Stewart describes his ordeal

January 22, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

BOWIE -- For Washington Bullets forward Larry Stewart, the sound of the security alarm in the early morning of Jan. 7 was a sign that his ordeal was over.

There was no alarm when the armed robbers broke into his

house, bound and gagged him, stabbed him and placed a pillow over his head. But when the alarm did go off, and he could hear the robbers fleeing, there was a sense of relief.

Relief, however, was momentary.

"The other guys ran off, but then one guy put his hand on top of the pillow and I realized someone was still there," Stewart recalled yesterday. "Then I heard him click the gun back.

"I knew he was going to shoot me."

The shot that followed the click sent a bullet through the back of Stewart's neck, a wound that missed his spinal cord by an inch. Yesterday Stewart, attending a team practice for the first time since the shooting, described himself as "very lucky" to have survived the shooting and eager to put the attack behind him.

"An inch either way and I could have been paralyzed, or I could have even died," Stewart said. "I'm just counting my blessings and pray that something like this never happens to me again."

Baltimore County police said yesterday that there are no new leads in the burglary, which occurred at 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 7.

Police said Stewart was targeted in the incident, at his home in Relay. The thieves stole a .380 caliber Walther gun. A personalized gold chain that had five quarter-sized, diamond-studded gold basketballs was also believed to have been stolen, but was later found in the house.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward entered the team's practice facility yesterday morning on crutches, having undergone surgery on Monday for his right foot that was broken during a practice in Los Angeles on Dec. 21. The only noticeable physical differences were the close haircut and the diamond earring in his left ear.

"It makes you go out and do some of the things the things you've always wanted to do," Stewart said.

The incident has left Stewart -- who grew up in Philadelphia and attended Coppin State -- a much more cautious person.

"When you pull up to your house now, you look around and check out for things that don't belong," Stewart said. "You look under your bed for people. It's kind of tough, not seeing their faces and not knowing who it was that did this. Now I'm aware of everybody that walks up to me."

Stewart believes, as do the police, that he was targeted. There was an attempted break-in at Stewart's home on Oct. 23.

"It's run through my head a million times: 'Why me?,' " Stewart said. "I don't think it was random. I think most definitely they knew who I was. Maybe they followed me the day before and cased out my house."

For Stewart, the evening before the attack was normal. He drove to Coppin State to see his younger brother, Stephen, play in the Eagles' game against South Carolina State. He went home alone and turned on the house security alarm before going to sleep.

"Everything happened so fast, I thought it was a dream," Stewart said. "I couldn't believe that someone was in my house, that I was being taped up."

After he was bound, the burglars began asking where valuables were.

"They stabbed me to try to [make him] tell where certain things were in the house," Stewart said. "A lot of things are so big and it's not like they can steal them. The things that were stealable, I told them where they were.

"I didn't think that anything was going to happen because I didn't resist. I thought they were going to take what they wanted and leave."

But it didn't happen that way in the incident, which Stewart said lasted no more than five minutes. His head was under the pillow for much of the ordeal, but he could see the lights go on and hear the intruders rifling through his chest of drawers.

Then the alarm. The click. And the shot.

"I don't remember what went through my mind after the click, but after the shot, I hardly felt it," Stewart said. "I didn't feel it until I got outside and realized that blood was coming down my neck. I heard the shot, but I didn't realize I was shot until then."

Two nights later, Stewart returned to the house and stayed there with his family "just to get it over with," he said. But Stewart, the only Bullets player living in the Baltimore area, is looking for a home near his teammates, who live closer to the USAir Arena and Bowie.

"I have a fiancee [and a daughter], and she felt she wouldn't be able to stay in the house," said Stewart, who was alone at the time of the break-in. "With my job, I'm on the road a lot and she would be there with the baby by herself. We decided that we had to move."

Having been through a difficult season that has included two broken feet and the shooting and stabbing, Stewart said he'll be happy to get back on the basketball court -- something he said could happen this year.

"[If not for the foot injury] I think I'd be able to play now," said Stewart, who has watched recent Bullets games a sky suite. "Basketball would help take my mind off the incident. I'm just glad that I'll have a chance to do it again."

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