Amber's Anguish : Violence: In the aftermath of a severe beating, a 15-year-old and her family not only wonder, "Why?" but, "Why aren't the police doing more?"

TIMES STAFF WRITER

William Jefferson's knees buckled the first time he saw his daughter Amber, 15, lying in a hospital bed with blood flowing from an inch-deep gash along the side of her face.

"I cried," he said, "because she looked so pitiful, and there was nothing I could do. I just prayed to God."

Amber doesn't remember much about the two baseball bats, the bone-crunching swings to her kneecaps or the blows that swelled her face beyond recognition.

But every time she looks in the mirror, she is reminded of the razor-sharp shard of glass that seemed to come out of nowhere, slicing through her flesh from the top of her head to her neck.

Two weeks after the savage attack that nearly killed her, Amber is recuperating in her Garden Grove home, surrounded by flowers and cards. The racially charged beating has prompted calls and visits from celebrities and offers of free medical care.

Amber, who is black, was with a white girl and three boys--a Latino and two blacks--in the parking lot of a condominium complex in an unincorporated area of Anaheim the evening of Aug. 6. Her girlfriend started arguing with another white girl, who was soon joined by two men with baseball bats. Amber said she and her friends tried to run. But she was knocked to the ground. She was the only one injured seriously enough to be hospitalized.

One of the men armed with a bat has since said that things got out of hand when one of the black youths made the first threatening move.

But Amber and her friends say it was the two with the bats who instigated the fight by swinging the bats and yelling racial slurs.

Although Amber can't remember details of the attack, the physical and psychological trauma is likely to plague her for years.

"I can't go outside without some kind of protection on my face," she said. "I can't go to the movies with my friends. We had so many plans for school, and now everything is blown."

The outgoing ninth-grader, who had attended summer school to improve her grades so she could join this year's cheerleading squad, says she faints if she tries to stand too long. She will have to sip food through a tube for the next month because her jaws are wired shut. When she tries to smile, the left side of her mouth stays frozen in place. Doctors say it could be years before she can control the muscles in the side of her face.

And she lies awake for hours at night, her body racked with pain. When she does fall asleep, Amber said, she often sees the face of one of her attackers, who has come back to finish her off. Now, instead of going to modeling interviews, she will be making a trip to a Hollywood plastic surgeon who has offered to reconstruct her face free.

The teen-ager can't stand the sight of the wound running down her face. One day last week, Amber watched a television episode of "Star Trek" that featured creatures whose faces were half-human, half-monster. "That's my face," Amber said.

But what angers her family most is that no one has been charged in the Aug. 6 assault. Amber's parents believe it is because Amber is black and her assailants are white. Two men have admitted they took part in the assault, but say they acted in self-defense.

"I want to think that they're going to charge someone and put them in jail, but I just don't think anyone is going to be charged," said Jefferson, a supermarket manager in Fountain Valley. "If this had been a white 15-year-old girl who had been attacked by two black guys, someone would be in jail."

Others in the black community have expressed the same sentiments, saying the incident reinforces an image of Orange County as a bastion of white conservatism where nonwhites are unwelcome.

"It's the same old thing. (Whites) are not going to prosecute themselves," said the Rev. James Carrington, pastor of the largest black church in Orange County. "They say, 'We'll let this thing go, we'll cover it up and we'll go on.' "

Officials at the Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the case, reject the suggestion that the case is being handled differently because Amber is black. They have declined to discuss details.

"The case is being handled the same way it would be in any situation," department spokesman Lt. Richard Olson said. "We're trying to make sure we identify everyone who is involved, and when the investigation is complete, we will sit down with the (district attorney) and whatever charges are appropriate will be filed."

Yet Amber's family is suspicious about why investigators did not publicly discuss the incident until Amber's aunt contacted newspapers four days after the attack.

"They were trying to hush it up," said Katie Jefferson, Amber's aunt. "That child was almost killed; it wasn't even in the newspaper."

Her brother, Amber's father, is struggling to calm a silent rage.

"I don't want anyone to go and hurt those people," he said. "I want the law to take care of that." Jefferson said he plans to hire a lawyer.

Meanwhile, officials at the Orange County Urban League said they are considering asking the U.S Justice Department to conduct an independent inquiry into the case--a course often pursued by civil-rights activists when they believe local law enforcement is not aggressively investigating a hate crime.

There has been an outpouring of support for Amber from family, friends and strangers. Singer Irene Cara dropped by with an aloe vera plant, showing Amber how to apply the soothing ointment to her injury. There have been calls from talk show host Arsenio Hall and other celebrities. A UC Irvine law student wrote that after reading about the incident, he wants to practice civil-rights law.

While Jefferson welcomes the help for his daughter, it does not make it any easier to accept that someone almost killed her, that the Sheriff's Department has identified at least two of the people responsible, and that no one has been arrested.

Jefferson said investigators have informed him that the case against Amber's assailants is weak because she and her friends have told different stories about what precipitated the incident.

"I don't care if there are conflicting stories about what happened," he said. "How could a 15-year-old girl with no weapon pose enough of a threat to somebody to make them do this?"

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