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A Fresh Look at the Stories That Moved Us to Laughter, Outrage and Tears

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Hunter Tylo’s baby girl lost an eye to cancer, but faith sustained the family

Sitting in church in February, Hunter Tylo gave thanks that her worst trial was behind her. Two months earlier, after a stressful court case, the star of The Bold and the Beautiful had won a $4.9 million settlement for wrongful termination from Aaron Spelling’s production company, which had fired her from Melrose Place in 1996 when she became pregnant with her third child. But as she held her month-old fourth child, Katya, Tylo saw something strange. “The light was coming in in such a way that I noticed a red reflection in her eye,” she recalls.

Thinking Katya might need minor laser surgery, Tylo, 36, and her actor-husband, Michael, 50, took her to a specialist, who delivered devastating news: Their daughter had a rare eye cancer, retinoblastoma. “It took the wind right out of me,” says Tylo. Doctors removed Katya’s right eye and began chemotherapy, but more trouble followed. In June, Katya developed a blood infection, and in late September tumors were detected in her other eye. Overwhelmed by grief, the Tylos went home and prayed. A week later they brought Katya in for more chemotherapy, only to find—to their and their doctors’ amazement—that the tumors had inexplicably disappeared. “When you pray for something as hard as we did, and then you get it, you realize that power has been there for you all the time,” says Michael. It’s a view shared by surgeon-turned-author Bernie Siegel (Love, Medicine & Miracles). “I’ve cared for individuals who left their problems to God,” he says, “and seen so-called incurable illnesses disappear.”

Now the prognosis for Katya, who wears a prosthetic eye, is excellent. And Tylo has become an advocate for children’s cancer research. “A passion I never knew existed in my heart has been ignited,” she says. “Now I really have something I want to fight for.”


An ocean apart, Matthew Eappen’s parents and au pair Louise Woodward continue to battle in court

Deborah and Sunil Eappen marked what would have been their son Matthew’s second birthday, May 24, by releasing balloons to heaven. A day later they welcomed a new baby, Kevin. The couple have moved with him and their firstborn, Brendan, 4, to a different Boston suburb and are “trying to focus on their new son,” says Sunil’s mother, Achamma. But the memory of Matthew, who died of head injuries in February 1997, “is very much alive,” she adds. “They are trying to cope with that.” The couple have set up a foundation to educate people about shaken-baby syndrome and provide support to families of child abuse victims. And in June they filed a wrongful death suit against Louise Woodward—the British au pair who was convicted of murdering Matthew, then was sentenced to time served (279 days) when a judge reduced the conviction to manslaughter. Citing a lack of funds, Woodward did not immediately contest the suit. She later decided to fight an injunction requiring her to notify the court of monetary offers for her story, but her lawyer insists that doesn’t mean she plans to market her tale. In November the court ruled, based on a default judgment, that Woodward must pay damages, to be determined in January, for causing Matthew’s death.

The notorious au pair, who went home to England the day after the Eappens filed their suit, is living in London, where she may feel somewhat less conspicuous than in her small hometown of Elton. In September she enrolled as an undergraduate law student at South Bank University, but her life is far from normal. In October police in Cheshire, aided by the FBI, began investigating allegations that her mother, Sue, had forged an invoice to collect about $15,000 from her daughter’s defense fund. And for Louise, a perverse celebrity persists. At last August’s Edinburgh International Television Festival, Woodward, looking slimmer and blonder, appeared with her criminal defense attorney, Barry Scheck, to speak about cameras in the courtroom. She expressed dismay that strangers have stopped her on the street, asking her to sign baseball caps. “People have a problem distinguishing between celebrity and notoriety. I mean, I’m not famous for anything good,” Woodward pointed out. “It is ridiculous.”


David Cash still faces public outrage for not saving a young life

To most, the correct response would have been obvious. When, in 1997, David Cash peered over a stall in the women’s bathroom of a Primm, Nev., casino and found his friend Jeremy Strohmeyer assaulting 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson, Cash should have stopped Strohmeyer or, at the very least, alerted authorities. But Cash, now 20, did neither. He left the scene and listened passively when Strohmeyer later confessed he had killed the little girl. And while Strohmeyer, 20, was arrested, pleaded guilty and, in October, was sentenced to life in prison, Cash, who broke no law, went unpunished.

