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.
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.
Graves had described a clean-shaven man as her attacker; six witnesses (including the security guard) said he had facial hair ranging from a five-o'clock shadow to a light mustache and goatee. Graves's description of his attire also clashed with those of others who saw him. Investigators ultimately concluded that since the man fleeing the guard was seen only moments after the gunshot, he was the assailant and had acted alone.
Conflicting descriptions are relatively common, explains HPD Sergeant Larry Doreck, who is heading the investigation. He has spent most of his 29 years with the department working especially notorious robberies such as home invasions.
Doreck says Graves made the typical mistake of most victims by not being aware of her surroundings. She should have not unlocked and opened her car door until she got off the phone and scanned the garage.
Generally, robbery victims should do as they are told and not risk their lives for something like a purse or jewelry, he explains. But he endorses Graves's effort to get out of the car once she realized she was probably going to be the victim of an abduction rather than a robbery.
"My eyes were just set between looking at the gun and looking at the door," she recalls. All she could think was "Oh, my God, just don't let him close the door and get in."
Graves says she's uncertain why she reached back for her purse. It may have been because her purse had been stolen from her car months earlier, and she didn't want to go through that again.
She wants to think that there was "not a conscious reason, but a higher reason" for her action. "If I had not reached back in to get my purse, I feel that he would have, like, shot me in the chest It was right at the level where my heart is.
"I really don't know what was going on in my head," she says. "But my main goal was not to go with him, because I knew what he wanted. I felt certain that he was trying to take me away in my car and rape me and then kill me."
CrimeStoppers has offered a reward of up to $22,500 for information in the case. The anonymous tip line is 713-222-TIPS.
It appears that Graves's assailant didn't stop with that shooting.
Rice Village seems like an unlikely place for violent crime, but on the afternoon of March 20, gunfire again echoed through the area. Helen Belton Orman, a 65-year-old artist and department chair at Houston Community College-Southwest, was killed as she vacuumed her car at a gas station at Kirby Drive and Bissonnet.
Witnesses told police that a shirtless gunman shot her in the head without saying a word, then left in a dark tan or dark brown late-model Dodge Durango SUV. Police said last week that ballistics comparisons showed that the same weapon was used in both shootings. Considering as well the similar suspect descriptions, they are convinced that the man who shot Graves is the same man who murdered Orman.
Until they believe they have the right man, they don't want to show Graves any mug shots, Doreck says. Showing her photos before they have a suspect in custody could taint her memory.
Even though she fared far better than Helen Orman, Juli Graves will be the survivor of a shooting for the rest of her life. It's not a description anyone asks for. The wounds demarcate her two lives, the one before the shooting and the one after.
In the hospital, between visits from family members, friends and co-workers, Graves would look at her bandages and think, How stupid!
"That's what I kept saying in the hospital: This is just stupid, it's just stupid, because he didn't get anything," she recalls. "He just got the satisfaction of shooting me and I'm sure he wasn't satisfied by shooting me, because that's not what he initially set out to do."
The bullet damaged a nerve in her arm that connects to the thumb, forefinger and middle finger of her left hand, rendering them all but immobile. It will take two or three years before she has full range of motion. She will undergo physical therapy and psychological counseling. The shooter will be with her for every session.
She compulsively checks the locks before she gets into bed and then she has her boyfriend check them again. He is installing a security system. Unlike before, she now lets her dog, Jake, bark loudly at strangers. She needs to be with people at all times.
Her friends change her bandages and plaster Wanted posters around Rice Village, Montrose, anywhere they can. Some tenants in the Village Arcade, like Kubo's, are more than happy to let the posters go up. Others, like Two Rows Restaurant and Brewery, refuse. Maybe they want to forget this ever happened. A shooting is bad for business.
The police say it's unlikely the gunman would come after her again. Still, she feels completely safe only when she's with Darin.
She had bad dreams for the first three nights. Then there was calm. But the gunman has showed up the last two nights. Each nightmare was fixed on the moment she first saw him -- standing between her and the car door. That look in his eyes. I want you.
She's afraid that, in tonight's dream, he'll be even closer.
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