Seth Qubeck sees a future teaching in South America, but sharp back pains bring back a horrifying memory.
Christine Neperud finds inspiration each day in the energy and innocence of her first-grade students. But every once in a while, the sight of some lanky young man wearing a baseball cap backward reopens deep wounds.
And though Ta'Juan Hall is devoted to helping raise his 9-year-old nephew, the boy is a constant reminder of the brother Hall lost.
The thread connecting the three is a brutal attack 10 years ago in Florida that left two college students from Howard County dead. Neperud's son, Matthew Wichita, and Hall's brother, Kevans, were killed in the assault by seven local men. Qubeck was stabbed 17 times and left for dead.
In the decade since, the three Marylanders have traveled a painful road. Unanswered questions about what happened the night of the attack torment Neperud. Anxiety overtakes Qubeck when he's around new people or large groups. The effect on the development of Justin, his 9-year-old nephew, worries Hall, whose older brother did not know he was going to be a father.
"It is a wound in my heart that will never, never heal," said Neperud, a 59-year-old Columbia resident. "Some days it is wounding and festering. Some days it is scabbed over, but it has never really healed."
Yet in their different ways, they have strived to carry on, while remaining resolute that the memories of their lost loved ones not fade away.
"I was real angry about the whole thing for a while," Qubeck said. "I still am, but I have to move on with my life."
Ta'Juan Hall had been friends with Qubeck and Wichita since middle school. The three played football together during their senior year at Oakland Mills High School. The Hall brothers were nearly inseparable, resulting in the friendship between Kevans Hall and the group.
The men, who were students at Howard Community College, chose New Smyrna Beach for a 10-day spring break trip on the recommendation of Kevans Hall, who had vacationed in Florida the year before. Along with two other friends, they settled on the Ocean Palms Beach Club, an 18-unit time-share resort.
On Thursday, April 16, 1998, the Howard County men stepped in to defuse a quarrel between the father of a 14-year-old girl and a group of local men. A fistfight ensued and the police arrived. No one was arrested, but one of the Florida men was heard threatening to return to kill the Marylanders.
That evening, a group of men with knives, baseball bats and a sock weighted with a cue ball attacked Qubeck as he emerged from a room in the complex. Qubeck fell to the ground and was stabbed repeatedly in the back. Both of his lungs were punctured and collapsed.
Wichita was stabbed 19 times. His throat was slashed and he suffered numerous wounds to his back and face. The 21-year-old died at the scene.
Hall was stabbed three times, and collapsed after running a short distance. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, at age 23.
Qubeck also was rushed to a hospital, where doctors told his mother that they did not expect him to survive. But after a three-week stay, he was discharged.
"I'm very lucky," he said. "It's amazing that I am alive."
Ta'Juan Hall traveled to Florida for the trial. Qubeck and Neperud also attended the entire three-month proceeding in Daytona Beach. All seven of the Volusia County men were convicted for their roles in the attack, though only one, Jonathan Trull, was convicted of murder.
Today, Hall, 30, continues to try to distance himself from the memories of his brother's killers. It's been hard, especially when his nephew asks what happened to his father.
"I told him his father died trying to help people," said Hall, who lives in Ellicott City and works in the shipping and receiving operation of a Columbia jewelry company.
But pointing out that Kevans Hall acted courageously does little to ease the child's pain, Hall said. He suspects that some disciplinary issues Justin has had in school are attributed to the absence of his father.
"He says he's messing up because he doesn't have anyone there," Hall said, adding that the boy also has nightmares.
Hall does his best to provide a strong male presence, routinely taking Justin to baseball and karate practice. In a sense, he is mimicking the role that his older brother showed him when they were growing up.
"My brother was my best friend," Hall said. "We would always help each other out. It was the closest that one could get."
The killings hit Hall's mother hard. Jill Carter turned to drugs after her son's death, Hall said, and went to a rehabilitation facility in Philadelphia. Shortly after completing a treatment program, she was diagnosed with bladder cancer. She died late last year.
Qubeck has suffered back pain for years and experiences asthma-like symptoms when he exercises strenuously. But the longest-lasting effect has been emotional.