west to pursue the life of a wanderer. Eight days after leaving, he abandoned his car in the Arizona desert. Most telling, he also buried his valuables and burned what remained of his money. From there he set off on foot up the Pacific Coast, living with hobos, hopping trains and hitching rides. That autumn he wound up along a stretch of highway in Montana, where he was picked up by Wayne Westerberg, the owner of grain elevators around Madison, S. Dak. Always in need of workers around harvest time, Westerberg offered McCandless a job. The two hit it off, and McCandless started renting a room in Westerberg’s house.

Far from being a dreamy loner, McCandless was not only charming and funny but also an exceptionally hard worker. “We got to be like one happy family,” says Westerberg. “He even used to cook dinner with me and my girlfriend. The more I knew him, the more impressed I was.” For Westerberg, the only strange thing about McCandless was his evident indifference—even hostility—toward money. “Sometimes, I got the impression that he resented me when I paid him,” recalls Westerberg. “He’d say, ‘Now, I have to learn to live with money again.’ ”

Within a few months, McCandless had gotten restless and decided to push on. He headed back to Arizona, where he bought a canoe and began paddling down the lower Colorado River, with a vague plan to reach the Gulf of California. In a journal entry, McCandless recounted his adventures during the trip. After sneaking into Mexico by navigating the floodgates of a dam, he became hopelessly lost in a swamp. “…must push canoe through reeds and drag it through mud,” he wrote. “All is despair!” Rescued by some Mexican duck-hunting guides, he was then nearly drowned in a harrowing storm that threatened to capsize his boat. In the months that followed, he wandered around the Mexican outback, drifted back north and wound up in Las Vegas, where he buried his knapsack outside town and lived on the streets for a few weeks in the late spring of 1991. For reasons that are unclear, during that period and after, he had not been in touch at all with his family.

What for some might have been a sobering dose of life on the road seems only to have stoked McCandless’ wanderlust. He had stayed in contact with Westerberg during his sojourn, so last January he returned to Madison for several months. Sitting around the Cabaret, a tavern in nearby Carthage, he held listeners rapt with his tales. “The stories he told about his travels just blew my mind,” says Sandy Forthman, a manager of the Cabaret. “It’s your loss if you never met him.”

Soon McCandless announced that his next destination would be Alaska. At a going-away party thrown for him in April, McCandless delighted guests by sitting down at a piano, which he had never mentioned he could play, and rattling off inspired renditions of everything from country and western to ragtime.

Reaching Fairbanks in late April, he sent Westerberg a slightly disturbing postcard. “Please return all mail I receive to the sender,” he wrote. “It might be a very long time before I return south. If this adventure proves fatal and you don’t ever hear from me again, I want you to know you’re a great man. I now walk into the wild. Alex.” Despite the ominous tone, Westerberg dismisses the notion that McCandless had any sort of death wish. “He was planning on writing a book on all of his adventures one day,” he says. “He sure didn’t plan to die.”

For their part, authorities in Alaska are not sure what he was planning. As best they can make out, McCandless, who had only basic clothing and equipment—even his rifle was too small for such big game as bear and moose—hitched a ride out of Fairbanks to the head of what is known as the Stampede Trail. The driver who dropped him off gave him a pair of old boots to wear instead of the ordinary shoes he had on. McCandless then apparently hiked about 30 miles until he stumbled on the bus, which was just off the trail. What happened next remains a mystery. His diary speaks of falling into an icy river, but an autopsy showed no injuries. “It’s pretty rich country out there,” says Capt. John Myers of the Alaska state police. “And he went at a good time. There’s lots of game, lots of birds, lots of things to eat.” As locals point out, if McCandless had wanted to attract a search party, he could have started a fire in the forest. One possibility is that he became weakened or delirious from eating hallucinogenic mushrooms or poisonous plants.

Ultimately he could have simply tried to march out rather than waiting to die. Why he didn’t is a question Wayne Westerberg has been turning over in his mind. “I’m puzzled and I’m stumped,” he says. “Knowing him and how organized he was, he must have known about the ranger station. But then again, he would have probably seen that ranger station as a crutch—and he hated crutches. More than anything, he wanted to be out in nature. I think what happened was that he pushed it one step too far.”


When Jerry and Mary Newport met, the connection was instant. A musical genius and a mathematical wonder, the two shared astronomic IQs, but they also shared something else — they both were diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that affects millions of Americans and makes social contact painfully unbearable. When Jerry and Mary married, they were catapulted into the limelight. They appeared on 60 Minutes and soon were known as “superstars in the world of autism,” shining examples of two people who refused to give up in the face of their mutual challenge.

But just when it appeared that their lives would enjoy a fairy-tale ending, their marriage fell apart. The Hollywood feeding frenzy was too much to handle, and they divorced. After heartbreaking years of soul searching, Jerry and Mary remarried. Today, with their union stronger than ever, they have dedicated themselves to helping countless other people with Asperger’s and autism lead lives of dignity. Mozart and the Whale is an unforgettable love story of the incredible chronicle of their journey together — and apart.


Worried about tomorrow? Eckhart Tolle has helped millions to embrace today

Clouds the size of Zeppelins roll past the 16th-floor window of his apartment, but Eckhart Tolle barely gazes at the majestic scenery before pulling on a baseball cap and heading for a place with an equally riveting view: his local Starbucks. “I just love watching the variety of human beings,” he says as he grabs a latte and a corner table. “I love the movement, watching what they do and how they speak.”

That this diminutive author, whose 1997 The Power of Now has sold more than 2 million copies, will sit there unnoticed for hours might sound surprising. But Tolle, 57, whose book of spiritual philosophy has spawned a worldwide following and been translated into 30 languages, has built a reputation based almost entirely on word-of-mouth recommendations. Meg Ryan told Oprah about it, and she featured it on her show. “I’ve read it at least seven, eight times. It really got me through September 11,” the Queen of Daytime said back in 2002. And yet Tolle, who lives in Vancouver, shuns nearly all reporters and TV appearances and happily describes himself as a hermit. “I love not to be noticed,” he tells PEOPLE in a rare interview. “I can almost say it’s against my nature to be out in the world.”

That’s a bit ironic, given that Tolle’s teachings, which have brought comfort and calm to millions, are about how to more fully be in this world. The way he sees it, much of the fear, anxiety and guilt that all humans experience can be traced to our inability to live in the present. Instead, he says, we spend our days dwelling on past mistakes—why did I have to eat that double cheeseburger?—or fretting about the future—the high school reunion is coming up, and I just ate that double cheeseburger. Lost in all that worrying, he says, is the present, the only period we can actually experience and enjoy at any given moment. “The now is the only thing there ever is, you can’t get away from it,” says Tolle. “But the voice in our head keeps us either in the past or in the future, treating the present moment as if it were the enemy.”

Tolle, whose strongest indulgences are the occasional glass of wine and a night of watching Seinfeld reruns, has a fix for all of this: Live your life right here, right now. “Instead of making the present moment into an enemy, turn it into a friend,” he suggests (see box for tips on putting the words into action). As simple and gentle as Tolle’s principles may sound, they’ve struck a deep chord in his followers. “He’s brilliantly expressed awareness of the present moment as a window to the spirit,” says New Age guru Deepak Chopra. Adds Mitchell Cantor, 69, a Zen teacher from Boca Raton, Fla., who has played tapes of Tolle’s teachings during visits to maximum security prisons: “I’ve seen guys in solitary confinement truly softened by his words.”

Growing up, Tolle’s life was anything but soft. Born in Lünen, Germany, he was 11 when his parents’ unhappy marriage ended in divorce, a source of shame and embarrassment to the young Tolle. He sank into a deep depression that dogged him for years. After dropping out of school at 14, he moved to Spain to join his father, Leonard, a struggling writer. Tolle managed to get his academic career back on track and was working on a doctorate in literature at Cambridge University when he experienced a profound transformation. In the middle of a summer’s night in 1977, he awoke in such despair that he considered taking his life. But by morning, he says, he was filled with inexplicable bliss—and he spent the next decade asking spiritual teachers to explain the cause. “It was a deep peace that was with me wherever I went, even in the middle of London, the middle of traffic,” he says. Eventually, Tolle identified the principles that he would later write about in his book.

So what’s it like being a guru? “I’m not,” insists Tolle, who travels the world to give lectures but drives an SUV and lives in an apartment decorated mostly with books, not far from his girlfriend and business associate Kim Eng, 44. “I always say the truth is not to be found within anybody else. It’s in you.”


With untouchable snowboard moves, millions in endorsements and now two Olympic gold medals, what will Shaun White do for an encore?

Shaun White talks pretty much the way you’d expect a 23–year-old California-born snowboarder to talk. He says “rad” and “dude” a lot and can attest to how bizarre it is to become a video-game avatar. But then he’ll name-drop Winston Churchill over brunch. “He was involved in all these great battles,” says White of the British prime minister. “Afterwards he’d always be like, ‘What do I do now?'”

Having conquered the Olympics with a second gold medal and emerging as its biggest star, White can relate: After victory, what next? He has $10 million in endorsements and plenty of options: first, more snowboarding (he’ll compete in the Burton U.S. Open March 19); then, returning to his first passion, skateboarding (the summer X Games, at which he has won three prior medals, are in July). Or he could stay put for a minute-in as much as a famous, single guy with a Lamborghini is inclined to stay put-and fix up his new home in L.A. “I feel kind of in limbo,” says White over eggs and orange juice at a Melrose cafe.

He may not be ready to move past his golden moment quite yet. “I still wake up and go, ‘I did it!'” For proof he need only check the sock where he stores his gold medal during travel. (The Torino gold is at his parents’ house.) A post-Games press tour has him in Japan later this week. Yesterday he was in Berlin, and in the days prior, Chicago, New York, London, Salzburg and Milan to satisfy media demands. He also took advantage of some first-time invites: “I went to a fashion show; I was sitting in the front row, like, ‘This is so awkward.'”

In Vancouver, though, he was a model of grace, performing his crowd-pleasing Double McTwist 1260-two flips plus 3½ turns-even though he already had his medal in the bag. White’s night on Cypress mountain marked the first time more people tuned in to the Games than to American Idol. “Shaun had a lot to do with that,” says teammate Greg Bretz. “He’s made halfpipe what it is.”

White started riding early. He’s been skateboarding since age 6, got his first snowboarding sponsorship at 7, and turned pro at 13. He comes from a line of thrill seekers: His mother’s mother was a roller-derby queen for the Los Angeles T-birds. “My mom had to do her homework at the rink,” he explains. Mom Cathy, 55, a former banquet waitress, and dad Roger, 55, who worked for the water department, loved to surf and ski and took their three kids on sporting trips. Last year for his birthday, Shaun and his mom went sky diving.

There was a time, however, when “it was hard for her to let me out and do things,” White says. As an infant he needed two open-heart surgeries to repair a birth defect. Although he came through fine, the worry lingered. “I was 12 and passed out on a soccer field, and they were like, ‘It’s his heart!'” he says. “I always felt that I had something to prove.”

Although he barely remembers it, White’s childhood illness informed his decision to partner with a sponsor, Target, to outfit the rec room at a home for families of kids getting treatment at St. Jude’s hospital in Memphis. He and brother Jesse, 30, designed the space, and Shaun often visits: Seeing the young patients “is a wild full circle. It’s just heavy. Kids are beating cancer there.”

Surprisingly, for a guy who has suffered concussions, broken bones and a cracked skull, White is a bit cautious-or at least realistic-about his sport. “It’s pretty dangerous. I never attempt something I don’t feel confident in. That’s a good way to get hurt.”

In December his friend Kevin Pearce, one of the few snowboarders to beat White in competition, incurred a traumatic brain injury on the halfpipe. (Pearce watched the Games while recovering at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo., where he is slowly regaining his speech and motor control.) “Everybody’s like, is he gonna snowboard again? I’m like, ‘Who cares?’ I want him to be all right,” says White, showing a photo on his phone of himself and Pearce as teens on a mountain in Vermont.

Pearce’s accident left White shaken, but he has no plans to stop pushing his own boundaries. “I can’t stand there and do just this trick,” he says. He won’t rule out another Olympics but also feels there is a lot more to life. He loves playing rock guitar. “I have a little crew I play with; it’s the only thing I’ve done that has a team vibe. No matter how hard I hit this thing, it’s not gonna be complete without drums, bass, the whole deal.”

Plus, he hasn’t had much time for dating. What’s he looking for? “I like it when girls can snowboard,” he says, adding with a laugh, “But I don’t need some chick trying to shred better than me, take my job.”

For now he’s only sure that he has to prep for the late-night shows, pack for Japan, get in a visit with his family and dog Rambo and try to find a moment of calm. Those often come when he’s on his board, soaring above the edge of the halfpipe. “It’s the best,” says White. “There’s a point where you’re not really going up anymore, but you’re not coming down, and you’re just in this weightless phase. Once I’m up there, I can actually kind of look around; I can kind of enjoy being in the air.”

Contributors: Additional reporting by Lorenzo Benet.


Haunted by her seven months on the Peterson jury, Richelle Nice reached out to the convicted killer. The story of a most unusual correspondence

She keeps them in a tattered manila envelope that she stashes in a drawer in her bedroom—eight letters and an Easter card, each on plain lined paper and written in neat, tight cursive, from the man she sent to death row. Since last August, Richelle Nice, one of 12 jurors in the capital murder trial of Scott Peterson, has become a pen pal to the man she convicted. She writes and tells him about her kids and inquires why he killed his wife, Laci, 27, and their unborn son. He sends her letters back, insisting that he didn’t murder his family, asking if she has any tips on how to pass the time in his cell at San Quentin.

“If someone had told me back during the trial that I’d be writing Scott Peterson, I would have said, ‘Are you out of your mind?'” laughs the 36-year-old Nice, as she thumbs through her pile of letters in the laundry room of the four-bedroom house she shares with her mother and four sons, who range in age from 4 to 18. “But life is weird, and that trial consumed me, even when it was over.”

In his letters—obtained exclusively by PEOPLE—Peterson says that he believes the police investigation into Laci’s murder was not thorough; that he appreciates visits from family and friends; and that he spends much time reading. He asks about her experiences as a juror—what it was like, why she came to the decision that she did. As Nice tells it, the correspondence started as a way to help heal herself. When the trial ended in December 2004, she began to fall apart emotionally. Things had always been rough for her, but she felt that something about the ordeal of spending seven months on the jury had turned her world upside down. So one day the therapist she’d been seeing suggested that, as an exercise, she write Peterson a letter, telling him how his murder trial had begun to push her over the edge. The idea was that she would stick the letter in a mailbox—without an address. But at the last minute Nice decided to go all the way and put Peterson’s name and address on the envelope. “I basically wrote and said, ‘Hi, how are you? I sat on your jury and I have some questions I want to ask you,'” she says. “After I wrote that letter, I didn’t think he’d write me back.”

Then one afternoon last September, her mother hollered out to her from the front room of their house in East Palo Alto. A white envelope was lying facedown on a table. Picking up the letter, she saw the bright red letters stamped San Quentin State Prison. Then, when she read the name printed in the upper left corner, she felt nauseated. “I started shaking and crying and hyperventilating,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what to do. I wondered, ‘Do I call the police? Do I even want to open it?'”

She did, and was amazed at the tone of Peterson’s letter. “There was such a feeling of disconnect,” she says. “It was that same disconnect all of us saw in the trial—just this total sense of detachment. The only way I can explain it is that his letters sound exactly like he acted in the courtroom.”

It is also true that in the letters, which generally run two to three pages, there are echoes of the seductive charm that Peterson used on Amber Frey. Unfailingly polite, he showers flattery on Nice at every opportunity. At one point, he compliments her on her choice of a breast cancer awareness stamp. He voices concern about her losing her health insurance and inquires how her classes in cosmetology are going. He mentions that other inmates take up hobbies, but so far he hasn’t figured out one that appeals to him. “Do you have any insights into this kind of thing?” he asks. When she suggests he try crossword puzzles, he says no—he can only do them at a “third grade level.”

Most of all, though, he wants to convince Nice that he did not kill Laci and Conner. Again and again, he insists that police did not chase down all the leads that would have cleared him. And yet he voices no bitterness, either toward Nice or any of the other jurors. “I am just not an angry person …” he writes on Nov. 3. “I am empathetic to what you went through.” More than once, he talks about how hard the trial must have been for Nice. “He talked a lot about those autopsy photos and how hard that must have been for the jurors to see those,” she says.

As for his life behind bars, Peterson tries to be matter-of-fact, saying he doesn’t go out in the exercise yard much because there is nothing to do. And indeed there is a palpable loneliness in his letters. He contends that he gets far less mail than has been reported and that he doesn’t talk much to anyone else in the prison. At times, he appears to play for sympathy, maintaining that the loss of his family was such a crushing blow that his current discomfort hardly registers. “What do you have to live for?” he writes. “It is hell anywhere you are.” And there is even a sliver of dread, as when he tells her he finds it “disturbing” when another inmate is executed.

Asked why she decided to release these seemingly private letters to PEOPLE, Nice says she was “scared they’d be leaked out” somehow. “I would rather tell my story than have someone else do it,” she says. It is doubtful that the letters will have much, if any, impact on Peterson’s appeal, which is expected to drag on for years. “I don’t see how there could be new evidence coming out if a juror were writing letters,” says Birgit Fladager, one of the prosecutors during the trial, who was asked hypothetically about any possible fallout. “If that happens, it’s generally because the juror wants to share his or her thoughts or is trying to get an explanation for something or wants to somehow stay connected, wants to save that person.” (Lawrence Gibbs, one of the lawyers handling Peterson’s appeal, said he had no knowledge of his client corresponding with a juror.)

In total, Nice fired off 17 letters—most of them about four pages in length. She laughs at the notion that she is writing Peterson because she has fallen in love with him. “I don’t really talk about the letters to too many people,” she says. “But from the people who do know, I get a mixed reaction. After that first letter, some said, ‘Do not continue. Do not write him again.’ It’s definitely not something I walk around and brag about. I know a lot of people are not going to understand.”

She insists that, more than anything else, she’s writing in the hopes that he’ll eventually confess to the murder of his wife. She knows it sounds crazy, but she feels that the only way this tragedy will ever be put to rest is if the man who set everything into motion would admit his role in the crime that left both Laci and her unborn son, Conner, dead. “If he comes clean, I don’t think things will change, but it will put a lot of people’s minds at ease and at rest,” she says. “This has to eat at him. It has to. I don’t know if it will make things better, but it will put his mind at ease. His parents seem like they’re doing everything they can to make things more difficult for Laci’s parents. In one of my letters I wrote, ‘You know, your parents should really let Sharon have her daughter’s belongings.’ [The families once had once battled over the contents of Scott and Laci’s house.] But he won’t respond to that.”

Nice admits that her letters to Peterson are also partly an attempt to find answers to questions about herself. She has never been married. Her four sons were fathered by two different men with whom she had long-term relationships. Over the years she has worked jobs ranging from a nursing assistant to a bank clerk. Last August Nice enrolled in cosmetology school at the College of San Mateo, hoping to eventually start a career as a hair and makeup artist. But in December, after years of mental health issues, she suffered a major breakdown and was admitted into San Mateo Medical Center’s psychiatric ward. She’s currently on a battery of medications for her psychiatric problems. “All my life has been a struggle,” she says.

Through her travails, she couldn’t help but begin to compare her tumult to Peterson’s life of privilege. “I remember thinking, ‘Dude, you had all the resources in the world, and you can’t hold it together any better than that, when the chips are down?'” she says. “When life begins to get a little uncomfortable for you, what do you do? You commit murder? What a sorry cop-out.”


This incredible story shows how John Douglas tracked and participated in the hunt for one of the most notorious serial killers in U.S. history. For 31 years a man who called himself BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) terrorized the city of Wichita, Kansas, sexually assaulting and strangling a series of women, taunting the police with frequent communications, and bragging about his crimes to local newspapers and TV stations. After disappearing for nine years, he suddenly reappeared, complaining that no one was paying enough attention to him and claiming that he had committed other crimes for which he had not been given credit. When he was ultimately captured, BTK was shockingly revealed to be Dennis Rader, a 61-year-old married man with two children.

The Secret World of Daryl Hannah

Daryl Hannah is puzzled. Thirty minutes into lunch at a hip eatery in Venice, Calif., the owner drops by her table to say how thrilled he is to see her back at his restaurant. After he walks away, she stares into her bowl of vegetable soup, stunned that he even remembers her. “I don’t think I’ve been here in 15 years,” she whispers, shaking her head.

Not so long ago Daryl Hannah was a movie star. Problem was, she hated it. But there she was up in lights anyway, a loopy Amazonian blonde who beguiled America beginning with a turn as a lovelorn mermaid in 1984’s Splash. She shared the screen with Tom Hanks, Steve Martin and Harrison Ford. Her romances buoyed the tabloids. But she just wanted to disappear. “I’ve never been comfortable being the center of attention,” she says now. “It’s always freaked me out.” So Hannah dropped herself off the A-list, focused on environmental activism and retreated to a rural spread near Los Angeles. Now the 52-year-old drives a truck that runs on French fry grease, dotes on her rescue pig Molly and, when it suits her, acts—most recently in a little ensemble comedy called The Hot Flashes. But Hannah, who was diagnosed with autism as a child and suffered from “debilitating shyness” as a result of the disorder, says the best thing in her life now is growing comfortable in her own skin. “I’m a grown-up now,” she says. “I’ve learned a couple of things that would’ve really made my life easier if I’d only known them 20 years ago.”

It was a hard road getting there. As a little girl growing up in an affluent Chicago family, Hannah seemed walled off from other people. She rocked incessantly – “I still do,” she says—and “checked out” at school. Doctors diagnosed her with autism at a time when the disorder was not well-understood and recommended she be medicated and institutionalized. But her mother, Susan, a schoolteacher, refused. (Hannah’s stepfather was Chicago developer Jerrold Wexler.) Isolated by her disorder, Hannah found solace watching reruns of old movies. “I thought, ‘If that’s a job, I want to do it,’ ” she recalls. “Acting for me was about going to the Land of Oz and meeting the Tin Man. It still is.”

With her family’s backing, Hannah moved to Los Angeles at 17. An agent noticed her stunning looks and signed her. But overnight success was complicated by her autism, which she hid from movie executives. She refused to do talk shows or attend her own premieres “not because I was above it,” she says, “but because I was terrified.”

These days “I still work,” says the veteran of more than 40 films, “but I’m definitely not being offered the greatest roles in the world.” Getting older is part of it, but despite nasty blog posts, Hannah says she hasn’t had plastic surgery. Rather, her focus is on her causes, which include promoting alternative fuels, marine protection and fighting human trafficking. Hannah has been jailed five times in the past seven years at various protests. “I’ve seen her so nervous she’s literally shaking on a red carpet,” says her best friend, Hilary Shepard. “But she’s learned that when she feels passionate about some cause, she loses all her fears.”

She has also left behind the luxuries of stardom. For two decades Hannah has lived off the grid, pumping well water and relying on solar power for her one-room home in L.A. and for the ranch in the Rockies she shares with a menagerie of animals, including two alpacas. “She’s constantly flying off to help someone or some cause,” says Shepard. “Then she returns with a one-eyed dog.” She’s been “happily involved” with a man for 3½ years; she declines to name him, but she’s been seen with Wallflowers keyboardist Rami Jaffee, 44. She says she learned from past relationships that “I no longer have time for unnecessary drama.”

It’s a good and simple life, and if people still do double takes, remembering that girl who was up there in lights, that’s okay too. Back then, “I wasted so much time scared, self-conscious and insecure,” says Hannah. But this afternoon, as she returns to her chickens, pig and garden, she’s content. “Life,” she shrugs, “is too short to stress the small things anymore.”


For Marine Cpl. Kionte Storey, the Warrior Games are about more than proving he is still an athlete despite losing his leg to an IED in Afghanistan. After leaving his unit he missed being part of a team. “You never quite get that camaraderie back,” says Storey, 24. “But these games were pretty close.” Begun in 2010 by the military and the U.S. Olympic Committee, the event (held May 1 to 5 in Colorado Springs) gives injured soldiers a chance for friendly competition and, says Air Force Sgt. Israel Del Toro, “to talk smack.” Del Toro remains on active duty after being burned over 80 percent of his body by a roadside bomb. All that falls away when he is competing: “You’re focusing on throwing the shot put instead of what happened to you.”

“This event gives you the feeling that you still belong to something,” says former National Guard Staff Sgt. Michael Kacer (competing in shot put for the Army team), injured in a rocket attack in Afghanistan. “The competition is intense, but we’re all in a constant state of cheering everyone on.”

“My first sport activity was a year after the accident,” says former Marine Cpl. Travis Greene (center, during a floor volleyball game). “It was a huge confidence booster.”

“I’ve never felt sorry for myself,” says Kionte Storey (running the 100 meter). “I just keep pushing myself and trying to improve. Athletics and competition help me do that.”

After losing their legs to IEDs in Afghanistan, Marine corporals (from left, in the 1,500 meter) Justin Gaertner and Anthony McDaniel have become formidable wheelchair racers. “Competing is just a natural thing for me,” says McDaniel. “No one can take that from me.” Adds Gaertner: “I’ve done more without legs than I ever did with legs.”

Members of the Army team—veterans (from left) Spc. Damion Peyton, Cpl. Perry Price, Spc. Randall McMinn and Spc. Anthony Pone—are all grins after their victory over the Marines. Wheelchair basketball “took some getting used to. It took me a while to get my shot,” says McMinn. “Also you can take two pushes [of the chair] before you have to dribble.” Otherwise it is traveling, “same as in stand-up ball.”


