Este ano, o Pulitzer na categoria de Feature Writing ficou por atribuir. No entanto, havia três candidatos. E bons. Mark Jonhson apresentou um trabalho sobre um grupo de estudantes do primeiro ano de medicina que enfrenta um dos mais duros desafios: a aula de anatomia em que tocam pela primeira vez num cadáver. Scott Farwell contou a história de um vítima de abusos infantis e a forma como ela luta para ter uma vida normal. Por último, Christopher Goffard relata os nove dias em que um ex-polícia se dedicou a uma única coisa: matar aqueles que culpava pelo seu despedimento. Chama-se Manhunt for Christopher Dorner e tem cinco partes.
The man emerged from a charcoal-gray pickup and approached the hotel check-in counter. He wanted a room and the Internet pass code. He was 6 feet tall, with a weightlifter’s build and military posture. But he could transform his soft, round face into a picture of amiability. He struck the night manager as personable and disarming.
Inside Room 116 of the Hi View Inn & Suites in Manhattan Beach, he stared at his Facebook page and a lifetime’s worth of grudges. It is not clear how long he had labored on the unusual document on the screen.
It was a rambling, free-associating screed in which he asserted firm opinions on politicians, journalists, comedians and television shows. It was a brew of hatreds, a sustained cry of self-pity and self-justification, and a blueprint.
One touch of a button would make it public, once people knew where to look.
It was 1:15 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 4.
Hours earlier, Irvine Police Det. Victoria Hurtado was crouched in the evening chill, studying an enormous diamond ring on a dead woman’s hand. It was one of her first clues. “This is not a robbery,” she thought.
The victim was in the passenger seat of a white Kia Optima, parked on the rooftop lot of an upmarket condo complex on Scholarship Drive. She was Asian, in a pretty blue dress. Beside her, a young black man was slumped over the steering wheel. Both were riddled with bullets, with fatal shots to the back of their heads.
Stepping carefully amid 14 shell casings scattered on the pavement, Hurtado noticed powder burns around the bullet holes in the windows. It was a close-range ambush, and as cold a scene as the detective had seen in 17 years on the force.
There was no evidence of a fight. It was as if the killer, possessed by an impersonal fury, had not known the victims at all.
Hurtado looked up at the high-rise apartments that towered above the garage. Hundreds of people would have had a plain view of the shooting, if they had peered out their windows. Hundreds should have heard it.
Five floors below, news crews were assembling. Murder was startling news in Irvine, which boasted of being America’s safest midsized city — 65 square miles of gleaming corporate parks and master-planned neighborhoods.
Just after midnight, the department received a call. It was from Randal Quan, a retired Los Angeles Police Department captain. He had seen the news and recognized the condo complex. His 28-year-old daughter, Monica, lived there with her 26-year-old fiance, Keith Lawrence.
Quan had grown increasingly worried. He had been trying to call his daughter. She was not answering. He came to the Irvine police station with his wife and grown son. They were a close family. Detectives led them to a private interview room.
Quan described his daughter. He had seen her earlier that day. She had been wearing a blue dress.
Neither Monica Quan nor Keith Lawrence seemed capable of making an enemy.
He had been a security officer at USC. She had coached women’s basketball at Cal State Fullerton.
A few days earlier, Lawrence had asked her to close her eyes as he led her into their condo. He had arranged rose petals on the carpet in the shape of a heart. He knelt and asked her to marry him.
“There’s no one more right for us than each other,” he told her, in a scene captured on tape by her brother. “You are my winning lottery ticket.”
Perhaps because she had grown up as a police captain’s daughter, she was guarded about her personal life, even with the young women she coached. But before a team trip to San Luis Obispo she had displayed the big diamond engagement ring and enjoyed the screams of excitement.
Detectives considered every possible theory. They scoured police logs for reports of road rage, on the chance that an aggrieved driver had followed the young couple home. They talked to neighbors and friends, co-workers and family members.
They asked Randal Quan who might want to hurt his daughter. He had been the first Chinese American captain at the LAPD, and had run a squad targeting Asian gangs. In recent years, he had worked as a lawyer representing cops facing termination.
Did someone hate him enough to do this? Someone he had busted? A disgruntled client?
Quan struggled. He could think of no one. He saw himself as a cop who had been respectful to people he arrested. Even losing clients knew he had fought for them.
No one had heard anything. A police canvas of the condominium complex and surrounding buildings confirmed that baffling fact.
The couple had pulled onto the rooftop during the final dramatic minutes of the Super Bowl, when traffic was light. The entry gate recorded their arrival about 7:30 p.m. But police had not learned about the shootings until 9:10 p.m., when a resident walking to his car spotted a body slumped over the Kia’s steering wheel.
How had 14 shots gone unheard? Had everybody been that fixated on the game?
Det. Hurtado would have to wait for ballistics tests to be sure, but she began to suspect that the killer had used a silencer. It was an expensive piece of equipment, the province of Hollywood spies and assassins, not real-world killers.
The possibility carried with it a sense of dread. Who were they dealing with? A professional hit man? The mob?
As the department’s 18-member detective squad scrambled after leads, an investigator visited Cal State Fullerton and found a compelling clue — its significance clear only in hindsight — that someone had been stalking Monica Quan.
A few days earlier, a man had called the athletic department from a blocked number. He said his daughter played for the women’s basketball team, but he was unable to reach her because her cellphone was not working.
He asked for the name of the hotel the team was using during its trip to San Luis Obispo. The request was refused. Would he care to give a callback number? The man hung up.
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