But after piquing the public’s ire with his lack of remorse (“I didn’t want to be the one that took away my best friend’s last days” of freedom, he told a radio show in July), Cash felt the heat. He began his sophomore year in the nuclear engineering program at the University of California, Berkeley, only to meet with furious protests from Iverson’s mother, Yolanda Manuel, who wanted Cash to be prosecuted, and fellow students, who wanted him expelled. Both efforts failed. (Nevada police had no legal basis on which to charge him, and, under university policy, Cash had broken no rules.)

Today, after trying unsuccessfully to placate his peers with a 60 Minutes interview (“I don’t feel there’s much I could have done differently,” he told Ed Bradley in September), Cash lives the tenuous existence of the campus pariah. “It’s very difficult for him. He has to worry about whether someone will spit at him or take a punch at him,” says Cash’s attorney Mark Werksman. But Werksman also thinks the worst is over for his client. “The public anger will subside,” he says. “And David will be a nuclear engineer someday, probably far, far away from California.”


A new career, beau and look help Sonny’s widow rebuild her life

Almost a year after Sonny Bono died in a Jan. 5 skiing accident, his widow still finds herself replaying the events of that day. “I kick myself about why didn’t I find him, could I have saved him,” says Mary Bono, tears welling in her eyes. But Bono, 37, never broods for too long: “One thing Sonny taught me was not to dwell on a loss.”

She has taken the advice to heart. Just 13 days after Sonny’s funeral, Bono launched a successful campaign for his House seat and later was assigned a place on the powerful Judiciary Committee. “I think most women don’t know what they are made of until they are truly tested,” says Bono, who holds an art history degree from the University of Southern California and previously managed Sonny’s Palm Springs, Calif., restaurant.

Other changes followed. She cut her hair short and returned it to its natural brown. “I didn’t have time to be blonde anymore,” she told USA Today. And in October, Bono, now a single mom to son Chesare, 10, and daughter Chianna, 7, raised eyebrows by dating drummer Brian Prout, 43, of the country band Diamond Rio. “If I wait 12 months, will Sonny come back?” asks Bono. “It has nothing to do with less love for my husband.” Neither, she says, did her recent claims to TV Guide that their marriage had been “very difficult” and that Sonny’s use of prescription painkillers may have played a role in his accident. “Mary’s a very honest person,” says her friend Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C). “You don’t ask her something unless you want an honest answer.”

Bono says she treasures Sonny’s memory. Sonny,s she stresses, “would have been the first to say, ‘Don’t miss a beat. Pick yourself up and go on.’ ”


Virginia Davis, who may or may not have murdered her pal, is out and about

For more than two decades, best friends Virginia Davis, 89, and John Wimbrow, 51, shared her Franklin, Va., home, as well as a love of fishing, rock music and the Washington Redskins. But in March the small town (pop. 8,300) was stunned by the charge that Davis, a frail, 107-pound, widowed great-grandmother, had bludgeoned to death the sporadically employed Wimbrow, a man nearly twice her size. The shock was compounded when, four days into her July trial, Davis—while maintaining her innocence—copped a plea to voluntary manslaughter in return for a sentence of 90 days house arrest. “If a vote had been taken this morning,” a juror said then, “she would have been free.”

In any case, she is now. On Oct. 12, after her electronic ankle bracelet was removed, Davis sped off in her familiar red Camaro and the next day dined out with her two daughters. “She’s like a bird out of a cage,” notes restaurant owner Fred Rabil, who says a “big roar” went up at Davis’s arrival. “I think some fellow even picked up her tab.” Wimbrow’s family is “glad she pleaded guilty,” says his sister Sandra Finney, and no one seems to be asking who, if not Davis, killed John Wimbrow. Under Virginia law the case is closed.


Hiram Van Blarigan keeps up his fight to bring his grandson home

“I love my parents very much, and I am not angry at them or upset with them for sending me here,” wrote David Van Blarigan to PEOPLE in August. The 17-year-old was responding to our story about the November 1997 night when he was awakened by his father and two strangers in his Oakland bedroom and shipped off, against his will, to an American-owned behavior-modification school in Jamaica. Had David adjusted to the prisonlike environment of Teen Help’s Tranquility Bay camp? Or had he been brainwashed into thinking this was acceptable retribution for talking back to his parents, Jim, an architect, and Sue, a homemaker?

David’s grandfather, Hiram Van Blarigan, fears the latter. When he last spoke to David (now in a Teen Help school in Ensenada, Mexico) by phone, “he said everything was going great, that it was fun. I suspect [his parents] were with him.” (Jim and Sue, who recently sent their other son Timmy, 14, to a Teen Help seminar in Seattle to dissuade him from following David’s path, refused to be interviewed, although Sue said David is “happy” and “doing extremely well.”)

Hiram isn’t alone in his concerns. Teen Help has recently come under scrutiny by both the U.S. State Department and federal courts for its unorthodox methods. In Columbus, Ohio, Franklin County Children Services filed a civil action against the parents of a 17-year-old boy, charging that they put him at risk of abuse and neglect by sending him to Tranquility Bay. (A trial is set for January.) And another Teen Help program, the Morava Academy in the Czech Republic, was closed in November after allegations of abuse. Karr Farnsworth, president of Teen Help’s parent organization, won’t elaborate on the suit and dismisses the Morava complaints as the “result of disgruntled ex-employees and media hype.”

But additional accounts of mistreatment come from Donna Burke, a Houston mother whose sons, ages 15 and 17, were sent to Tranquility Bay by their father, her ex-husband. On an August visit to Jamaica (where she says she saw one boy lying on his stomach, hands ducttaped behind him as a staff member reprimanded him), she recognized David Van Blarigan. “Did you write that letter [to PEOPLE]?” she asked him. David, she says, replied, “What do you think?” Her report offers some comfort to Hiram Van Blarigan. “I have faith David is just playing the game,” he says. And while estranged from his son and daughter-in-law, he clings to Jim’s promise that David will be home next year.


Two daughters shun their mother to stand by the dad who kidnapped them 19 years ago

It was supposed to be a weekend trip to Cape Cod, but when Stephen Fagan picked up daughters Lisa and Rachael at the North Adams, Mass., home of his ex-wife Barbara Kurth on Oct. 25, 1979, he had other plans. The sometime attorney drove to Palm Beach, Fla., told the girls, then 2 and 5, that their mother was dead and began raising them under a new name, Martin. He remarried twice and presented himself variously as a chemist or an ex-CIA agent.

Then in April the past caught up with him. Authorities arrested Fagan, 57, on kidnapping charges and informed the girls, Lisa, now 21, and Rachael, 24, that their mother was alive. While Fagan pleaded not guilty (a trial is set for 1999) and defended his actions by claiming Kurth was an alcoholic, both Lisa, a law student at Boston University, and Rachael, who works for a Great Neck, N. Y., real estate trust, voiced support for him and refused any reunion with Kurth. “These kids are great, decent, bright, perceptive and have shown enormous discipline and character in their life,” Fagan said in an August interview with the Palm Beach Daily News. “If I was this horrible being, how would the girls turn out like they did?”

Although letters she has written to her daughters have gone unanswered, Kurth, 49, a cell biologist at the University of Virginia, hopes the girls will yet come around. “We are amazed,” says her brother Peter Kurth. “Curiosity, not to mention decency, would require at least meeting her.” Adds Kurth’s mother, Constance: “We are all in a state of waiting.”


Injured in an abortion clinic bombing, Emily Lyons mends body and soul

Emily Lyons had just arrived at her Birmingham abortion-clinic job early Jan. 29, when she became in desperate need of medical care herself. A pipe bomb exploded at the New Woman All Women clinic, killing a security guard. Lyons, 42, escaped death—but not unharmed: Her left eye was destroyed, and her right eye and both legs were badly damaged. “Life is hard enough,” says her husband, Jeff, a computer executive, “without getting blown up.”

And for Lyons, a registered nurse, life became much harder indeed. Over the course of 12 operations, “there have been setbacks,” she admits. Although she is no longer confined to a wheelchair, limited sight forces her to rely on a talking Minnie Mouse watch to tell time. The once accomplished pianist also lacks full use of her right hand and has endured an excruciating ruptured eardrum. “I don’t take anything for pain anymore,” says the mother of two teenage daughters from a previous marriage. “It’s not going to help.” Nor, she learned, will self-pity. After throwing what she calls a tantrum in a restaurant this fall, Lyons sought therapy to deal with her anger. And she plans to continue the public speaking she began in July when she testified before Congress against a bill that would make it harder to punish violent protesters. “If you become enraged, you don’t have a life anymore,” she says. “I’m not going to be anyone’s poor victim. I’ve got too much going for me. And whoever did this has already taken a fair chunk of my life away.”


Still in her tree house, environmental activist Julia Hill has Pacific Lumber stumped

In no way is Julia Hill up in the air about it: She won’t come down to earth near Stafford, Calif., until her home—a 200-foot redwood tree—is allowed to stand another 1,000 years. Hill, 24, a member of the environmental group Earth First!, moved into the tree in December 1997, shortly before Luna, as the tree is called, was to be felled by Pacific Lumber, owner of a 7,500-acre forest tract that is one of the world’s last unprotected redwood growth areas. “My word was that I was going to stay until I had done everything I could,” says Hill, who lives on a 6-by-8 wooden platform 180 feet up. “I still feel like I’m meant to be here.”

But living the high life hasn’t been easy for this preacher’s daughter from Jonesboro, Ark. “The wind is the intense part,” says Hill, partly because the flapping of the tarps that keep her dry during frequent rains can be thunderous. Still, existing on rainwater and veggies, and wrapped in many layers of clothing to beat the cold, “I survived before,” she says of last winter. “I’ll survive again.” Eco-actor Woody Harrelson wasn’t sure he would during an overnight visit in April. “I was absolutely terrified of the winds,” he says. “Julia’s evolved into an incredibly powerful figure.”

Which is why Pacific Lumber wants Humboldt County Sheriff Dennis Lewis to bring its public relations nightmare down. “She’s trespassing,” Lewis admits. “But I’m not going to have any of my employees going up there. What she’s doing is very dangerous. Redwood trees fall down.”

For now, at least, the chances of Luna’s being cut down have lessened. On Nov. 10, Pacific had its logging license revoked by state authorities, who cited numerous violations of the Forest Practices Act. Nevertheless, Hill, who fills her time conducting media interviews by cell phone and writing letters to supporters, is hunkering down for at least one more winter before she hits land again. When Z. she does, “I’m going to appreciate Simple things like walking,” she says. “When I feel one foot going in front of the other, touching the ground, I’m going to feel it.”


The Meteorite Seven sell their hot rock for some cool cash

It wasn’t just pennies from heaven, but a rock-solid start on college educations. On March 22, seven Monahans, Texas, boys—Aivaro Lyles, 12, his brother Patrick, 9, Jose Felan, 12, Eron Hernandez, 10, Javier Juarez, 9, Flavio Armendariz, 10, and Flavio’s brother Neri, 13—had their driveway basketball game interrupted by a loud thud in the sandlot next door. When they went to investigate, they found a nearly three-pound meteorite, still warm from passage through Earth’s atmosphere. “It was pretty exciting,” says Patrick.

And their adventure was only beginning. While the boys quickly agreed to joint ownership of the rock, some city leaders were less accommodating, claiming the meteorite belonged to the town. Then in June, after mounting public pressure, the city council voted 4-0 to return it to the Meteorite Seven, as the boys now called themselves. “They learned a worthwhile lesson,” says Orlando Lyles, Aivaro and Patrick’s machinist dad. “That if you’re right, you can fight city hall and win.”

