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The Baltimore Sun

2nd victim of baseball bat attack tells her story

On an afternoon in April 2010, three detectives walked into Stacy Jurich's hospital room. They carried a black plastic bag and told her they had some things they needed her to identify.

On a hospital tray, they spread a half-dozen pieces of makeup. There was eye shadow, perfume and lipstick. The brand was Dior.

Jurich recognized them immediately. They belonged to her and her friend, Natasha McShane, who was in a nearby hospital room, clinging to life. The two women had gone for makeovers just days before and had bought the makeup together.

In front of the detectives, Jurich — who had 19 staples in her head — sobbed quietly over the makeup. She pointed out what was hers and what was McShane's.

"I saw her perfume. It felt as though someone had just told me that she was dead," Jurich would recall. "Everything came to me. I realized, 'This is on your plate now. You are the only voice.'"

They were walking home from a bar in the early morning hours of April 23, 2010, after a night of celebrating. Then a man with a baseball bat rushed up behind them. He smashed their heads, stole their purses and changed the course of their young lives.

McShane, a 23-year-old grad student from Northern Ireland, suffered such devastating head injuries that she was left unable to walk or speak. Her photo and name would soon be broadcast around the world as a symbol of violence in Chicago.

In the aftermath, Jurich, then 24, was the only one who could tell anyone what happened. Over the course of four years, she would work tirelessly with police and prosecutors to build a case against Heriberto Viramontes, who will be sentenced Thursday in Cook County court.

Jurich's role in the case was critical, but her face and name were never as well known as McShane's. She has long declined interviews and stayed in the background. But, as the sentencing draws near, she agreed to tell her story.

She is, she says with a pained smile, "the other girl."

"The lucky one," she says.

They had known each other for just four months but had hit it off immediately.

Jurich was tall and athletic. She had grown up in Bridgeport, helped raise her two brothers and put herself through school at North Central College in Naperville. Her grandfather was a Chicago police sergeant, and Jurich prided herself on being a tough South Sider.

McShane was petite, standing no more than 4-foot-11, and feminine; she loved makeup, jewelry and leopard print. She grew up in a village in Northern Ireland, and came to Chicago to study toward a master's degree in urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Both women were smart, ambitious and stubborn. They looked so much alike — with big brown eyes and dazzling smiles — that some people mistook them for sisters.

They became close friends. "Natasha being so far from home. And me — in my early 20s — trying to create a home myself," Jurich said. "It was an immediate connection."

The night of the attack they had gone out to celebrate. Jurich had just closed a deal at a brokerage office where she worked as a financial planner; McShane had landed an internship that would allow her to extend her visa. They had dinner and went dancing. "The night was wonderful, absolutely wonderful," Jurich says.

They were walking home to Jurich's Bucktown apartment about 3 a.m. and had just crossed beneath a viaduct in the 1800 block of North Damen Avenue when they were attacked from behind.

A man with a baseball bat struck Jurich first, and she stumbled. Then he smashed McShane on the back of the head.

McShane lay bleeding and unconscious on the sidewalk, but in those frantic moments after the attack Jurich was able to tell a police officer their names. She wanted to tell the officer everything before she, too, lost consciousness. With their purses stolen, she knew they had no identification. She worried no one would know who they were.

Two days later, Jurich woke up to a beeping sound that, for a second, she thought was her morning alarm. She opened her eyes in the intensive care unit at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center. "'Where's Natasha?'" she remembers asking.

No one would say.

"I said, 'No, no, no.' Because I still remembered," Jurich said. "I saw her on that ground. I saw her, and there was blood everywhere. It wasn't just my blood. I said, 'Where is she?'"

When Jurich was left alone, she pulled out her IVs and crawled down the corridor looking for her friend, she said. She found her a few doors down.

She dragged herself to McShane's bedside and wept as she held her friend's hand.

"'I love you,'" Jurich recalled telling her. "'It's going to be OK. We're going to dance again. Don't worry, babe, we're going to dance again.'"

From her hospital bed, Jurich provided police with critical information, including the passwords to her stolen credit cards, a description of what had happened and identification of items later recovered from their stolen purses.

Within a week of the attack, police arrested Viramontes, 31, a reputed gang member who was charged with wielding the bat, and Marcy Cruz, 25, an exotic dancer and mother of two young children, who drove a getaway van.

The friends' recoveries, however, would not be so swift.

Jurich's head injuries resulted in seizures, halting speech and partial paralysis on the left side of her body. She was transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where she spent three months relearning how to walk.