On a fine November day Amanda Knox did something she could only dream of doing for four long years: She went for a leisurely walk. Knox and her close friend Andrew Seliber took his rescue dog Bogart out to a Seattle park and did some catching up. “She is just so happy to be home and to have her life back in her own hands,” says Seliber, 25, who met Knox at the University of Washington six years ago. “She cherishes the little things: the going out for coffee, the breath of fresh air.” But as they took their stroll-never stopping too long, lest Knox be recognized-Seliber noticed something different about his friend. “She said one of the hardest things for her is having all this freedom and yet having to be so guarded,” he says. “There were times I had the impression she was recoiling into her own thoughts. She isn’t as smiley and bubbly as she was before.”

It was just over three months ago that an Italian appeals court overturned Knox’s conviction in the 2007 murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher and set her free after four years in prison. Since then, Knox, 24, has been quietly trying to resume her life and reconnect with friends, while coping with occasional death threats, her family’s crushing debt from legal fees and her own strange notoriety. As interviews with several people close to Knox show, the transition back to some kind of normalcy has, so far, been tricky. “Returning has been a bit weird for Amanda,” says one family friend. “She still has some of that free-spirit, hippie aura about her, but she’s more realistic now. I think she’s still trying to figure out how she can put everything she’s been through to some good use.”

Knox was just 20 and a University of Washington junior studying abroad in Perugia, Italy, when she and her then boyfriend, Italian student Raffaele Sollecito, were charged with Kercher’s murder. The Italian tabs depicted Knox as a sex-crazed monster, and in 2009 she was found guilty and sentenced to 26 years behind bars. Knox endured a series of grueling, emotional court proceedings and, she has claimed, sexual harassment by an Italian prison official before she was freed on Oct. 3. The first sign of how completely her life had changed after her release came when she got off the British Airways jet that brought her back to Seattle. “She was surprised by the huge press turnout at the airport,” says Michael Heavey, a Seattle judge whose daughter went to school with Knox. “When she was in Italy, she had no concept of how big her case had gotten. She was blown away.”

Knox spent her first days of freedom with relatives on nearby Vashon Island; one of the very first things she did was order Chinese takeout. From early on, she tried to steer her family’s attention away from herself. “She just really wants to know how everyone else is, especially her two younger sisters [teenagers Ashley and Delaney],” says family friend Anne Bremner. “She makes a real effort to give them the attention they often weren’t getting because of what she went through.”

Her parents, Curt Knox and Edda Mellas, divorced when Knox was a child and have their own separate families now. But their daughter’s imprisonment brought them closer together than they had been in years. “Amanda has come back to a blended family,” says a friend, “and that has been a great silver lining for her.” Knox spent the holidays in West Seattle hopping from one relative’s home to another and basking in their joy at having her back. “The whole idea had been to get her home for Christmas, and now she’s home,” says a source close to the family. “It was a very casual holiday with lots of smiles and togetherness.”

Yet Knox’s ordeal has also damaged her family in ways not easily fixed. “Everybody is injured and wounded, and Amanda is in the middle of it all being pulled in different directions,” says Paul Ciolino, a private investigator hired by the family to examine the case. “She has got to be feeling pressure.” For one thing, hiring the lawyers who freed her has plunged her family into debt; friends say they owe upward of $1 million. Proceeds from a planned book will help; Knox, who filled several journals in prison and has been writing about her experience, has signed with top literary agent Robert Barnett and is due to meet with publishers in New York City in January. (Sources say director Ron Howard also wrote her a letter expressing interest in her story.) Still, Knox’s relatives are being careful not to rush her into any deal just for the money. “The reality is they have staggering bills,” says Bremner. “But they don’t want Amanda to feel like she owes them anything.”

In fact, her parents are giving Knox all the room she needs to find her own way. In late October, she moved into an apartment with her best friend Madison Paxton and other pals in the city’s grungy Chinatown district. “It’s not a safe neighborhood, but she doesn’t seem to care about that,” says an acquaintance. “I don’t know many girls who would go down there, let alone live there, but it’s a pretty smart place to hide. No one there cares about Amanda Knox.” Having their daughter leave them so soon after they got her back was bittersweet for Knox’s parents, says Tom Wright, cofounder of the group Friends of Amanda Knox, “but they know that giving her her wings is part of the healing process.”

Knox also sometimes stays at the Seattle apartment of her new boyfriend James Terrano, 24, a musician and longtime friend who stayed in touch with her during her time in prison (she still speaks via Skype with Sollecito, who was also released on Oct. 3 and lives in Italy). Knox, who has no car, gets around mostly by bus or on foot; after years of confinement, says Seliber, “she just walks and walks and walks.” Another observer says, “I once saw Amanda walking down the street in the rain. She was skipping and talking on her cell phone, laughing and looking happy as hell.” Knox has been spotted shopping at an Asian market and buying a Halloween costume at Target, where she was recognized by customers. “She waved to them,” says the acquaintance, “but most of the time no one seems to recognize her.”

There are still days, however, when Knox sleeps in and doesn’t go out until late, if at all; her friends say she’s had trouble devising a set routine after having every hour so rigidly scheduled for four years. But slowly she is finding a rhythm that suits her. She spends lots of time with her sister Deanna, 22, who takes her for spins in her old red Corolla (with a “Free Amanda Knox” sticker still on it). She and Madison take a once-a-week Krav Maga self-defense class, and she has also met with University of Washington professors to discuss possibly resuming her studies in the spring. “She is still working out what she wants to do with her life,” says the family friend. “But right now she’s just trying to live her daily life and be a normal young woman again.”

It helps that she doesn’t have to worry too much about being retried for Kercher’s murder. Legal experts say it’s unlikely Italian courts will reopen the case, and an attorney who counseled the family feels confident U.S. courts wouldn’t extradite her. Knox has had to cope with death threats since returning home, and her family has taken steps to protect her. “Her safety issues are being handled,” says Steve Moore, a retired FBI agent who volunteered as Knox’s bodyguard for 10 days in October. “I don’t think she lives in fear.” The biggest nuisance in her life might be the many photographers who follow her around. “Her life nowadays is very much about cohabitating with the paparazzi,” says Seliber. “She is adamant she doesn’t want to be famous for those horrible four years. But no matter how hard she tries, Amanda is never going to fade into the background.”

That is not to say that she can’t try. One recent afternoon, after lunching on Vietnamese noodles with her stepfather, Chris Mellas, Knox and some friends went downtown to take in an Occupy Seattle protest. “There were people walking around with signs and making speeches, and many of her friends were in the crowd,” says a bystander. “When she got there, she had this excited look on her face, like ‘Let’s see what’s going on.’ ” Then Amanda Knox waded into the sea of young people, and disappeared.

Who’s Who

After Knox’s release, the victim’s brother Lyle told reporters, “We are back at square one.”

Now living with his family in southern Italy, Knox’s ex is planning a future visit to Seattle.

Convicted of Kercher’s murder and sexual assault in ’08, he’s serving 16 years in jail.

The judge slammed prosecutors for their treatment of Knox.

Knox’s best friend moved to Perugia during the case; they became roommates in Seattle.


WIFE #1: Meri Brown: The First Love
WIFE #2: Janelle Brown: The Career Woman
WIFE #3: Christine Brown: The Homebody
WIFE #4: Robyn Brown: The Newcomer

The Man of the House

LEAVING THEIR 16 KIDS AT HOME, Kody Brown and his four wives were in a celebratory mood as they sat down to dinner at a friend’s house on Sept. 27: The night before, their TLC reality show Sister Wives had just premiered amid much buzz. But then came an e-mail on Kody’s fourth wife Robyn’s cell phone, followed by a flurry of calls on everyone’s phones, with really bad news: The Browns’ hometown police department in Lehi, Utah, was investigating Kody for felony bigamy. “It was like a gut punch,” he recalls. Adds his second wife, Janelle, 41: “We all just got this pit in the bottom of our stomachs.” • Brown, 42, and his supersize Mormon family have good reason to feel queasy. Since going public on Sister Wives, the affable polygamist with the rock star hair has found himself at the center of a legal showdown that could land him in prison for up to five years. Last week, Lehi police turned over their findings to the Utah County Attorney, who has yet to decide whether to charge Brown with a crime. Though it’s reportedly been nine years since anyone has been prosecuted for polygamy in Utah, the Brown family has hired a high-powered lawyer to mount a defense of Kody-and their way of life. “I just hope,” says Kody, tears welling up in his eyes, “they don’t put me in jail for loving four women.”

Brown and his wives insist that they understood the legal dangers of doing a reality show and discussed it with their kids. Still, they felt it was a risk worth taking in order to show a side to polygamy different from the most outrageous, headline-making cases. “We understand the outrage and confusion over our lifestyle,” says Robyn, 32, whose recent “spiritual” marriage ceremony to Kody is chronicled on the show’s Oct. 17 season finale. “We’re still Frankenstein and freaks to a lot of people.”

But rather than being scandalous or titillating, Sister Wives paints a picture of the Browns as a surprisingly normal family-with really complicated scheduling. (See box.) The wives have separate wings in the home (Robyn lives in a separate house two-thirds of a mile away) and separate date nights and weekends with Kody, with the occasional group outing. They share parenting duties, bills, chores and social circles. They even watch HBO’s soap-opera polygamy series Big Love. “I like to laugh at it and think, ‘That’s not how it is for us,’ ” says Meri, 39, Brown’s first-and only legal-wife. And, just in case you were wondering, they claim to take a straitlaced approach to the bedroom. “A menage a trois is something college guys do with prostitutes,” explains Kody. “Not something a loving husband does with his wives.”

The Browns may be at peace with their decision to open their doors to TV cameras, but fallout from the reality show hasn’t just been legal. “We are in a community of [polygamists], and most of them are not fond of us being in public,” says Kody. (There are an estimated 38,000 Americans in the western United States practicing polygamy, mostly those belonging to fundamentalist Mormon groups like the Browns.) Says his third wife, Christine, 38: “This is a fear-based society. They don’t want to be outed.”

Then there’s the impact on Kody’s job as an advertising salesman. Though his employer and coworkers have long known about what he calls his “plural lifestyle,” being on TV has meant that “now there are those saying, ‘We need this account assigned to someone who is not Kody Brown,’ ” he says. “Emotionally, the show has been the roller coaster ride from hell.”

Even the children-aged 5 months to 16 years, the oldest of which attend local public schools-have seen firsthand how divisive the issue of polygamy can be. “Two of my friends got grounded, sticking up for us to their parents after they watched the show,” says Aspyn, 14, who, like her siblings, couldn’t imagine her family any other way: “We always have a mom to come home to. You are never alone.” But not all of the kids are planning to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Says Madison, 14: “I love my family, but I want one husband, and I want his attention to be focused on me. I don’t think I could handle the jealousy.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, critics say. “They paint a very pretty picture of this way of life,” says Carolyn Jessop, an outspoken polygamy critic and author whose former husband had numerous wives and dozens of children. “But those of us who’ve lived through it know that when you look a bit deeper, you’ll see this isn’t a natural way to live.”

The Browns’ response to the controversy, meanwhile, has been a completely natural one: Kody and his wives have focused on keeping their kids from worrying about when-or if-police will come knocking on the door, armed with a warrant for Kody’s arrest. “We put on a brave face,” says Kody. “I have to keep believing that it is important that this story be told. No matter what, I have to stick to that for the sake of my kids and the future.”

The Family-Go-Round
How do you schedule a family that includes 1 husband, 4 wives and 16 kids? It’s not easy. “The experience has stretched me a bit,” admits Kody, who uses a pocket planner to keep track of his family time. With each wife in her own living space, Kody—who has no closet or room of his own—shuttles among them according to a set schedule: “We established that each wife has a specific night, and we rotate the weekends [Friday to Sunday],” he says. There’s one household bank account, in addition to each wife’s personal account; Kody and Janelle handle most of the finances. And the family often relies on text messages (one just for the adults, another sent to everyone) to communicate. “It helps to have a little ADD when you have four wives,” jokes Kody. Plus, “I’m a well-trained husband!”

Will He Go to Jail?
Though Kody is only legally married to first wife Meri—the other three marriages are “spiritual”—Utah law considers his mere cohabitation with the other women bigamy. In the past, the authorities have only taken action when cases also involved child abuse, incest or welfare fraud. “There are a lot of considerations we need to assess before we make a determination, including the constitutionality of this statute,” says Julia Thomas, deputy attorney for the Utah County Attorney’s Office. Says the Browns’ Washington, D.C.-based lawyer Jonathan Turley: “State officials know of thousands of polygamists…. It would be a curious thing to select one family for prosecution simply because they appeared on television.”