News of the controversy also sparked interest in the rock, which the group put up for auction in July. Big Spring, Texas, businessman Mike Craddock, 62, a longtime geological collector, came up with the winning bid, $23,000, and on July 27 met the boys in the lobby of the First State Bank in Monahans. “I handed one of the boys a cashier’s check for the money, and there was a bit of a disappointed look on his face,” recalls Craddock. “Then I explained they could take it to the cashier’s window and exchange it for $23,000 worth of $100 bills and their faces all lit up. One of them told me the most he’d ever held in his hand before that moment was $4.”

Although much of the money went into college funds, some of the boys did splurge on bikes and video games, and all seemed thrilled with the outcome. “If they’d wound up with $10 apiece, they would have been happy,” says Orlando Lyles. “That’s the beauty of being a kid.”


For Krystle Newquist, hard drinks and softball still don’t mix

The crusade began with a roll of duct tape. Refusing to promote the name of a local bar, the Carousel, on her Little League softball uniform, Krystle Newquist, 14, taped over the letters in May and was kicked off the team—and into a media firestorm. “I’m the only kid in my school who ever had to miss class because she had a press conference,” wryly notes Krystle, who appeared on CNN, Nickelodeon and in hundreds of newspapers, as well as in PEOPLE.

The storm hasn’t lessened. In September the Lemont (Ill.) High School freshman, whose grandfather died of alcohol-related liver disease, helped launch a call for state legislation prohibiting taverns and liquor stores from sponsoring Little League teams. “We’re not trying to limit businesses from advertising,” says her lawyer, Kathleen Zellner. “We just don’t want them using a minor to do it.”

The Carousel, meanwhile, has already taken itself out of the game, withdrawing sponsorship of its two teams and donating the $500 it paid for them each year to a local food pantry. “It’s a shame,” says manager Tim O’Brien. “We’ve been sponsoring Little League for 25 years.” Local auto-body shop owner Lloyd Hoster Jr. agrees. In September he started a campaign of his own, handing out green ribbons for citizens to tie on their car antennas in support of the Carousel. “She spoiled it for all the other kids,” he says.

Krystle’s family has received hate mail, negative letters about her have appeared in the local paper, and classmates sometimes taunt her with calls of “Let’s go have a beer.” But she takes comfort and encouragement in the support she has received from substance abuse groups and, in particular, a letter from former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who wrote, “On behalf of my husband and I, we would like to commend you for your commitment and courage in the fight against drugs and alcohol.” Concludes Krystle: “I’ve gotten a lot of nice letters, and I’ve learned some people are mean. I’ve found out people twist your words. But you have to stick by what you believe in.”


While Peter Partaker keeps cancer at bay, the man who pitched in to help copes with his own loss

By April, cancer had ravaged the lives of Peter Partaker and his family. Four months earlier, Peter, 11, was diagnosed with stage IV alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer, and medical bills had grown so mountainous that the family had to put their Chicago-area home up for sale. Then, in stepped Jim Place. After reading a newspaper story about the family, the commodities broker donated $5,500 of his own money and $16,500 rounded up from colleagues to cover the Partakers’ mortgage payments. “I’m proud to help,” says Place, 41. “Peter can teach a lot of people the meaning of courage.”

Place lately has had to summon plenty of his own. In May his son Jimmy, 3, the youngest of five children, drowned in a swimming accident. “We are a tight, bonded family,” he says, “but we miss our boy.” Still, Place takes comfort in Peter, who, after months of radiation and chemotherapy and two stem cell transplants, is back at school, riding his bike and taking piano lessons. Although the Partakers, in spite of Place’s efforts, must sell their home to pay for Peter’s ongoing treatments, the sacrifice is worth it. “Peter’s alive and I’m thankful for that,” says his father, Dave, a building inspector. “If he can get through the next five years, we can adjust to everything else.”


Donating a kidney, Randy Learner saved his daughter’s life and maybe his own

Shopping for her first bike last April, 6-year-old Meagan Learner was adamant that she find one with streamers on the handlebars. “She gets what she wants, doesn’t she?” the amused salesman asked Meagan’s dad, Randy. Meagan answered for him. “Yes,” she said. “And I have his kidney, too.”

