Our wedding was one month to the day away as I found myself clinging desperately to Tom's strong arm in the backseat of an unmarked police car as we drove from parking lot to parking lot in search of my rapist's car.
I hadn't slept at all the night before. The sedative the doctor had given me hadn't worked and my mind kept thrusting me into the middle of the rape. Over and over again, I thanked God for saving my life. I marveled at God's sheer power and faithfulness to be with me always. When words failed me, I prayed in my spirit knowing that God would understand my heart. I basked in His presence and tried to rest.
Detective Brimmer's telephone call came early the next morning.
"Because you were so clear-minded in your descriptions and gave us his license number, we think we've located him," he said. "If you're up to it, we'd like you to come down to the station."
I had been stunned. I couldn't remember giving the police the license number.
Tom had driven me downtown to the old gray building and we were led to the basement where Detective Brimmer and his partner, Detective Foster, were waiting. Detective Brimmer had to clear the wooden chairs of newspapers and files before Tom and I could sit down. On his desk was a half-empty family-size bottle of Pepto-Bismol. Its empty twin was lying on top of crumpled papers that were stuffed in an overfilled wastebasket.
"We think we've found the guy," Detective Brimmer said. "We're going to drive you by some locations and all we want you to do is look around for his car. If you see it, just point it out to us, okay?"
"Okay," I answered.
We drove directly to the Bargain City parking lot that had been blistering bright the day before, but was gray and dull on this cloudy day. This didn't feel like the Fourth of July.
"No, I don't see anything like his car."
We drove across the street to the Greenwood Mall parking lot, passing the movie theater where I'd seen many films as a kid and the dime store where I'd parted with many a week's allowance.
"No, I don't see anything."
"Are you sure? Look again, be sure."
We drove several miles and pulled into the parking lot of a Hostess Day Old Bread store. My throat tightened as I recognized his car parked in front of the store. O my God, did that mean he was inside?
"That's it," I said, my voice sounding much stronger than I felt. "I'm sure. That is the car he drove away in."
"All right, that's all we needed," Detective Brimmer said as he slowly drove away. "You've done real well, Leisha."
My stomach churned as Tom drove me home. I was relieved that the police had found him so quickly, but I knew the days to come would bring a horror of their own. Tom looked grim as he leaned over and kissed me good-bye.
"Aren't you going to come in?" I asked.
"No, I have something I have to do."
I stood on the porch and watched him drive away without looking back.
Tom drove directly to his house and walked in without a word.
"Hello, Tommy, how did it go with the police?" Tom's mother asked. But he brushed past her and walked to his bedroom, coming out just moments later.
"Tommy . . ."
"Oh, fine, Mom. Fine. They found him."
"Found him! Wait, where are you going?"
"I have something to do," Tom said, hurrying out the front door.
Tom looked at the sharp blade on the sturdy army knife on the seat beside him as he pushed the gas pedal. It looked threatening and deadly, just like he felt. His heart burned with a need for vengeance. At the speed he was traveling, it didn't take Tom long to reach the Hostess store. He slammed on the brakes, grabbed the knife and burst through the door.
Inside, the bakery workers saw the knife and scattered.
"Who owns that car out there?" Tom shouted, pointing to the vehicle I'd just identified.
The workers, who were hiding behind counters and bread racks, were silent.
"I said I want to know who owns that car because I'm going to kill him," Tom shouted again.
From behind a bread rack a frightened voice said, "You're too late, buddy, the police just picked him up."
Tom shook with fury as he got in his car and drove home.* * *
When he picked me up the next day to go to the police station again, Tom's face didn't show what he was really feeling and he didn't say a word about what he had nearly done. Detective Brimmer had called and asked us to come to the downtown jailhouse, where a line of prisoners waited for me to pick out the one who had raped me.
I wasn't prepared for what I saw as I walked through the door. The room was filled with somber women and children.
"Detective Brimmer, who are all these women?"
"In other cases?"