As Tom Whittaker struggled to keep conscious the night of 27 November 1979, his thoughts focused on a singular plea: Please, don’t let them take my legs. Earlier that evening, a drunk driver struck Tom’s VW van on an isolated, snow-covered road in Idaho and shattered his legs — and his dreams. When he awoke from emergency surgery, the 31-year-old mountaineer’s right leg had been amputated at mid-shin and his right kneecap removed. Devastated, he pondered suicide. Finally it occurred to him: you don’t need your lower leg to kayak. Seven months after the accident, Tom hobbled down to the south fork of the Payette River, and began paddling. In the years since then, Tom has not only taken his life back, he’s taken his family, his fellow sportsmen, and hundreds of thousands of disabled and able-bodied people to the top of the world. In May 1998, Tom became the first amputee to summit Mount Everest. The climb and his inspirational story, as well as his work on behalf of disabled people around the world, have earned him the recognition as one of America’s most courageous heroes.


Felix Baumgartner breaks the speed of sound—without an aircraft

Not long before skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped from a helium-filled balloon 24 miles above the Earth, he sat in an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles to discuss some of the things that keep him up at night. “Death can happen very quickly up there,” he said in between bites of pasta. “When I jump, there’s a chance I could begin spinning so quickly that all my blood will go to my brain, then exit through my eyeballs.”

Fortunately, the man known as “Fearless Felix” is fully intact after his 833.96-mph plunge on Oct. 14landed him in the record books as the first human to travel faster than the speed of sound without the use of a jet or a spacecraft. The former Austrian paratrooper wore a pressurized suit to shield him from the minus 70-degree temperatures and the lack of oxygen that could have caused lethal bubbles to form in his blood.

“When I was standing there on top of the world,” Baumgartner said shortly after landing near Roswell, N.M., “you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore… The only thing you want to do is come back alive.”

Baumgartner’s jump, bankrolled by the energy drink company Red Bull, also made him a global Internet sensation as millions tuned in via desktop and mobile phone to a live-feed of his death-defying descent. What’s next for the 43-year-old daredevil? “I’m retiring;’ he says. “I want to find a nice, decent job as a helicopter pilot.”


SLOGGING THROUGH THE HIP-DEEP snow on frozen feel, icy flakes stinging his face, Jim Stolpa could think of only one thing: the wife and baby he’d left behind in a tiny cliffside cave. It had been two days and 48 torturous miles now since what might have been their last goodbye and a week since their pickup had gotten stuck in the blizzard lashing this desolate northwestern corner of the high Nevada desert. Out in the darkness the coyotes were howling. One, two; one, two. The 21-year-old Army private forced his steps into a comforting cadence. One for Jennifer, two for baby Clayton. One, two; one, two. He began to chant: “I gotta make it…I gotta make it…”

Back in the cave, clutching her 5-month-old son as he nursed, Jennifer also heard eerie howls. The sounds seemed to be drawing closer, like messengers of death. In some ways, it was as if she and the baby had already passed on: The cave was a crypt like space, too shallow to sit up in, and she and Clayton were wrapped like mummies beneath layers of clothing and sleeping bags. But the cold was still numbing. Would they freeze first or starve, wondered the shivering Jennifer. She wept. And she prayed. “I just kept asking God to give Jim the strength and energy and the will to make it,” says the 21-year-old mother. “I was just begging God to help him.” Finally she drilled into sleep.

It had all begun nine days before—what now seemed a lifetime ago—on Monday, three days after Christmas. Leaving their dog, Pooh, with friends, the Stolpa family piled into a borrowed dark-blue Dodge Dakota pickup and headed out of their apartment in Paso Robles, Calif., near Camp Roberts, where Jim worked as a satellite-equipment repairman. Ahead lay an 800-mile drive northeast to Pocatello, Idaho, for the New Year’s Eve funeral of Jim’s maternal grandmother. Jim, always close to his mother, wanted to be there for her.

The family stopped for the night at the house in Castro Valley, Calif., outside Oakland, where Jim’s divorced mother lives with second husband Kevin Mulligan. (Jim and Jennifer had met nearby at San Lorenzo High School, in first-aid class.) They found warm clothing at the house, but no boots. Both were wearing tennis shoes.

Jim’s mother, already in Idaho. called to urge the couple to postpone the drive. She’d heard that several roads were closed because of the fierce snowstorm battering Northern California. “Don’t do it, don’t drive in this weather,” Muriel Mulligan pleaded. Then in words that would haunt the couple, she said, “I don’t want to go to three more funeral.”

The next morning they set off. Interstate 80, the route they had planned to take northeast, had been closed. But instead of turning back, the couple bought maps at a gas station and plotted a course on smaller roads. Jennifer, who had been in the Army Reserve until shortly after her marriage in April 1991, served as navigator.

Late that night the Stolpas passed the one-house town of Vya, Nev. (pop. 2), near the California border. Trying to hook up with State Route 140, they continued east on County Road 8A, a two-lane dirt road that was that night choked with snow. The farther they drove, the deeper it got. Soon they were hopelessly stuck.

In the morning the couple tried digging out the truck, but stiff winds made it impossible. All they could do was wail for traffic—which never came. They were stranded in a wilder-ness area so remote that there are only six homes within 500 square miles.

For three days and four nights, as the snow continued to fall, the Stolpas stayed as upbeat as possible. “I told myself,” says Jennifer, ” ‘If you can make it through basic training. you can make it through this.’ ” They nibbled on corn chips, coconut cookies, a bottle of Jennifer’s prenatal vitamins and fruitcake. They played with baby Clayton, napped, periodically started the truck and turned on the heater and listened to gospel music on the only radio station they could get.

The day of the funeral came and went. When the Stolpas failed to show up, Jim’s stepfather, a media consultant, alerted radio and TV stations and newspapers about the missing family, pressuring authorities to find them. But the problem was that nobody knew what route they had taken.

When Saturday, Jan. 2, broke clear and bright, “we had lo decide whether to stay put and die or do something,” Jim says. They decided to head northeast toward Route 140, which they figured would be about 20 miles. In the truck the pair left a note written on what had been Jennifer’s Christmas list. “To our Potential Rescuers,” Jim wrote. “If we are already dead don’t mind the rest of this letter. But if we are nowhere to be found, we have started walking to 140…. Sincerely, The Stolpa Family.” Jennifer added, “We are carrying with us a 5 mos. old baby. HELP!!!”

Then the couple pulled on almost every item of clothing they had brought: gloves, panty hose, three pairs of sweatpants, four sweatshirts and two long winter jackets each. They slid plastic garbage bags between layers of socks. They tied sweatshirts on their heads. Jennifer laughed when Jim moaned, “I think I’ve got a run in my nylons.” They bundled up Clayton inside two sleeping bags and stuffed him into a maroon garment bag, along with the little food they had left. Jim tied the bag to his belt and towed it through the snow like a sled. The motion seemed to soothe the baby; he only cried when they stopped.

To pass the time, the pair fantasized about what they would order once they made it to a restaurant. When one lagged behind, the other would cheer-lead. “Come on, you can’t stop now,” Jim would urge Jennifer. “We have to make it out of here for Clay.” To help herself, Jennifer quietly recited cadences from basic training. Sometimes she reverted to something even more basic, from childhood: the mantra of the little engine that could: “I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…”

They walked clear through the night. Late Sunday morning they stood on a hill and searched the horizon for Route 140. It was nowhere in sight. “Oh, my God,” Jennifer exclaimed as she started to cry, “we’re not going to make it!”

In desperation the couple decided to hike back toward the truck. But as the afternoon wore on, the temperature dropped and the wind began “blowing so hard it would mess up your balance,” Jennifer says. She told Jim her hips were so sore from pushing through the snow that she could hardly walk. Following Hell Creek, an old cattle trail, they found a small canyon. They spent the night huddled in a sheltered outcropping.

By morning it was snowing again. “There’s no way I’m going to be able to walk today,” Jennifer told Jim. “I’m going to try to find a cave where we can stay.” Moments later she found a tiny indentation barely big enough to crawl into. Jennifer squeezed inside. Jim handed her the sleeping bags and Clayton and wedged the garment bag over the entrance to block the wind. Then he told her he was going for help. “It was tough to leave them, but I had to,” Jim says. “There wasn’t any other way.”

“Saying goodbye to him was the scariest thing in the whole world,” Jennifer remembers. “I didn’t know if that was going to be the last time I’d ever see him. Promising he would get help within three days, Jim kissed his wife and child goodbye. Jennifer didn’t want to watch him go. But she heard him shout. “I’ll make it. Jennifer, I know I’ll make it!”

Jim walked the 14 miles back to the truck that night. By 7:30 the next morning. Tuesday, he was on the road again, pushing through an endless white sea that was broken only by sagebrush and meandering coyote and rabbit tracks. Whenever he felt hungry, he would shove snow into his mouth, and every so often, when he just couldn’t make his frozen feet go another step, he would flop down onto a sagebrush for a catnap. He kept moving through the night.

Late Wednesday morning Jim spotted something. “I started screaming at the top of my lungs and jumping up and down,” he says. “Jesus Christ!” thought David Peterson, the driver of the white Dodge Ram pickup coming down the road. “There’s a cow wandering out there!” When Peterson, 52, Washoe County’s road supervisor, pulled closer, he saw a man who was shuffling instead of walking, his “feet frozen up into big balls.” Frantically, Jim began telling Peterson about his stranded wife and baby, begging him to go find them. “I thought he must have been a little delirious,” admits Peterson, who hadn’t heard anything about a lost family. “He was just out there too many days. Nobody could survive that long.”

Back home in Vya, Peterson began trying to remove Jim’s ice-covered tennis shoes. He radioed a highway maintenance station and confirmed that a family was indeed missing. Peterson immediately began to organize the rescue effort. Jim begged to go along but was in no condition to do so. Over and over he told Peterson to find the Hell Creek sign, then to look for the blue sweatshirt he had tied to a bush—the cave with his family was behind it.

Peterson left with heavy-equipment operator Dusty Ferguson, 41, in Peterson’s truck. His wife, Ruth Ann, tried to thaw Jim’s feet with a hair drier. Even after his shoes came off, his feet were frozen solid. But Jim wasn’t worrying about them. As the afternoon dragged on. there was still no sign of Jennifer and Clayton.

Inside the cave, Jennifer was drifting in and out of sleep. When morning had broken on Wednesday—the day Jim had promised to be back with help—Jennifer could barely control her excitement. “Daddy’s going to be here today!” she told the baby, who was crying because of his sodden diaper. All day she thought she heard the faint roaring of engines. But no one showed up. “I didn’t want to see the darkness,” Jennifer says. She ate snow, burrowed inside the sleeping bag with Clayton and closed her eyes.

Meanwhile, the rescuers were losing hope. Peterson and Ferguson had been following the snowplow driven by heavy-equipment operator Gary Romesha, 42, for five hours. They had already gotten stuck a few times, and the weather was turning nasty, with snow starting to fall. Miles behind them stretched a procession of 30 paramedics, deputies, even a dog rescue team. “With the storm coming and the darkness, I knew it was now or never,” Peterson says. Just then Romesha radioed that he’d spotted the shirt.

When Ferguson reached Jennifer. “I gave him the biggest hug,” she says. “I’ve never been so happy to see another person.” She immediately asked about Jim. “I told her if he didn’t make it then we wouldn’t be there,” Ferguson says. He carried Clayton to the truck, where the baby instantly fell asleep; apart from a case of diaper rash, the infant had survived the ordeal unscathed. Then Ferguson and Romesha returned for Jennifer. She apologized for being unable to walk.

Washoe County Sheriff Capt. Ernie Jesch, who participated in the rescue, says the cramped quarters helped maintain Jennifer and Clayton’s body heat better than a larger cave would have. That choice was an example, he says, of the family’s ability to think and slay calm. “Certainly there was a Lot of luck involved,” he says. “But they created that luck by doing the right thing.”

Until at least Valentine’s Day the Stolpas” home will be a room in Reno’s Washoe Medical Center—a room filled with flowers, a menagerie of stuffed animals in Clayton’s crib, and lots of family and friends. Cradling the baby, Jim’s mother admits that despite the desperation of her son’s 87-mile trek she has to smile when she thinks about what he did. “I was surprised,” she says with a laugh. “He couldn’t walk to the bus stop in high school without first asking to borrow the car.”

Elation over Jim and Jennifer’s survival has been tempered by the rough road they still face. Doctors were forced to amputate parts of their severely frostbitten feet. Although both should eventually be able to walk without crutches or prosthetics, they will require a month of recovery before they can begin rehabilitation. Then there will be at least a month of gruelling therapy. Their hospital bills are expected to top $250,000 apiece. The Army will pay for Jim’s treatment as well as 80 percent of Jennifer’s, but that will still leave a $50,000 tab. The couple are counting on the slew of film and book proposals they have received to help.

For now, though, the Stolpas are not looking too far ahead. “We’re just really concerned about recovering and walking and being able to lead normal lives again,” Jennifer explains. Still, Jim is willing to make one resolution. “Never again,” he says, “will I not listen to my mother.”


Though only 17, Abby Sunderland sounds like an ancient mariner when she describes her “love-hate relationship” with the sea. “Sometimes it’s horrible and it’s trying to kill,” she says. “Other times it’s amazing, with moments you live for.” Either way, she says, “it’s like an addiction.”

Last year that siren call took Abby miles from her home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in a bid to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. After a 60-ft. wave crippled her 40-ft. boat on Day 138, leaving her stranded in the Indian Ocean, Abby and her parents withstood intense criticism-she for taking the trip, her parents for letting her (and agreeing to a reality show, which later fell through). Abby hopes her new memoir will change minds. “People who don’t grow up with sailing,” she says, “don’t understand.”

The second of eight children, Abby spent much of her youth living on boats while being home-schooled by her evangelical Christian parents. She began skippering yachts with dad Laurence, a shipwright, at 13. “One day these guys on the dock joked I was going to be the youngest girl to sail around the world alone,” she says. “I said, ‘Why not?'” After a particularly perilous sail, says Laurence, “I asked, ‘Still ready to sail around the world?’ She said, ‘Show me where my boat is.'”

In 2009, the year her brother Zac, then 17, became the first minor to perform the feat, Abby got her parents’ permission. A corporate sponsor agreed to fund her, which mom Marianne saw as a sign. “If God provided a way,” she says, “then we were good to go.” Abby set sail in January 2010, and for the next six months weathered storms and equipment failures but never once considered quitting. “It’s the thrill of testing yourself,” she explains. “I’m really shy, or I was. I like being alone on a boat-having to rely on myself.” Then, on June 10, a rogue wave rolled her boat upside down, tearing off the mast. By the time a French fishing vessel rescued Abby two days later, her parents were battling a different kind of storm. “The most hurtful thing we heard was that we forced her to do this to make money,” says her mother. “We can’t even get Abby to clean her room.”

Now, as Abby completes her senior year, she is compiling a Bucket List. It includes skydiving, hang gliding, getting a pilot’s license. And one more thing: “I’m still going to sail around the world one day.”



When the Kony 2012 campaign was at the height of its viral frenzy on March 12, with millions having viewed the charity video that brought Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony into the world’s crosshairs, it wasn’t enough for its creator, Jason Russell. “I think the new goal is to beat the ‘Charlie bit my finger’ video,” said San Diego-based Russell, citing a YouTube family video that has so far amassed more than 250 million hits. “We hope it keeps swelling and swelling.” As that wish was granted—Kony 2012 has since had more than 80 million views—there came a bizarre twist in the ‘Make Kony Famous’ narrative. On March 15, in a leafy San Diego suburb, the married father of two was arrested after allegedly parading naked on the street, vandalising cars and masturbating. He was later hospitalised “suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition,” read a statement from Ben Keesey, the CEO of Invisible Children, the charity that Russell co-founded. Russell’s wife, Danica, denied claims the apparent meltdown was fuelled by drugs or alcohol, while Keesey blamed the criticism that Russell, 33, received after the release of the video, which aimed to shed light on Kony’s alleged crimes (see box). Some questioned how the fund spent donations, while others said the video oversimplified a complex issue. In a revealing interview a week before the incident, Russell, an evangelical Christian whose parents ran a Christian youth theatre, shared with WHO his inspirations, his former Hollywood dreams and his relentless drive.

“At the age of 21, I was inspired by a journalist named Dan Eldon. He was in 40 countries in 22 years of life, documenting things that were powerful that were saving people’s lives. At 23, I made a promise to myself that after film school [at the University of South California] I would go to where genocide was occurring, which was in Sudan at the time. I asked a lot of people to come with me and only two guys were crazy enough to go with me. We went to Sudan and ended up in northern Uganda, documenting the Sudanese refugees. [While on the road], the car in front of us got shot up by child soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army [Kony’s Ugandan guerrilla group]. We’d never heard of the war, we didn’t know we were in a war zone. That night, we documented commuters who slept in the street. After spending months with them and Jacob [a Ugandan boy who appears in the video and whose brother was allegedly killed by the LRA] he broke down and we made a promise to do everything we could to find who killed his brother.

My background is actually musical theatre, and I want to bring back the Hollywood musical. I wanted to do Broadway shows. That’s what I’m most drawn to. Right out of college my best friend from film school and my wife and I sold a screenplay [Moxie] to Steven Spielberg. It was a musical. But Kony 2012 is a calling for my life and I feel blessed and honoured to be a part of this.

The mission has always been to stop Kony. And to rehabilitate the children who have been affected. I’m not surprised by the criticism. As anything gets big people are going to want to poke at it. I don’t want to be known or be a celebrity and I don’t want to profit off this at all. My son Gavin [who appears in Kony 2012] knows he’s in a movie, [but] we’re doing all that we can to make sure that it doesn’t become silly.

I just heard that Justin Timberlake is trying to get hold of me because they want to get the whole of MySpace’s 50 million users committed to Kony 2012. Rihanna is on board and so is Jay-Z. The biggest donation we’ve had was from Oprah Winfrey. She gave us $2 million.

Last I heard the video was over 50 million [views]. We don’t know when it will end. Is it 100 million? 200 million views? I think it would be beautiful if we were up there in the top 5 or top 10 [YouTube] videos.

I live in a dream world. My job is to dream what humanity is possibly capable of doing. It’s just full-time. I’ve never calculated the hours. It is my life and my job—they’re intertwined. It’s never not on my mind. Ever.”

On March 5, Invisible Children released a documentary to “Make Kony Famous,” referring to the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony (left), who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The video has had more than 80 million views on YouTube alone. “Our intention is to bring Kony to justice,” said Jason Russell.


For years John Mark Byers believed he knew who the devil was. After the naked, hog-tied bodies of his 8-year-old son Christopher and two of his friends were pulled from a drainage ditch not far from his home in West Memphis, Ark., Byers used to drive into the countryside with a pistol and blast watermelons. With each shot he fantasized that he was pumping lead into the three teenagers who were eventually convicted of the 1993 triple homicide, which police contended was part of a macabre Satanic ritual. But in a startling change of heart, Byers has come to believe that the three men he assumed were guilty of one of the most horrific crimes in Arkansas history are actually innocent. “I was fooled for 14 years,” says Byers. “But now I know an injustice was dealt upon these boys by the State of Arkansas.”

Increasingly, others—including the mother of one of the murdered boys—have come to share that view. At the 1994 trial, the prosecution’s case was almost entirely circumstantial: no credible physical evidence was ever presented to the jury linking Damien Echols (who got the death penalty) and codefendants Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley (both received life sentences) to the crime. But since their conviction, HBO has devoted two documentaries to the case of the so-called West Memphis Three. The case has become a cause celebre, with supporters including Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Tom Waits, Winona Ryder and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines. More important, in October Echols’ high-powered defense team filed a motion disclosing new forensic evidence in the case. The Arkansas Attorney General has declined to comment on the new findings until an earlier appeal now working its way through state courts has been settled.

The latest twist in the case makes Echols, gaunt after spending more than a third of his life on death row, smile from behind the inch-thick plate of Plexiglass at Varner Supermax state prison in Grady, Ark. But a moment later, Echols’ expression turns somber when his visitor asks, “Did you do it?” The 33-year-old inmate just shakes his head. “Even after all this time, it still feels like someone has kicked me in the stomach when I hear that question,” he replies in a soft southern drawl.

Life was forever changed in West Memphis shortly after lunch on May 6, 1993. The previous night, second graders Christopher Byers, Stevie Branch and Michael Moore, best friends who were last seen on their bicycles, were reported missing. When police pulled their severely beaten bodies from a drainage ditch in a wooded area not far from their home the next day, their wrists and ankles had been tied with shoelaces. Peculiar-looking cuts covered their bodies, and one victim’s genitals had been removed by what investigators believed was a knife.

Investigators initially focused on Echols as a possible suspect when a juvenile parole officer suggested that the long-haired 18-year-old with a penchant for black clothing, a love of heavy-metal music and a fascination with the occult could be the killer. At the time Echols, who lived five miles from the crime scene, had had several minor run-ins with police, including attempts to run away from home with his girlfriend. When investigators showed up at the trailer the ninth-grade dropout shared with his parents and sister, Echols denied having anything to do with the murders.

The slayings consumed this bedroom community, which lies across the Mississippi from Memphis, Tenn., and police were under intense pressure to make an arrest. A month later they interrogated Jessie Misskelley, a borderline-retarded 17-year-old who was an acquaintance of Echols and his best friend Jason Baldwin, 16. After nearly five hours, Misskelley told investigators that he, Echols and Baldwin attacked the boys. Misskelley, who quickly recanted his error-filled confession, claimed he was under the impression that he would get a reward and return home if he told police what he thought they wanted to hear.

Despite being offered a reduced sentence, Misskelley refused to testify against Echols and Baldwin. With precious little credible evidence linking them to the murders, the prosecution focused on the teens’ lifestyle, using lyrics from their Metallica CD collection, along with expert testimony from an occult expert who admitted that his doctoral degree came from a now-defunct mail-order college. “If they’d found 10 black T-shirts in my dresser and I didn’t have an alibi,” says attorney David Rees, whose firm represented Baldwin, “I’d have been convicted too.” In February 1994 Echols was sentenced to death by lethal injection; Baldwin got life without parole. (In a statement the attorney general’s office says it “recognizes the importance” of the case but deferred further comment.)

Over the years efforts to get new trials for the West Memphis Three failed. But last year supporters helped raise enough cash for a new defense team, made up of more than a dozen of the nation’s top forensic scientists and attorneys. “I’ve never seen a case where someone was sent to death without a single piece of credible evidence,” says San Francisco appellate attorney Dennis Riordin, who has helped spearhead efforts to overturn Echols’ conviction.

In October the group filed a 500-page motion that undercut prosecutors’ allegations that a knife was used to mutilate one of the victims. “[The mutilation] was from animal predation,” says Dr. Werner Spitz, regarded as one of world’s leading forensic pathologists, who reviewed the case files. “There is no question in my mind.”

The report also found that no genetic material from Echols, Baldwin or Misskelley was present at the crime scene. But according to court documents, two hairs discovered at the crime scene—previously untested by police—bore DNA traces consistent with Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Stevie Branch, and one of Hobbs’ friends. (Through his attorney Hobbs “unequivocally” denied any involvement with the killings.)

In December Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines addressed nearly 200 West Memphis Three supporters on the front steps of the Arkansas Capitol building. “It’s not a debate about opinion. It’s science and it’s overwhelming,” Maines told the crowd before delivering hundreds of letters to Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe’s office, hoping to persuade him to re-evaluate the 1994 convictions. Meanwhile John Byers, who says the new findings convinced him the three were innocent, has written the governor to call for their release. But when asked if he were contemplating pardoning the three or commuting their sentence, Beebe told reporters, “No. Absolutely not.”

Echols, whose execution date has yet to be set, confesses that he’s guardedly optimistic about the turn of events. “They thought they could pin these murders on some poor white trash,” he says. “But I have hope now. I catch myself thinking that by next Christmas I could be out of here.”

Hope on Death Row
The fluorescent lights in Damien Echols’ 8-by-11-ft. cell in the Varner Supermax state prison come on at 4:30 each morning, a typical wakeup time in many prisons. To pass the time, Echols—who hasn’t felt sunlight for five years—practices yoga, meditates, reads, writes poems and essays, cranks out pushups and sometimes runs in place for hours. He only leaves the cell to attend mass or for weekly visits with wife Lorri Davis, a landscape architect who moved to Little Rock from New York City after seeing a documentary on the case. They were married in 1999. “Lorri’s my strength,” he says. “She’s kept me from being swallowed up by the bitterness that threatens to eat me alive in here.”


One morning six years ago, Rebecca Musser buttoned up her brightest red blouse, walked defiantly into a St. George, Utah, courtroom and stared from the witness stand into the eyes of Warren Jeffs, the self-described “prophet, seer and revelator” of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints that Musser had daringly escaped from in 2002.

“We were always forbidden to wear red – Warren told us it was an immoral color,” recalls Musser, whose testimony helped send Jeffs to prison for life for sexually assaulting two minors. “So I thought I’d send him a message and let him know he never broke me and he never would.”

But Musser’s defiant fashion statement wasn’t directed only at Jeffs. It was also, she says, for the thousands of girls and women who remain in the male-dominated cult, “brainwashed into believing the outside world is evil.” Now 37, a divorced mother of two living in Idaho, Musser is on a mission to embolden others still in the sect to question its teachings and understand that life is possible on the outside. Her new memoir The Witness Wore Red details the joys she’s found in freedom as well as the horrors of her life within the FLDS compound in Hildale, Utah, where she was forced at 19 to marry 85-year-old Rulon Jeffs, Warren’s father and the cult’s leader before him. “I spent 26 years in a closed society,” she says, “then I climbed over a wall and got to live again. But I’m still getting that FLDS mind out of me. I still climb fences every day.”

