Exit Wounds

The gunman fled. Her point-blank panic hasn't.

At night she sees him, standing between her and the open car door. She doesn't see him with the gun, and she doesn't see the muzzle flash when he shoots her. Just his face. Those eyes. I want you, they say. I don't want your money. I don't want your car.

I want you.

So she's scared at night, scared during the day, scared to be in public. Everyone she sees outside looks like him. So now she's inextricably linked with him, the man who shot her.

Police say Graves's assailant killed a woman two weeks later.
Police say Graves's assailant killed a woman two weeks later.

A single bullet put six holes in Juli Graves. The first entrance wound, in her upper left arm, is ringed with powder burns, like planets around the sun. The gun was so close to her that the shot cauterized the first wound.

It happened three weeks ago, and the shooter hasn't been caught. While she ran, screaming and bloody, toward help, he slipped away. In his hands was her purse, and in her purse was her name and address. But the shooter doesn't have a name. He doesn't have an address. He exists only in the Wanted posters and in her mind.

When she's home alone, which is hardly ever, she sits at her desk and stares vigilantly through a big window. If he comes looking for her, she wants to know.

"That's what I hate the most," she says. "That I don't know where he is."

March 3, shortly after 2 p.m. in the Village Arcade shopping center. Upscale boutiques, salons, clothiers, perched between a prestigious university and a premiere medical center.

Graves, who celebrated her 30th birthday ten days earlier, parks her black Nissan Maxima on the second floor of the parking garage and continues talking on the cell with a friend. She's there to pick up money from a client who advertises in the Houston Press. She's sold and designed retail ads at the Press for four years. Sales is second-nature. This graduate of Stephen F. Austin State sold insurance for her father's Nacogdoches firm for eight years.

She's attractive -- slim, wide-eyed, with long, curly auburn hair she sometimes wears in braided pigtails. She has a friendly face with cheeks punctuated by beauty marks. She's wearing a pink T-shirt, a long khaki skirt and brown leather boots.

She opens the car door, turns to retrieve her receipt book from the passenger seat, turns around and --

There he is.

Startled, she gasps into the phone, flexes her hand, loses the connection.

Olive skin. Close-cropped black hair. Medium build. Thirties. Nervous smile.

"It's okay," he says in a low, calm voice. "Don't worry."

She tries to close the door. He stops it with his hand, steps closer. She tries again, and he moves closer still.

"Scoot over." To the passenger side.

"No!" she says.

And there's the gun. Revolver, blue steel, wood grip.

The look in his eyes is the culmination of her fears. This is the man Graves has been looking for ever since she was little and made her parents check under her bed before she crawled beneath the covers. And when she didn't outgrow that fear, when she continued canvassing her apartment as soon as she came home from work, this was the man she looked for. This is why she slept with a bedside baseball bat and her grandfather's knife on the bed rail. And after all those years of looking, he found her first.

She moves to the passenger side. She tries the door, but it's locked. Then the phone -- still in her hand -- rings. The number on the caller ID is Danielle's, the friend she was talking to a moment ago.

She wants to answer the phone and tell Danielle help me, help me, but she's frozen (help me) and then --

"Don't you dare answer that phone."

She drops it.

He tries to grab her with his free hand, but she swats both hands away.

When she finally gets the door open, she's thinking Okay, it's almost over.

She's free now, she's getting away, but she turns and reaches for her purse at the instant he pulls the trigger.

The bullet rips through her left arm (good-bye, purse) and continues through both breasts. Six holes.

She runs toward her client's restaurant. She screams for the manager. Bystanders rush to help. She screams for a phone. She has to call her boyfriend. She knows that once she hears Darin's voice, everything will be okay.

Graves remembers some restaurant patrons pressing towels against her chest and asking her questions to keep her conscious and calm.

Paramedics load her onto a stretcher. As they wheel her to the ambulance, she catches a glimpse of her car.

"Why wouldn't he take my car?" she thinks. "How 'bout that?"

Instead of driving away in Graves's car, the shooter heads down to the parking garage entrance.

An older security guard in a golf cart sees the man and asks about the purse in his hands. The man hesitates. He says it's his wife's. He keeps walking. The guard makes a U-turn to inquire further. The man flees.

Witness accounts aided investigators, but they also added to the confusion in the initial hours after the shooting. Police first announced that two suspects were being sought: the gunman as well as the man confronted by the security guard.

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