"No, Leisha, only one case. This one. Look, we've been onto this guy for a long time. We think he's the same guy who assaulted all these women, but we didn't have enough evidence to link him to anything until you came forward. No one else has been willing to press charges. He told all his victims the same thing: "I'll hunt you down the rest of your life, I'll kill you, I know where you live.' They're all afraid. Not one has agreed to press charges. We were lucky to get them here today."
I looked into the faces of his victims. Several of them were pretty, young girls, but many were middle-aged and a couple were elderly, including one who leaned heavily on a cane. I assumed the children were there with their mothers.
"Don't you have somewhere for the children to wait while their mothers identify him?" I asked.
"Leisha, those children are his victims, too."
My knees felt weak, and my stomach churned. One little girl couldn't have been more than ten, the other must have been twelve. Who was this monster?
Detective Brimmer stood in the middle of the room and announced: "We're going to lead you into a room one at a time. There will be a two-way glass wall. You'll be on one side and the prisoners will be on the other. They cannot see you, so you needn't be afraid. They have no idea who is identifying them. Take your time and look at each prisoner. If you see the one who assaulted you, identify him by the number above his head."
When my turn came, I was led into a darkened room that was lit by one overhanging bulb. The room on the other side of the glass was well lit. My palms were sweating as I sat down at the table in front of the glass. What if he's not there? What if he's still out there? The prisoners began to fill the room and I noticed that I was holding my breath. I exhaled loudly and began to look for my attacker.
O dear Lord, there he is, number five. I was certain. Something in his eyes triggered the memory of the smell of him, and my nostrils burned with the stench. He was looking straight ahead, not aware of the torrent that was whirling inside me. For one brief second, I wished he could see that I was the one pointing my finger at him. That I was the one with power at that moment, that I held his future in my hands. But I realized that was revenge and certainly not from God and I pushed it away.
"Number five," I said.
"Take your time, Leisha. We want a positive identification. Look at every man up there closely."
"I'm absolutely positive. That's him, number five."
"Okay, take them away," Detective Brimmer said.
"What happens now?" asked Tom.
"Well, we need to see if any of the others will press charges. So far, none of them have been willing."
"Not willing . . . I don't understand," I said.
"Look, Leisha, they're scared to death. Did you see the older woman with the cane? He ran over her with her own van and she will be crippled for the rest of her life. She feels lucky to be alive. This guy is brutal."
A chill ran up my back like icy fingers. Detective Brimmer led us back into the room where the others were waiting. Tom and I sat down and Detective Brimmer told us he'd be right back and left the room. The room was quiet, no one was talking. I looked at the women around me. I couldn't read their faces, their expressions were blank. Indignation was bubbling inside me and I could contain it no longer.
"How many of you are going to press charges?" I demanded, surprised at the authority in my voice.
My words were met with blank, hard stares. No one responded, and I stood up and faced them. "How can you let him go? How can you let him walk away from what he did to you? Let him go and he'll be free to rape your daughter tomorrow. We have a righteous responsibility here!"
A middle-aged woman looked away. I understood very well what she was feeling. I intimately knew her pain, I burned with the same shame she felt. This was a difficult task before us, fraught with risk and not easy for anyone, yet I knew that it must be done and that we were the ones to do it.
"Well, I'm pressing charges!" I nearly shouted. "I'm cooperating with the police and I'm going to do whatever they need me to do to put this guy away. We have a righteous responsibility to protect other innocent women from him. We are the only ones who know what he is capable of and the job to get him off the streets falls directly on our shoulders. You don't want to get involved? You are already involved. We can't wait for someone else to take care of this, we're the ones who have to do it, don't you understand that? I'd like your help, I'd like all of you to join me. But if I have to do it all alone, I will!"
And I walked out of the room. Tom's eyes grew large. I don't think he knew what to think. He'd never seen me this way, I'd never seen myself this way. Detective Brimmer told all of us to go home and get some rest and that he would call us and let us know the next step. He told us all the women and the little girls had identified the same man and that his name was Donald Hollabaugh.