The fifth of fourteen children born to her father’s second wife, Musser grew up learning that men were in charge of women and that suffering in this life meant “salvation in the next.” Sexual crimes were rampant: Musser was 4 the first time an older relative abused her. Chosen to be the 19th of Rulon Jeffs’s wives (he ultimately had 65 in all), “I didn’t want it,” she says. “But rejecting that ‘blessing’ would have brought tremendous shame to my family.” She remembers “feeling Rulon’s hand and how bony it was at our wedding. I had to pull him out of the chair because he couldn’t walk by himself. I kept thinking, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be in love with?’ ”

Rulon, who called his wives “Sweetie” since he couldn’t remember their names, was “manipulative in a passive way,” Musser recalls. “There were things he did to me sexually that if I said no, he was extremely upset. He said, ‘Fine, but you’ll be damned.’ ” Rulon died at 92 in 2002; less than a month later his son Warren, whom Musser calls “brilliant but diabolical,” had taken over the church and married seven of his father’s wives. Warren gave her an ultimatum: Marry him or choose another man. “But whoever you marry,” he said, “I will break you and train you to be an obedient wife.”

Two days later, wearing her standard neck-to-calf-length dress and convinced her “soul would burn in hell,” Musser scrambled over the wall surrounding the compound and fled. “I had no idea what lay outside,” she says. “But it had to be better than life there.”

She made her way to Oregon, to the apartment of one of her brothers who had already left the group, and slowly began learning how to navigate in the outside world. She chopped off her knee-length hair, found a job as a waitress and eventually married a young man who had also renounced the sect.

After her escape, Musser says she never intended to be “so outspoken about the FLDS.” But in 2006, when Warren – who by then had been charged with two counts of sexual conduct with a minor and made the FBI’s Most Wanted List – was apprehended, she changed her mind. For the next six years Musser, who had intimate knowledge of the cult’s inner workings, testified in courtrooms across Texas, Arizona and Utah, sending scores of the church’s elders to prison. “I knew what sexual violations I’d endured in the name of God,” she says, “and I wanted to put a stop to it for others.”

The “pressure” from those 11 different criminal trials eventually helped torpedo Musser’s marriage. Her outspokenness also alienated her from some of her family: She hasn’t seen or heard from her mother or five of her younger sisters since 2005, and her father “has said he can have nothing to do with me.”

But Musser has no regrets. She’s started a foundation, Claim Red, that teaches life skills to ex human trafficking victims. She loves hiking, playing the violin and seeing kids Kyle, 10, and Natalia, 5, “enjoy life—I’m discovering it alongside them,” she says. Not long ago she heard her son tell a friend, “Did you know my mom used to be a slave?”

As she sits in the backyard of her three-bedroom Idaho home, Musser’s smile fades as she ponders the comment. “I’d never used that word before to describe myself,” she says. “But that’s exactly what I was, what all of us were – slaves.”

A Circumscribed Life

Musser (circled) with a few of her sister wives.

Playing violin helped her cope with the stress.

FLDS leader Warren Jeffs shortly after his arrest.


  • These Dogs Could Save Your Life thumbnail
  • On the floor in Michael McCulloch’s research lab is a row of five identical plastic specimen boxes: One contains a breath sample from a woman with ovarian cancer; four are controls from healthy women. Each box is weighted with concrete. Why the concrete? “Some of the dogs come bursting in and make a beeline for the cancer sample. They hit it and it goes spinning across the room,” says McCulloch, 51. “The concrete keeps it in place.”

    For the past 10 years McCulloch—the director of research at San Anselmo, Calif.’s Pine Street Foundation, which studies integrative medicine—has been exploring whether dogs can reliably detect the disease. In 2003 “we trained dogs to smell lung cancer 99 percent of the time and breast cancer 88 percent of the time.” Now partnered with the University of Maine, he and a new canine team—Freeman, Tessy, Majestic, Divine and Captain Jennings—are focused on ovarian cancer. This potential killer has a high 5-year survival rate when detected and treated at a localized stage, but is not often diagnosed that early.

    To make the team, each dog had to correctly identify a sample 30 consecutive times. Freeman, a 6-year-old black Lab, is the standout. “He takes his time, walking the entire line before he shows us where it is. He’s very consistent.” Tessy, 4, an exuberant yellow Lab who used to be a guide dog for the blind, “will come in and take a flying run at the sample.”

    But these aren’t wonder dogs bred to work in labs; they are family pets whose owners volunteer them one or two days a week. Anecdotally, it seems most dogs can sense illness, says retired Tallahassee police-dog trainer Duane Pickle. Anything that “smells different than the surrounding environment, a dog can be trained to find.”

    McCulloch, who trained as an acupuncturist, first got the idea when he was studying Chinese medicine. “A text from the third century B.C. mentions how liver disease causes a change in body odor.” Then he saw a 1989 report in the medical journal Lancet that told of a young woman whose dog had been nipping and pawing at a mole on her leg. It turned out to be melanoma. McCulloch believed he could re-create that phenomenon in a lab. To teach the Pine Street dogs their task, he initially combines the known cancer samples with dog food, while leaving healthy samples untouched. Once the dogs understood what they were looking for, they could pick out the cancer scent without a food hint.

    So does cancer have a smell? What McCulloch thinks the dogs are detecting is metabolic waste “from the tumor cells, which is chemically different from normal cells. The waste travels through the bloodstream and is exhaled out through the lungs.”

    Since news of his study broke, McCulloch has received dozens of letters from people who say their pets saved their lives by drawing attention to undiagnosed cancer (see box). Even mainstream medicine is taking note. “An enormous amount of research is being done to find those proteins present in small quantities in the bloodstream that may signal cancer,” says Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, the American Cancer Society’s deputy chief medical officer. “That a dog could smell these is definitely within the realm of possibility.”

    The dogs’ part will end in December, and McCulloch’s data will begin to be analyzed. Eventually, it is possible dogs may be used to find cancer in its early stages. For now, McCulloch says his findings offer some insight into canine behavior: “When you see dogs on the street sniffing each other, they’re probably asking a simple question: ‘How’s your health today?'”

    ‘My Dog Found My Cancer’

    • In 1999 Nancy Best’s yellow Lab, Mia, kept sniffing her right breast. When she touched the spot, she found it was sore. This led Best, 49, to get a mammogram. Doctors found a fast-spreading form of cancer and treated it successfully.

    • After Jeff Groshong’s Pomeranian, Taz, licked repeatedly at his neck, Groshong, 50, saw the area was puffy. A biopsy revealed cancer in his thyroid; it was removed last April.

    • When Shiloh, a chow-shepherd mix, started sniffing owner Rhonda Valencia’s abdomen in 2004, she shooed him away. Her husband said, “You’ve been run-down for months and now Shiloh is paying weird attention to you.” Turned out she had stage 2 ovarian cancer. “It’s pretty simple,” says Valencia, now 56 (left, with the dog). “Shiloh saved my life.”


He’s paraglided over the Himalayas, escaped from quicksand and snacked on a still-wriggling snake. But a few months ago, Bear Grylls finally met up with a challenge he couldn’t handle. “This nomadic tribe in the Sahara offered me raw goat testicles,” says Grylls, 33, the star of the Discovery Channel’s survival series Man vs. Wild. “As an honored guest, I ate one. It’s just everything you’d imagine. It was the first time I’ve vomited on the series.”

Just another hazard of Grylls’ gig as the MacGyver of the wild. In the series, whose third season premiered Nov. 9, he hurls himself (often by parachute) into inhospitable locales, then shows his audience how to survive using skills he honed in the British army’s Special Air Service, an elite unit trained in parachute jumping and desert and winter warfare. An enthusiastic showman, Grylls (actual first name: Edward) climbs cliffs, swims rapids, eats any critter he can catch and, when the going gets hot, wraps a urine-soaked T-shirt around his head to prevent heatstroke. “I spend a lot of time thinking, ‘I’ve got to get a proper job. This is mad. I’m miserable,'” he says with a laugh, sipping peppermint tea (when not in survival mode, he’s a vegan). “But at the same time, I realize that all this is such a privilege.”

He has been accused of being too privileged: This summer, news broke that he had sometimes bunked in comfy hotels instead of roughing it in the wild during taping. Episodes take about 10 days to make, explains Grylls: “The night stuff [shown on-camera] is all done for real. But when I’m not filming, I stay with the crew in some sort of a base camp.” Episodes now clarify when Grylls gets support from his crew and when situations are staged. “We should have done that from the start,” he says. “The more you see, the more real it feels.”

Grylls’ career in derring-do began in 1994, when he entered the British special forces. That came to an end in 1996 when his parachute tore during a routine training jump 16,000 feet above southern Africa. He landed on his back, breaking it in three places. “No one knew if I’d ever walk again,” he says. It took him a year to recover. And two years after the accident, he climbed Mount Everest—his dream ever since he taped a photo of the peak to his bedroom wall while growing up on Britain’s Isle of Wight. After returning home, he married Shara Cannings-Knight, 33, a climber he met in Scotland, and the two—along with sons Jesse, 4, and Marmaduke, 19 months—live in a converted barge on the banks of the Thames in London. “It leaks, it’s rusty and it’s cold in the winter, hot in the summer, but I can’t think of a better place to live,” he says. Spending so much time taping his series—and taking risks—away from his family is increasingly tough. “Being a real dad involves me not being dead,” he says. “I don’t tell them a lot about what I do. I just return home with a bag full of bloody, muddy clothes and life returns to normal.” But he never stops thinking about his next adventure. “My mind’s full of things,” he says. “My problem is that I need 10 lifetimes to do it all.”

Can Bear Handle…Urban Survival?
You’re walking to a shrink appointment. Suddenly, a pack of crazed poodles comes charging down the street. How do you keep from getting nipped?
“Take off your T-shirt, wrap it around your arm, then offer it to the most aggressive dog. When he bites down, take two fingers and ram them into his eye sockets. That should take care of him.”

You’re desperate to get on American Idol, so you’ve lined up for tryouts two days early. But a nasty rainstorm hits. How do you stick it out without catching a voice-killing cold?
“Lift up a manhole cover and climb inside. It’s nice and dry down there. I used to do that as a kid.”

Just out of the shower, you manage to lock yourself out of your house naked—in a blizzard. Your wife will be home in an hour. How do you survive?
“Well, if it’s just an hour, go for a good run. You’ll be fine.”


“I can help my family now.”

DOUGLAS AYALA, 22, came to this country at age 13 from Guatemala with his parents. “They came to find better opportunities,” says Ayala, who works as a bill collector and hopes one day to become an attorney. If his application is approved in the coming months, “it’s going to change everything for me. I’ll be able to get a better paying job and attend college.” He’ll also get to stop worrying about deportation. “I feel like an American.”

A life beyond the fields
Struggling to find work after high school, JESUS CRUZ, 22, and his sister MONICA, 24, moved to Oxnard, Calif., and began working the fields picking raspberries. “I want to do something important in life,” says Jesus, a native of Michoacán, Mexico. “Not just pick fruit.” Adds Monica: “We’ll now both be able to look for better jobs.”

She wants to save lives
“This is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a dream come true,” says CINTHYA VEGA, 22, a former high school honor-roll student and an aspiring physician who currently volunteers at an L.A. clinic. “This is excitement, like going to Six Flags.” The Puebla, Mexico, native’s plans over the next two years include finding a steady job and using that money to pay for college. “My parents taught me that if you want something, you have to work for it.”

Her daughter will be proud
“I came here from Morello, Mexico, when I was 5. I had a baby when I was a very young age,” says BRENDA ANDRADE, 19. “This will help me in so many ways. First thing I want to do is to get a job and go to community college—maybe become a nurse.” Most of all, Andrade wants to share a successful future with her daughter Violeta, 1. “I want her to see me achieve my goals.”

Afraid no more
“I’d wake up each morning thinking this could be my last day here,” says HUGO PONS, 24, a former high school swimmer born in Rosario, Argentina. Studying to be a physical therapist, Pons says, “It’s life-changing to be able to work with all your documentation.”


  • He hasn’t been on his snowboard in more than six months, yet Kevin Pearce can recall with clarity the sensation of soaring 30 feet above the ground, lingering for a few weightless moments, then pivoting into a controlled descent in preparation for the next takeoff. “It feels free, out of this world,” he says. “Like you don’t have any boundaries.”

    But this morning, sitting outside his physical therapist’s office, his memory is playing tricks. A shaggy young man starts talking to Pearce as if he knows him. “Welcome home, dude. We missed you,” he says. Pearce, unsure if this is a fan he’s never met or an old friend, hedges: “Thanks, man, you’ve got no idea how good it feels to be back.” After they knuckle-bump and his well-wisher leaves, Pearce whispers to his mom, Pia, “Do I know him?” “It’s okay,” she tells him. “You don’t need to worry about that now.”