Diagnosed in 1994 with a degenerative kidney disease, the North East, Pa., kindergartner received the organ in a three-hour transplant operation last December. But for Randy, 33, the real ordeal came earlier. Before it would be safe for him to donate, the 5’7″ millworker—tipping the scales at 300—had to lose 100 pounds. “Cutting into that fat would have been much too dangerous,” says Dr. Andrew Novick, director of the transplant program at the Cleveland Clinic. (Mom Genie, a homemaker, couldn’t donate because of a family history of kidney disease.)

Motivated by Meagan’s weakening health, Randy worked out, skipped soft drinks and fried foods and lost the weight within one year.

The sacrifice paid off. Since the surgery, Meagan once again chases sisters Courtney, 12, and Randi, 9, and even joined a community cheerleading squad. Randy is healthier, too, keeping his weight between 196 and 204 pounds, thanks to a low-fat diet. “I got to like skim milk and diet root beer,” he says with a shrug. “And I got used to eating salads and fruit. They taste good to me. And it was worth it. Look at Meagan.”


Pamela Anderson Lee revamps her life and launches a new career

Movie deals in Hollywood sometimes take years to percolate, but personal lives can change abruptly. Last February, just days after Pamela Anderson Lee, 31, had her husband of three years, rocker Tommy Lee, arrested for spousal abuse, the ex-Baywatch babe filed for divorce and never looked back. She moved to a new L.A. home and focused her energies on her two sons with Lee, Brandon, 2, and 1-year-old Dylan Jagger. “Her kids are the most important thing in her life,” says friend and business partner Jennifer Tutor. “They just light up when they’re together.”

About the time Lee, 36, was released from jail in September, after serving four months of a six-month sentence, Anderson plunged back into TV, executive producing and starring (as a celebrity bodyguard) in the hot new syndicated series V.I.P. She has also gone into the fashion biz, designing a patented thong bikini bottom. (“It makes your bum look really rounded,” says Tutor.) Reconciling with Lee doesn’t seem to fit the new picture. Though spotted through the fall with surfer Kelly Slater, the actress told The Calgary Sun, “I’m dating, but not one particular person. In my mind, I’m dating thousands of people.”


Two fry-cooks who won a short-lived victory for the McWorker lose their jobs and vow to fight on

Bryan Drapp and Jamal Nickens never planned on careers in the deep-fried arts. They were working at a Macedonia, Ohio, McDonald’s only to put themselves through business school at the University of Akron. But in April, after Drapp says he saw a manager yell at a 66-year-old coworker for not storing a box of trash bags, the pair found a new calling: labor organizers.

Carrying signs with slogans like “Did Somebody Say Unqualified Management?” Drapp, 19, and Nickens, 20, launched the first U.S. strike in McDonald’s 43-year history. And thanks to the support of 15 coworkers, as well as teamsters who refused to cross the picket line, they seemed to have won. Five days into the strike, franchise owner Jed Greene agreed to raise their pay, grant a one-week paid vacation after a year and send managers to “people skills” training.

But life wasn’t golden under the arches for long. “They were good to us while it was in the news,” says Drapp. Then the managers “started ridiculing us.” On June 11, he and Nickens responded by showing up for work with “Go Union” painted on their faces. A supervisor tried to photograph the display and Drapp, says Greene, “threatened to hit [him] over the head.” Two days later, Drapp and Nickens were fired.

The National Labor Relations Board is reviewing the firing, and if the men prove they were axed because of union activities, McDonald’s will have to pay back wages and reinstate their jobs. But Teamsters Local 416 president Dominic Tocco admits the face-painting episode weakened their position. “There was a right way to go about fixing it,” he says. “That made things harder.” And a spokesperson for McDonald’s, while conceding the men initially “raised some issues that were valid,” dismisses their account of the firing as “fabricated.” Still, Nickens and Drapp have both left school to pursue the battle. Says Nickens: “We’re not giving up.”


Injured saving his owner’s life, the hero parrot takes wing with a pet project: promoting fire safety

There were no smoke detectors in the 1840 farmhouse in Malvern, Pa., which horse breeder Lynn Norley was renting. Luckily, when it went up in flames during the early-morning hours of Feb. 16, there was her parrot Rupert. Caged two rooms away from Norley’s bedroom, the 12-year-old African gray put up such a squawk at the blaze (caused by a faulty electrical box) that Norley awakened in time to get herself and her two dogs out a second-story window to safety. When she went for Rupert, however, she found him unconscious. Thinking him dead, she bundled him in her bathrobe and laid him in a shower stall.