The next day, Pam Ansted, my friend and the other contestant from our town, and I loaded the van and left for Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the Miss Teen USA pageant. Everyone had tried to talk me out of it, but I had worked too hard to just give up. The first few miles were jovial, as Pam and I talked about the pageant and our anticipation, our recent high school graduation and my upcoming wedding, until the even bigger issue that we had deftly avoided could be ignored no longer.
I sighed with resignation. "Does everyone know?"
Pam smiled softly at me. "No, only a few people are talking about how brave you are and how amazed they are that you are going ahead with the pageant and your wedding. No one knows many details of what happened."
So I told Pam the whole story. Surprisingly I could feel myself getting stronger with each word. When I finished, she was crying. I pulled into a gas station and we were both glad for the reprieve. After I filled the tank and took an icy Pepsi she handed me, I gave Pam a big hug. We piled back in the van and talked only about the pageant for the rest of our journey.
We checked in at the Kalamazoo Hilton, the same hotel that hosted the pageant the previous year, and were assigned roommates.
There were three other girls assigned to my room, and I couldn't wait to meet them. I loved getting to know the other girls and learning about their hometowns, but they weren't there when I dropped off my suitcases. The packet of schedules and events weighed heavy in my hand and I probably should have sat down to study them, but I couldn't wait to explore that grand hotel. I unpacked quickly and headed straight for the ballrooms, remembering how regal they had seemed to me the year before.
Excitement sizzled like electricity all around me. The lobby was filled with girls who were just arriving and hotel workers who scurried about seeing to the final preparations for the pageant. I felt the familiar strong desire to compete begin to awaken. What a glorious moment.
I stepped on the escalator to go up one floor. I couldn't believe my eyes as I looked at the people approaching on the "down" escalator, opposite me. There he was! He was supposed to be in jail. How could he be here, how could he have known where I was? O God, he was only a few feet away from me, but he hadn't seen me yet. I dropped and crouched beneath the escalator railing, praying he wouldn't see me, my heart thumping loudly. Dear Lord, how did he get out of jail? How did he get here? I clung to my feet, trying to balance myself on the moving stairs until he passed. He was looking the other way as I neared the top. I jumped from the escalator and hid behind a large, leafy plant in a giant planter and watched as he stepped off the escalator.
But wait, this was a different man. It wasn't him at all. What? How could my eyes have deceived me so? Which of that man's features had connected with some lurking memory and persuaded me that he was my attacker? It wasn't him. It wasn't real. The fear that still burned in my veins certainly had been.
I realized that people passing by looked at me cautiously from the corners of downcast eyes. My behavior must have looked strange, I realized. I raced back to my room and burst through the door, not even thinking about my roommates. They were sitting on a bed playing cards. They looked up but I didn't say a word. I bolted for the bathroom. In the mirror I could see mascara dripping down my cheeks. Fortunately I had already placed my Bible in the bathroom, which was my favorite place to study. I loved to read while sitting on the cool tile. I shrank to the floor, hugging my knees to my chest, and began trembling as the tears flowed. I need to get ahold of myself, I reasoned. How else am I going to be able to compete? Oh, what happened to me? I began to pray, O God, I know You were with me in that car, I know You were with me all those times with my mother, I know You were with me when Daddy died, I know You were with me at the police station, I need You now, again, please . . .
My spirit began to calm down and I wiped my face and opened my Bible. Like an old friend, it gave me familiar comfort and strength. My Bible fell open in my lap to Psalm 27:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident.
I was overcome. Centuries-old words, words that must apply to a million human situations of pain and turmoil, but which my heart knew were just for me, just for that moment. The living, breathing Word of God was speaking to me and empowering me with God's strength. Thank You, God, for Your faithfulness.
That's right, who do I have to be afraid of? What do I have to be afraid of? God jammed that gun. He was with me. He's always been with me and He'll be with me always, just as He promises. He is
the strength of my life. My enemy did come to eat up my flesh and he stumbled right before my eyes. Confidence and strength, God's strength, were filling me.
I burst open the bathroom door and my roo
Excerpted from Little Girl Lost by Joseph Leisha. Copyright © 1999 by Leisha Joseph. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.