    Last year Pearce’s sole concern was the Olympics in January. He was one of the few to have beaten snowboard deity Shaun White, 23, a friend and rival. But during a Dec. 31 practice in Park City, Utah, Pearce, 22, was coming down from a high-flying double-cork move when his head slammed the edge of the half-pipe course. “Kevin sustained a severe injury to the heart of the brain, the part that controls bodily functions, movement, memory, problem solving and decision making,” says his neurologist Dr. Allan Weintraub. For more than a week, he lay in a coma under a tangle of feeding, breathing and drainage tubes. “It was harrowing,” says Pia. “No mother should have to see this.”

    Her son, like most pros, had had his share of concussions and broken bones before, but she had never known one to suffer a traumatic brain injury. Coming out of the coma was a long process. “I felt he could hear me before he opened his eyes,” she says. But encouraging milestones came regularly: He squeezed his dad’s hand; he said “Mom”; he recalled some favorite Neil Young lyrics. In all he spent four more months in hospitals in Utah and Colorado, undergoing surgery, relearning to walk and watching from bed as White won gold in Vancouver-thinking at the time, “I should be there.”

    After thriving on high speed and solo flights, Pearce now must slow down and lean on others. “It’s hard. I never want to stop.” Fortunately he is surrounded by people eager to help. Pearce has returned to the Vermont family home with the skate ramp in the yard, where two of his brothers got him into boarding at age 6. Adam, 25, took a leave from his job as a school sports coach to help care for Kevin. Andrew, 29, an engineer, postponed his wedding. And leading by example is Kevin’s third brother, David, 24, who was born with Down syndrome. “David has taught me life isn’t always easy,” says Kevin. “He taught me how to be patient for him and, now, for myself.” Growing up, adds David, “he was there for me.” And lately “I have given him support.”

    David, who has competed in Special Olympic skiing, basketball and swimming, lives nearby, on his own with a caretaker, and works part-time at a hospital and at their father Simon Pearce’s renowned blown-glass factory. Still, some tasks occasionally present hurdles, not just for him, but for loved ones. “Almost everything is much slower for David,” says Adam. “Now it is the same with Kevin. He forgets the little details he needs to get through the day. It’s easier for us-we’ve gone through it with David.”

    Dr. Weintraub says Pearce’s rehab is progressing as expected: “His recovery will continue over the next one to two years, or longer.” For now, even small milestones are notable. “I cooked my first egg this morning,” Kevin announces. “The best egg Kevin’s ever had,” jokes Adam. Getting here has meant seeing five specialists to improve his vision, balance, speech, motor skills and memory. “He’s doing remarkably well,” says physical therapist Kate Janczak. “But it can be frustrating going from training for the Olympics to learning how to do everything.”

    Years ago Kevin was a turbo-charged, dyslexic kid who saw snowboarding as a way to help him cope-and excel. “I could get all my energy out, then sit for a full day of classes,” he says. By age 15, he was winning competitions. “He shreds so smoothly, like no one else,” says fellow pro Danny Davis. Besides his grace, Kevin was known for spectacular come-from-behind victories. “It was amazing to watch,” says dad Simon. “This trait will stand him in great stead with his challenges now.”

    Kevin says that he often feels like the guy he used to be. Indeed, one day the skate ramp in the yard proves too tempting. “You’re not dropping [down the ramp’s wall], I want that to be abundantly clear,” Pia tells her youngest son.

    “Can I pump back and forth?” pleads Kevin, hoping to ride the ramp’s flat bottom. “I won’t fall. I promise.” Reinjuring his brain could be devastating, and Mom wins this one. He concedes, “That’s what a mom is for.”

    If he seems blithe about risk-taking, it may be because Kevin, unlike his family, remembers nothing of his early days in the hospital or of the accident. “I’m dying to see it,” he confides. “It was on YouTube, then they took it down. I just want to see what I did wrong.” Will he ever revisit those soaring heights? He doesn’t know. “Flying is a pretty addictive feeling,” says Kevin. “I think about it a lot.” Hearing this, Pia says, “My greatest wish is for him to continue doing the things he loves.” She adds quietly, “But the half-pipe is dangerous for someone with an injury like Kevin’s.”

    “Maybe I’ll start riding powder,” he says, referring to a more earth-bound style of the sport. “It’s softer.”

    “Powder,” his mom agrees. “Powder would be nice.”

1965-2012 RODNEY KING

About once a year, Rodney King would be watching TV in the living room of his Rialto, California, bungalow when a program would flash the infamous footage of him being beaten nearly to death. The amateur video, which careened King into America’s—and the world’s—consciousness in 1991 and would be the catalyst for the 1992 Los Angeles riots, shows members of the LA Police Department surrounding King following a high-speed car chase, and hitting him with batons more than 50 times. “I just smile because I survived it,” he told WHO in April during publicity for his auto-biography. “What has really helped me has been the worldwide support. When I understood that lots of people cared about my case, that gave me the strength to keep moving on.”

On June 17, in his swimming pool at his modest home just outside Los Angeles, King’s troubled journey came to an untimely end. After his fiancée, Cynthia Kelly, discovered King, 47, at the bottom of the pool at 5.25 AM on the Sunday morning, responding officers pulled him from the water. The father of three was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Police said there were no signs of foul play and they are now conducting a drowning investigation. At press time, a cause of death had yet to be determined. King, a construction worker who battled alcoholism, “was a symbol of civil rights,” said civil-rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton. “It was his beating that made America focus on the presence of profiling and police misconduct.”

On the night of the beating on March 3, 1991, King, who was then on parole after a robbery conviction, had been drinking and was driving home with friends. Fearing he would be sent back to jail when police began to pursue the speeding white Hyundai, the 25-year-old tried to flee. He eventually pulled over near an apartment block in LA’s Lake View Terrace, where four officers surrounded him. He was tasered when he resisted arrest and a nearby resident filmed what followed. The video showed two of the officers delivering 56 baton blows as he attempted to rise. King said they also shouted racial abuse at him. “I can still remember my scream,” King told WHO in one of his last interviews. “It was like a death scream.”

After all four white officers involved were initially acquitted in 1992, riots erupted in South Central Los Angeles. During the violence, King issued what became a famous appeal for peace: “People, I just want to say, can we all get along?” By the time order was restored three days later, 54 people were dead, 2,000 were injured and the city had sustained $1 billion in damage. “The viciousness and violence were unnerving,” said the then Governor of California, Pete Wilson. “It scared the hell out of a lot of people.”

What followed was an overhaul of the LAPD, and a federal trial that found two of the officers guilty of violating King’s civil rights. They were sentenced to 30 months’ prison. In 1994, King, who was a high-school student when he discovered his alcoholic father dead in the bathtub, received $US3.8 million in damages, much of which he says he lost on the stock market after 9/11. Said King: “If I were anywhere else in the world, I would never have received justice.”

Just weeks before his death, King published his memoir, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption, and was dabbling in acting. He had begun to take control of his alcohol problem, explaining that he was no longer drinking “as much as I used to,” following a 2011 drink-driving arrest. Next year, he planned to marry his fiancée, who was a juror in his 1994 civil trial, and was spending his days watching his grandkids splash about in his pool. “I’ve got no complaints, I’ve always been lucky,” said King. “I finally found peace in my life.”

After 56 baton blows and six kicks, LAPD officers placed King under arrest. He was then taken to hospital. He suffered fractured facial bones, a broken ankle and other injuries. Says King: “When I was inside the hospital, a lady told me, ‘Baby, don’t worry, we saw it all on TV. Somebody videotaped it.'”


  • Once a favorite grandson of the world’s richest man, John Paul Getty III seemed destined for days of boundless affluence and leisure. Instead, the family billions bought him a life rich in over-the-top drama-and painfully devoid of ease. Getty first blazed into the public eye at 16, the victim of a kidnapping that cost him his right ear while his American oil tycoon grandfather dithered over paying ransom. At 17, he married, enraging his estranged father by wedding so young-and forfeiting his share of a trust fund that stipulated he could not marry before 22. At 25, a drug-induced stroke left him a quadriplegic, nearly blind and unable to speak. But though he spent the rest of his days confined to a wheelchair, attended by round-the-clock minders, Getty maintained a zest for life.

    “His strength of character was unbelievable,” says his friend Philippe Mora, a film director. “He always had this hunger to know what was going on.”

    On Feb. 5 Getty, who spent his final years in Europe, died at the family’s 2,500-acre Buckinghamshire estate, northwest of London, surrounded by his immediate family. He was 54. “[He] never let his disability keep him from living life to the fullest,” said his son Balthazar Getty, an actor, who appears on ABC’s Brothers & Sisters. “He was an inspiration to all of us, showing us how to stand up to all adversity.”

    Born in San Francisco in 1956, Getty (known as Little Paul) grew up with his three younger siblings in Rome, where his father (called Big Paul) served as head of the Italian wing of the Getty oil conglomerate. Just 8 when his parents divorced, Getty was subsequently raised by his mother, former actress Gail Harris, and only rarely saw his reclusive father, J. Paul II. A party boy by the time he was 15, Getty once described himself as a “real menace” who was “thrown out of seven or eight schools” before he dropped out of high school and took up a bohemian lifestyle that didn’t play well with all members of the sprawling clan spawned by grandfather J. Paul I and his five wives. By day Getty made and sold paintings and jewelry; by night he partied in Rome’s most fashionable nightclubs. “[My] dad would try to keep us away from [J. Paul III] because he felt he was a bad influence,” says a family member. During this period, this relative claims, Getty “was hanging out with the Red Brigade. He thought it was the hip, rebellious thing to do.”

    That wild-child reputation, compounded by rock-star good looks, earned Getty the press moniker Golden Hippie after his kidnapping in 1973-an event that captured international headlines. In a 1974 interview with Rolling Stone, he said he was seized by four men around 3 a.m. (shortly after visiting a Rome newsstand), bound, pistol-whipped, then driven to Calabria, where he spent the next five months blindfolded by day and often tethered. Initially his notoriously tightfisted grandfather refused to meet the ransom demand, saying, “I have 14 other grandchildren, and if I pay one penny now, then I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” Some within the Getty clan suspected the matter was a hoax staged by J. Paul III that “became a real kidnapping when things failed to work,” says the relative.

    The game changer: the severing of Getty’s ear. “It happened very fast,” Getty told Rolling Stone. “It sounded like a pssst….I bit right through that wad of handkerchief and cried.” After J. Paul III’s ear and a lock of his hair arrived by mail at a newspaper in Rome, according to biographer Robert Lenzner, J. Paul I ended the standoff by contributing $2.2 million-and charging J. Paul II interest for the rest of the almost $3 million ransom. As for J. Paul III, “I don’t think he was ever normal again,” says the relative.

    Though his subsequent marriage to German filmmaker Martine Zacher, then 24, cut Getty off from his family’s wealth, he remained a familiar face in elite counterculture circles. “He was well-liked by the intelligentsia, folks like [Andy] Warhol,” says Mora. Left to fend for himself, Getty tried to make it in Hollywood, pursuing acting and working as Mora’s assistant. “He was very film literate and had very valuable connections,” says Mora. Among his enthusiasms: an appetite for drugs and booze-a deadly combination that after his stroke left him with a monthly home-care tab of $25,000. When Getty’s father refused to foot the bill, his mother took the matter to court, where a judge lectured J. Paul II: “Mr. Getty should be ashamed of himself. He’s spending far more money on court obligations than on living up to his moral duties.” Funds and a reconciliation followed. “They became very close,” says Getty’s godfather William Newsom. “They saw each other on a daily basis.” Upon J. Paul II’s death in 2003, Getty was well-off. “He had millions,” says Newsom, “not billions.”

    Though his marriage dissolved in 1993, he stayed close to his former wife. And he remained alert and engaged. A relative recalls taking him for a spin in his wheelchair on the Buckinghamshire estate. “It was sort of like Mr. Toad’s wild ride,” he says. “We zoomed about, and he seemed to have a ball.” To the very end, Getty never lost his sense of humor. “If anyone mentioned anything scandalous or risque, he loved it,” says Mora. “He definitely didn’t want people feeling sorry for him.”


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  • Bella, a 35-lb. mutt, loves chasing rodents. Tarra, 8,500 lbs. of pure Asian elephant, gets her kicks rolling logs. Yet despite these and more significant differences, the two are inseparable. For seven years they’ve romped, rested and eaten together at Hohenwald, Tenn.’s Elephant Sanctuary, a residence for rescued pachyderms. It’s also home to many a stray dog, though normally those with trunks and those without don’t mix. “I’ve never heard of anything like this happening before,” says co-founder Carol Buckley, who recently sold a children’s book on the unlikely union, due in stores next year.