Her beloved bird rose from the ashes. Found the next day under fallen debris, Rupert was alive but suffering from smoke inhalation and aspergillosis, an often-fatal fungal infection. Thanks to antibiotics and a restful summer at the Bryn Mawr home Norley now shares with her mother, Rupert has made a remarkable recovery. “He is doing absolutely incredibly,” says Norley, 53, the divorced mother of a grown son. “His vocabulary is amazing, and he’s very, very healthy.”

He is also a she. Veterinarian Michael Weiss, who donated his services at the All Creatures animal hospital in Washington Township, N.J., determined the truth during exploratory surgery to diagnose the infection (parrots have no external sex organs), and the local newspaper staged a contest to rename the bird (winning entry: Saint La Rupe). But, says Norley, “Rupert still doesn’t seem like a girl to me.”

He does, though, seem every bit the star. In May, Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum for children named him a 20th Century Hero, and in November he made his debut on the fire-safety lecture circuit (his best trick: imitating a smoke-detector siren). With funding from Omnipoint, a wireless communications company with a parrot spokesbird, Norley plans to visit more schools. And she and her sister Dale have even cowritten a children’s book (Super Rupert Saves the Day) to share with audiences. The only problem, she says, is “the kids want to touch Rupert. I feel badly, but I have to tell them that he bites.”


Sweden’s Crown Princess beats anorexia and finds romance

When Princess Victoria appeared at a Stockholm gala late last year, the gasps were audible. The 5’6″ heir to the Swedish throne looked downright skeletal in her sleeveless, deep-blue gown. A week later the Palace announced that the princess was suffering from an eating disorder. Then in January the oldest daughter of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia abandoned plans to study political science at Sweden’s Uppsala University and enrolled at Yale, presumably, in part, because of the university’s world-renowned eating-disorders center.

Although the clinic won’t confirm that Victoria has been a patient, by July, when she went home to celebrate her 21st birthday, she once again looked fit and apple-cheeked. “I feel good,” she told a Swedish newspaper. “I have some problems and I am overcoming them.” She’s also enjoying her newfound freedom. Other Yalies say Victoria, who is registered as a “special student,” is rarely seen on campus. Where she has been spotted is New York City, where she rekindled a romance with wealthy former schoolmate Daniel Collert, 24, an aspiring actor. “She is besotted with him,” says a source close to the royal family. Some back home are less enamored of the relationship. The two frequent the city’s nightclubs, and in October, Victoria was photographed kissing Collert on the cheek at a party while he held a cocktail and cigarette lighter—behavior the Swedish press deems unseemly for a future queen. But Victoria herself seems unbothered by the fuss. In a Swedish magazine interview in October she said simply, “I am happy and feel very good here in New York.”


Leveled by a killer storm, a town sees hope and hard times ahead

After a tornado with winds of up to 260 mph tore through Spencer, S.Dak. (pop. 320), on May 30, killing six people and toppling nearly every structure in town, some residents looked out on the empty lots that used to hold homes, the rows of stumps that used to be towering oaks and maples and saw a future, there for the rebuilding. “In a few years, with growing trees, more houses, the bank and the gas station, Spencer will be a good little place to live,” says plant supervisor Chris Vinz, 26. Others saw only a past that will never be recaptured. “It was a wonderful town,” says Amanda Stevens, 85. “But I’m too old to start over.”

Many who have tried have found recovery more difficult than they imagined. Despite $1.3 million in private donations and federal pledges of low-interest loans, some Spencer residents say their fates are tied up in red tape. Antique-bathtub restorer Dave Twedt, 43, and his wife, Mary, 44, a clothing-factory supervisor, lost their prized Victorian to the storm but were turned down for a loan to buy a new home because they had taken leaves from their jobs to put their lives in order. (The couple is instead converting a commercial building they had previously purchased.) “It’s not fair,” says Dave. “Vice President Gore said everyone would be treated right. The governor said no one would be worse off than before.” Adds Mary: “I’ve always been independent. I won’t beg.”


