Written by Judy Bachrach and Originally Published in Vanity Fair in February 2005
Sometimes, as night falls over Greater Manchester, the ingenious adolescent returns to the place where he was stabbed last year, when he was 14. The boy is tall for his age, but slight, with olive skin, a long crooked nose, and dark, intelligent eyes framed by thick black brows poised for flight. The stab wounds still pain him. One in the chest—that was the light wound—and another in the abdomen, six inches deep, which pierced his kidney and liver and necessitated the removal of his gallbladder. It was from this injury that the teenager almost died on the operating table—twice, police tell me. Blood pooled inside the boy's body cavity, and this restricted the movement of his diaphragm, which stopped the functioning of his lungs. For days he lay on a respirator, treated with painkillers and antibiotics, saying little.
In Wythenshawe Hospital, where he spent more than a week, John asked to see a psychiatrist, but this was Britain, home of the dilatory National Health Service. Despite his mother's pleas, the teenager was put on a waiting list. A four-month waiting list. When pressed by police, the boy would finally concede, reluctantly and only after changing his story several times, that it was his best friend, Mark, who had stabbed him, though John said he had no idea why. (These are not their real names.)
"I love you, bro," Mark told his younger friend as he plunged in the knife.
"Mark did it once, stood up, holding me, did it again," the victim told police. "He was kneeling on me saying, 'Trust me,' holding the knife to my stomach…. There was blood coming out." Somehow or other, the boy added, he found himself dragged once again to his feet, then the knife plunged back in. "Call an ambulance!" John screamed. "I'm dying."
"Shush…. People will hear, please be quiet," the older teenager told him.
"You've killed me!" screamed John.
"Don't say that," begged Mark. "Don't let that be the last thing you are saying."
And so John crumpled, a drained, pallid figure muted forever, he thought, by the tall, light-haired boy he considered "perfect" and "out of my league."
Minutes passed, perhaps as many as 20. Then Mark pulled out the knife and called an ambulance. Some madman had attacked his friend, the boy told the police. Early 20s, wearing a black hooded jacket and black jeans. An all-points bulletin was issued by Detective Chief Inspector Julian Ross, 43, a terse, authoritative figure with an iron jaw and a manner to match. "This was a seemingly unprovoked attack," he told the media, which were directed to inform the public of the knife-wielding monster, "and we have no idea why this happened." To this day, a British media Web site carries a picture of John, his engaging, shy smile shadowed by a tender hint of mustache. Next to it is the headline BOY STABBED.
All this took place on June 29, 2003, a very hot Sunday, in a small alleyway in an area that goes by the charming name of Goose Green. At the time of the stabbing the alley led nowhere; it was cut off by a 40-foot drop. It lies off Stamford New Road, close by a shopping mall in the prosperous Manchester suburb of Altrincham, where random stabbings simply don't occur.