    Elephants are social creatures and most of the 17 at Hohenwald have paired off. In 2002 Tarra, a former tire store mascot, was spotted asleep in the grass with new arrival Bella curled next to her massive head. Five years later, when the dog was injured, the elephant stood vigil for two weeks outside the onsite clinic. Granted a visit, Tarra “touched her so gently with her trunk that Bella immediately relaxed,” says Buckley. Now healed, Bella and her big pal, already a hit in a CBS video that went viral on the Internet, may become the subjects of an animated film. Will fame cause a rift? Buckley doubts it. When last seen, “Bella was leaning on Tarra’s foot, getting petted by her trunk.”


  • It’s been another long and brutal workweek for machine specialist Greg Erlandson and, as on every Friday evening, the soft-spoken Navy veteran is racing to his Oceanside, Calif., home to log on to his computer in hopes of lining up odd jobs for the weekend. Despite having full-time work, after racking up debt during years of unemployment, he needs the $185 that his weekend jobs pay. “Sure, it would be nice to get a day off,” says Erlandson with a good-natured chuckle. “But I have too many bills, and these day jobs are the only thing keeping me above water.”

    Not long ago this 20-year Navy vet was homeless with his wife and three sons. He credits an online job board,, and the couple behind it, Mark and Tori Baird, for turning his life around, just as they have done for thousands of others looking for work after military service. “The most therapeutic thing for a guy who’s been in combat is work,” says Mark, 62, a retired Christian pastor. “It gives them purpose and direction.”

    In February 2005 he and Tori launched a job board to match retired or active-duty military with local residents who need yards mowed, plumbing fixed or homes painted. “Within a few months we were getting 10,000 visitors a week,” says Mark. “There are a lot of young guys who get out and have all the military bravado, then slam into reality, and it’s real hard to find a job.”

    With the jobless rate among young post-9/11 veterans 5 points higher than the national average, the need is clear. “A squadron commander may have incredible leadership skills, but it doesn’t translate into the civilian sector,” says retired Lt. Gen. Donald Jones. And while many veterans have training paid for by the GI bill, says Jones, “it can take months to get certified; that can mean months without a paycheck.”

    Having lived that way for much longer, the Erlandsons see those job links as a godsend.”I’ve got no idea what we would have done without the Bairds,” says Greg’s wife, Denette, 44. “They’ve just always been there for our family and for plenty of folks like us.”

    Since retiring from the Navy in 2000, after two decades spent maintaining everything from diesel engines to air-conditioning systems, Erlandson, 52, struggled to find full-time work. He qualified initially for a pension of $1,200 per month, which dropped to $600 five years ago due to budget cuts. The family’s situation got so bad in 2010 that they spent seven months living in a tent at Camp Pendleton. “That was pretty much the lowest point,” recalls Erlandson, whose already-tight finances were further strained—despite having military health insurance—after oldest son Dilon, 18, was diagnosed with leukemia last August. (Their other boys are Trever, 11, and Jake, 7.)

    Shortly after Erlandson was laid off from a job running sheet-metal cutting machinery in April 2006, he learned about HirePatriots from a Marine buddy. Not only did he come to depend on their day jobs during the two years he spent looking for full-time work, but he eventually found a permanent position maintaining manufacturing machinery after posting his résumé on their website. When that job ended in another layoff, Erlandson went back to searching, taking every job he could find.

    The Bairds first met him at one of the job fairs they organized. “He’s a down-to-earth, humble man, who had a good résumé and was obviously very intelligent,” recalls Tori, 52, a retired businesswoman. “But like a lot of guys, he wasn’t getting hired.” And when the Erlandsons were homeless, the Bairds loaned Greg the RV they had once lived in after selling their own home, having sunk their life savings into HirePatriots. “After three years we ran out of money,” says Mark. “We just kept working—thank God for free Wi-Fi at Starbucks!” Now grandparents, he and Tori have moved to Big Bear, Calif., where they work from a rented cabin.

    The rewards, they say, outweigh the sacrifice. In eight years they have filled more than 50,000 day jobs and assisted some 1,500 veterans in finding full-time employment by helping them polish résumés and by making calls on their behalf to vet recruiters around the nation. Those hiring are also pleased, they say. “It’s not uncommon to get calls telling me what a great worker and great person Greg is,” says Tori. “I get lots of calls. Those one-day jobs give civilians an opportunity to meet veterans and let them understand their reality.”

    That has made a life-changing difference for Erlandson. “I get tired, let me tell you,” he admits. “But I’ve got a family to provide for. That’s what gets me up in the morning.”

    Mark and Tori Baird had no intention of becoming an employment agency. But one afternoon in 2004, a marine, just home from Iraq, knocked on their door in Oceanside, Calif. The marine said he needed $100 to get his family’s electricity turned back on and asked if they had any odd jobs. “I offered to give him the hundred dollars,” recalls Mark. “But he said, ‘No, sir. I don’t want a handout. I want to work.'” They found a dozen jobs around their house and, five hours later, the soldier left with his pay. Today you can post an opening anywhere in the U.S. on their website. The couple are currently working to create chapters of their organization in other parts of the nation. “We’re on a mission,” says Mark. “Helping these service members is the electricity that makes our engines run.”

    1. Hire a veteran. Businesses and individuals can post full-time positions or one-day jobs.
    2. Donate. Give $25 to help create a national jobs network and fund transitional training.
    3. Get involved. Start a HirePatriots chapter in your area.
    Go to and follow the PEOPLEFirst buttons.

    Contributors: With Sharon Cotliar.


Just before noon on the field behind Chico Junior High School, Sawyer Goodson, 13, sits at his drum kit, oblivious to his three bandmates and the dozens of kids watching him. Idly tapping a drumstick against his cheek, Sawyer, who is autistic, counts rooftop air-conditioning ducts and scans the air for bees.

“Thawyer, you ready?” his brother, Evan, 11, shouts with his trademark lisp. Sawyer thrusts his drumsticks skyward, then slams them down as the band explodes into a rollicking version of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. The crowd goes wild, a churning sea of backpacks and baggy jeans.

Classmates cheering their sons—it’s a sight Dan and Julie Goodson thought they’d never witness. Sawyer, diagnosed at 6 with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism, has an unnerving way of staring at people and, at other times, disrupting class with grunting sounds. Evan, along with a speech impediment that makes him sound as if he has marbles in his mouth, has other issues, including extreme sensitivity to certain noises and a tendency to cry during class. In the unyielding social pecking order of schoolkids, Sawyer and Evan Goodson were outcasts—ignored or, worse, taunted with names like “freak” and “weirdo.”

But not anymore. Ever since they formed their band, Jet Fuel Only, life for the Goodson family of Chico, Calif., began to change. “Before,” recalls Julie, 46, “when I’d take them to school, I used to worry and worry. I’d worry they were being teased and there was nothing I could do to protect them.” These days, though, Sawyer’s disconnected manner and Evan’s idiosyncrasies pass for a type of cool—after all, rock musicians are supposed to be different. “Now, when I drop them off, their friends run up to them and hug them,” Julie says. “It just warms my heart.”

Dan Goodson’s heart was broken when, three years ago, he would stop by the school at lunch hour and see Sawyer sitting alone on the lawn. By fourth grade, says Goodson, “he was the go-to guy to get picked on.” Goodson, a 44-year-old air-transport pilot, had also been teased growing up—he used to wear thick glasses—and he couldn’t bear the thought of his sons suffering through their school years. “All I wanted was for them to have friends, to give them a bit of self-respect,” he says.

The way to do that? Give them something to be good at, Goodson decided. Recalling an article he’d read on music’s effect on the brain, he started searching out instruments for his sons. “Every specialist I asked told me not to waste my time,” he says, laughing. “But I was desperate.” While little research exists on the subject, some therapists say music can help autistic kids by focusing their obsessive tendencies in a social direction. “They can develop an interest that can be shared with others,” says Dr. Susan Schmidt-Lackner, an autism specialist at UCLA. Evan quickly locked onto guitar; Sawyer couldn’t bear feeling the strings against his fingertips but showed a facility for drums, copying a rhythm his father tapped out—and wearing earmuffs and goggles to buffer himself from the still-new sounds and sensations.

The two played their first gig in the cafeteria of their former elementary school in February 2005, performing covers of tunes by the Beatles, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. “That first concert changed our lives,” recalls Evan, a sixth-grader at Citrus Elementary School whose rock idol is AC/DC guitarist Angus Young. “Kids started asking me to autograph their arms.” Sawyer rocks back and forth as his brother talks. “I’m just happier when I play music, crazily happy,” says Sawyer, in seventh grade at Chico Junior High. “And the kids treat me differently now.” Soon they were joined by bass player Emma Blankenship, 12, who has known them since kindergarten, and guitarist David Love, 12, who became a fan while watching footage of the concerts on their Web site (

Once empty, the boys’ social calendar is filling up with birthday parties and sleepovers. “Around here, they’re rock stars,” says Sierra Gonzalez, 11, one of the boys’ few pre-band pals. Joseph Grundy, 11, used to avoid Evan after meeting him last year. “I didn’t really have much to do with them,” he recalls. “But after I heard them play, I wanted to be their friend. Kids like rock. What else can I say?”

The boys’ biggest fan, however, is their 7-year-old, severely autistic brother Cameron. Nonverbal and withdrawn much of the time, he has started to play air guitar when his brothers jam in the garage. “I watch the interaction,” says Julie, “and I just can’t believe what I’m seeing.”


Since his release from death row last summer. Damien Echols has found himself savoring the small things.

“Last night I sat on a park bench eating ice cream and just watched the moon,” he tells PEOPLE’s Johnny Dodd. In his new memoir Life After Death, Echols, 37, one of three men convicted of murdering three West Memphis, Ark, boys in 1993, opens up about the horrors of his 18-year incarceration-which ended in a plea bargain after a long fight to prove his innocence-and the hard-luck life that helped land him in prison. Now living in Salem Mass., with his wife, Lorri Davis, Echols admits that adapting to freedom hasn’t been easy. “I get overwhelmed with fear about getting lost,” he says. “Learning how to use the subway, an ATM card, the Internet-for most people, technology came in bits. For me. it came all at once.” But it’s a small price to pay, he notes, for the chance to build a life. “After all those years,” says Echols, whose memoir is excerpted below, “I’m finally getting to do the things I dreamed about.”

Echols grew up “dirt poor” with his mom, sister and abusive stepfather.

We lived in a shack for 30 dollars a month. No running water or electricity. Jack Echols was the first man to pay attention to my mother after my father left. Most of his teeth were missing. He pinched me until I turned purple, bent my fingers backward, and twisted my ankles. His excuse was that he was trying to “toughen me up.”

Turning as a teen to heavy metal, long hair and trench coats, Echols stood out in conservative West Memphis. After his arrest at 17 for trespassing while running away with his girlfriend, he met Jerry Driver, a police department employee who worked with juveniles, who became convinced. based on Echols’s appearance, that he belonged to a Satanic cult. The charges were later dropped but Driver continued to harass him.

Once he showed up at the front door. “I’m here to arrest you,” Driver wheezed. This was quite a shock, as the only crime I had committed was not being in school. I was put in chains and shackles like a convict, then left in jail for a few weeks.

On May 5, 1993, Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers were murdered in West Memphis. Immediately police homed in on Echols, his friend Jason Baldwin and their acquaintance Jessie Miskelley; all three were found guilty, but only Echols was sentenced to death. Prison life was hell.

One night two guards handcuffed me and took me to the warden’s office. One held me up by the hair as the warden choked me. One of the guards kept punching me in the stomach while asking, “Are you going to tell anyone about this? Are you?”

[Another thing] you never get used to is that one day a man is there, the next he’s [been executed]. Insanity is rampant on Death Row.

In February 1996 Echols received a letter from Lorri Davis, a New York landscape architect moved by his plight after seeing an HBO documentary on his case. In trading letters, they fell in love. I knew I was in love with Lorri when I started to wake up in the middle of the night cursing her for making me feel the way she did. Without her, I would have died. We weren’t able to touch each other until December 1999, when we were married.

Daily meditation helped him as well, but by summer 2011 Echols’s health was failing, and he was struggling to stay sane. Then came the call: His attorneys had finally struck a deal that would allow him to go free.

People keep asking me what I was thinking the day I walked out of prison. The answer is nothing. I wasn’t thinking of anything at all, much like the day I walked into prison. The trauma was just too great. My 18-year-old son Seth [from a prior relationship] and I are slowly trying to bond. We don’t know each other, but we’re learning. When we talk on the phone, I have the entirely new and foreign feeling of being a father.

These days, I try to look forward. I’m tired of looking back. Ultimately, I know that freedom isn’t enough. The only way all three of us will be able to live the rest of our lives is by being exonerated. The person or persons who murdered those three children, and who put me on Death Row for eighteen years, need to be found and brought to justice.