In the wake of a brutal murder, Jasper, Texas, struggles toward unity

For a society that couldn’t afford to avert its eyes, the June 7 killing in Jasper, Texas, of James Byrd Jr., a 49-year-old black man allegedly beaten and dragged to death by three white men in a pickup truck, was an odious reminder of how far America has to go in the fight for racial tolerance. Since then, Jasper, a town of 8,000, has had to wrestle with its conscience in the glare of a national spotlight. The scrutiny won’t soon fade: In November prosecutors announced that the men accused of the murder, Lawrence Russell Brewer, 31, John William King, 24, and Shawn Allen Berry, 23, will face the death penalty in separate trials starting next year. Berry and King have traded accusations, and King even released a statement claiming Berry had drug ties to Byrd and that “it’s been prematurely concluded that this was some sort of hate crime….”

The victim’s family dismisses King’s story and takes solace from the work the tragedy thrust upon them. Four of his six sisters regularly speak on behalf of the James Byrd Jr. Family Foundation for Racial Healing. Like Byrd’s parents, sister Betty Boatner, 44, remains in Jasper, and brother Thurman, 43, has moved back to be near his folks. “This town is coming together,” says Boatner. “I know we will heal.” The killing made residents “think about themselves,” says sister Mary Verette, 48, who often visits from Houston. “A lot of blacks and whites are treating each other with a little more respect and dignity.”

The community seems resolved to eradicate the mistrust that has simmered behind a facade of harmony. The mayor named a task force to explore ways to improve race relations; officials are planning a park in Byrd’s memory; and the NAACP is making a contribution for a community center bearing his name. When the Ku Klux Klan rallied in the town square in October, only a handful of residents looked on. And though tensions still persist, “people are a little more conscious of diversity, a little more tolerant,” says school superintendent Doug Koebernick. “Someone who would have said something hurtful a year ago now thinks before he speaks.”


Jefferson portrayer Bill Barker contends with new evidence of the President’s affair with a slave

Resplendent in a frilly shirt and buckled shoes, character actor Bill Barker, 45, has had a grand old time portraying Thomas Jefferson at Colonial Williamsburg since 1993. Mostly, visitors to the restored 18th-century Virginia town want to pose for pictures with the 6’3″ red-haired lookalike and ask him powdered-wig questions: Does he consider himself English or American? “An American-born Englishman,” Barker-Jefferson would answer. After the Lewinsky affair came to light, he was also grilled about the morals of public figures: Barker-Jefferson told visitors that immorality or dishonesty in elected officials should not be tolerated.

Not so fast, Mr. Barker, er, Jefferson. This year a team of scientists compared DNA samples taken from Jefferson’s descendants and found evidence strongly suggesting that Jefferson fathered at least one child with his slave Sally Hemings, with whom he was long rumored to have had an affair. While historians scrambled to reassess their views, Barker had a show to put on. Luckily, says Barker’s boss, vice president-chief education officer of Williamsburg, Steve Elliott, “We’re used to seeing history as a developing story.” Barker, who had been skeptical of the Hemings story, gets frequent inquiries about the relationship. “They aren’t straightforward questions,” he says. “They’re wink-wink, nudge-nudge.” His new answer is positively post-Lewinsky. “That is not a conversation to be brought up in polite society,” Barker-Jefferson tells Williamsburg visitors, noting that Jefferson never spoke of the liaison in public. “Are there not more pressing issues that must be addressed?” Musing on his alter ego, Barker says, “Mr. Jefferson was a passionate man. That’s one of the things that attracts us to him. If this was going on with Sally Hemings, there must have been a tenderness there.” And it’s no sore spot for Barker, who has portrayed Jefferson in everything from local productions of 1776 to supermarket openings for some 15 years. He relishes his role more than ever, he says, but doesn’t forget it’s only showbiz. “I look up all the time,” he says, rolling his eyes heavenward, “and say, ‘I beg your pardon.’ ”