After her discharge, she moved in with her aunt in Oswego because she could no longer live alone. Her hands were too weak to shave her legs or put on makeup. She struggled with buttons and zippers, and needed help dressing. Even when she took a shower, someone had to be in the room to make sure she didn't lose her balance or suffer a seizure.

The hardest part was going to see McShane, who for weeks was kept in a medically induced coma. "She couldn't open her eyes," Jurich said. "All I could do was sit there and hold her hand."

McShane's parents had rushed from Northern Ireland to their daughter's bedside. Although they were kind to Jurich, she couldn't help but feel responsible for what had happened. She thought she could see the McShanes thinking: Why are you here, walking and talking, while our daughter is in a coma?

In July 2010, the McShanes flew with Natasha via air ambulance back to Northern Ireland. By then, she had begun to speak a few words and to eat again. But in Northern Ireland, she would suffer setbacks — including an infection and a series of seizures — that would leave her unable to walk or talk.

Jurich, meanwhile, returned to work part time. In news accounts, she was described as having recovered.

But she had lost part of her vision. She had tremors in her hands, and when she got tired, the left side of her face drooped. She could no longer drive a car.

At work, she found more challenges. "I walked into my beautiful office with my name on the door, and I couldn't function. I was overwhelmed. I couldn't handle the lights. I couldn't stare at the computer screen long enough," she said.

She left on disability a few months later.

"When you look at her from the outside, people might think she's fine, that she is this beautiful young girl. But she still has seizures. She has trouble with peripheral vision. She still has nightmares," said Jurich's aunt, Tammy Alfaro, 54, of Oswego. "That stuff never went away for her."

During the trial in October, Jurich took the stand to testify.

In a strong, clear voice, she described what happened that evening in 2010. She became overwhelmed with emotion as she spoke of seeing McShane laying in a pool of blood but regained her composure and continued her testimony.

"I always knew what my duty was," she said of her time on the witness stand. "I had to be the voice because I didn't want this man to hurt anyone else. I wanted to put (Viramontes) away for my best friend, for Natasha."

Other evidence tied Viramontes to the crime, including surveillance video from a gas station where he and Cruz attempted to use the stolen credit cards and incriminating statements Viramontes made over a recorded telephone line from the Cook County Jail.

But it was Jurich who tied the evidence together.

"She was our one and only occurrence witness who was able to relate any of the facts," said John Maher, the prosecutor. "She really set the scene for the whole case and put it into context for the jury."

At the end of the eight-day trial, the jury found Viramontes guilty on all 10 counts of attempted first-degree murder, armed robbery and aggravated battery. (Cruz, who drove the getaway van, had agreed earlier to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a 22-year sentence.)

The guilty verdict was in part a credit to Jurich, Maher said.

"The fact that (the night of the attack) she was even able to maintain consciousness to communicate with the first responders was pretty heroic," he said. "This was a life-changing event, and she handled it with grace and fortitude."

She was, Maher said, "remarkable."

In the years since, however, Jurich has been haunted by a profound sense of guilt over whether she did enough to protect her friend. "She was a block away from my house," Jurich said. "I wasn't strong enough to help her."

Every month or so, Jurich connects with McShane via Skype.

McShane is still not able to speak on her own, although recently she has begun to repeat what others say.

On Skype, Jurich says: "I miss you."

McShane echoes: "I miss you."

Jurich thinks McShane remembers the attack and desperately wants to speak about what she saw.

"I know she saw me get hit, and she tried to run. Not run and get away, but to try to save us both, to get help," Jurich said.

"When (McShane) sees me there's this light in her face, like, 'Well you know.' It's like I'm the only one who knows," Jurich said. "She wants to talk to me. She can't figure out how."

During the trial, Jurich told her friend via Skype: "I promise that I will not let him hurt you again."

"She kind of understood. You could see, but you don't know anything for sure," Jurich says now. "She's not the same person. She doesn't even look like who she used to be."

Jurich still struggles with the seizures, but she is grateful for what is good in her life. She is working at a new job as a personal banker. Four months ago, she got engaged and is planning a wedding for October. She knows McShane will never have any of those things.

"It breaks my heart," said Jurich, now 28. "Sometimes I pray, and I wish that it was me instead."

On Thursday, Jurich will be in a Cook County courtroom for the sentencing of Viramontes, who faces up to 120 years in prison. She will be there for herself and for McShane.

In the spring of next year, Jurich will travel to a tiny village in Northern Ireland.

She hasn't seen McShane in person in almost four years.

"I just want to see her and to put on a song and to be able to sing and dance again, whether she is in a wheelchair or not. I just want to just see her, and to let her know that I didn't give up the fight," Jurich said, crying. "I just want her to know that I did not give up the fight. I never will."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun