Julia O'Malley

Julia O'Malley writes a general interest column about life and politics in Anchorage and around Alaska. She grew up in Anchorage and has worked at the ADN on and off as a columnist and reporter since 1996. She came back full time as a reporter in 2005.

As a reporter, she covered the court system and wrote extensively about life in Anchorage, including big changes in the city's ethnic and minority communities.

In 2008, she won the Scripps-Howard Foundation's Ernie Pyle award for the best human-interest writing in America. She has also written for the Oregonian, the Juneau Empire and the Anchorage Press.

E-mail her at jomalley@adn.com.

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Healing and grateful

Am-Marie Martin, 7, with her mother, Andrea Dunwoody, doesn't remember what happened to her last month when a neighbor tried to take her bike away from her and beat her unconscious with a cast-covered arm. Dunwoody and Am-Marie's father, Tom Martin, are grateful for the support Am-Marie and the family have received. (STEPH ANDERSON / Anchorage Daily News)Am-Marie Martin, 7, with her mother, Andrea Dunwoody, doesn't remember what happened to her last month when a neighbor tried to take her bike away from her and beat her unconscious with a cast-covered arm. Dunwoody and Am-Marie's father, Tom Martin, are grateful for the support Am-Marie and the family have received. (STEPH ANDERSON / Anchorage Daily News)

Am-Marie Martin, who is 7 years old, doesn't remember what happened that afternoon last month when a neighbor, Byron Syvinski, beat her unconscious with a cast-covered arm, trying to steal her little pink bike.

"The doctors say she has repressed memories," her mother, Andrea Dunwoody said Friday. "And that's good for her."

It's better she doesn't remember what happened, she said. It was too scary. Too horrible. Am-Marie only knows what people have told her.

Am-Marie spent eight days in the hospital recovering from the beating. At first doctors thought she might require surgery to relieve swelling in her brain, but in the end she pulled through without it. She suffered from dizzy spells for a while and may be prone to headaches for the rest of her life, her mother said. She just has the faintest shadow of two black eyes.

In terms of her personality, "she's just like she was before," Dunwoody said.

Though maybe now she's more cautious. She doesn't go outside without her mother. She always wears her helmet on her bike. She was too shy to do much more than nod or shake her head when I asked her questions.

"She's trying to put it behind her," her father, Tom Martin, said.

Maybe after a while, they'll take her to talk to a counselor about it, he said. But right now it doesn't seem she wants to talk. She'll be starting third grade at Northstar Elementary in the fall.

The day it happened was laundry day in the basement apartment on Eide Street that Am-Marie shares with her mother, and her brother Thomas Martin, II, who is 9.

Dunwoody carried her laundry up the stairs and sat her basket at the top. Am-Marie ran out the front door of the building to ride her bike. Dunwoody was coming back up the stairs with her detergent and her quarters when a neighbor boy ran in the door.

"He says 'Am-Marie was hit,' " Dunwoody said. "I was thinking it was a car."

Dunwoody dropped everything and ran into the yard.

By then Am-Marie was lying in the street. Police had surrounded Syvinski. He was hog-tied. Am-Marie was drifting in and out of consciousness.

"It was like the whole thing happened in 30 seconds," Dunwoody said.

There was an ambulance ride. Am-Marie started to bleed from her nose. She needed a CT scan. Doctors looked grim.

"She wasn't responding, she wasn't wiggling her toes, her eyes were, like, glazed," Dunwoody said. "I just sat by her bed and prayed."

Martin, a carpenter and painter, was working on a crawl space job in Peters Creek when he got the call that something happened to Am-Marie. He sped into town and met Dunwoody at the hospital.

The first night was rough, as doctors waited to see if her brain would swell. By morning the swelling risk was over. Am-Marie woke up.

"She said, 'Why am I here?' " her mother said.

"To me it was like her being born."

Doctors told Martin and Dunwoody their daughter would be OK.

Am-Marie Martin, who'll be starting third grade in the fall, doesn't go outside without her mother and always wears her helmet when riding her bike. (STEPH ANDERSON / Anchorage Daily News)Am-Marie Martin, who'll be starting third grade in the fall, doesn't go outside without her mother and always wears her helmet when riding her bike. (STEPH ANDERSON / Anchorage Daily News)

Martin and Dunwoody found out later that some of their neighbors saved Am-Marie from Syvinski. One of them hit him, hard, and injured his own arm, they heard. They'd like to know who it was so they can thank him.

"The doctor said if (Syvinski) had punched her one more time, she wouldn't be here right now," Martin said.

Syvinski faces a robbery charge, five felony assault charges and a misdemeanor assault charge. He was on probation at the time of the incident. The day before, he contacted police asking for help and was put into protective custody, either in the hospital or in jail. He was later released.

Neighbors who saw what happened said he appeared to be either mentally ill or high at the time of the incident. Martin and Dunwoody want to know why he didn't stay in protective custody.

"You know what I learned?" Martin told me as we watched Am-Marie ride her bike down the street Friday morning. "She ain't gonna do nothing without me."

Am-Marie's story touched people in Anchorage. Cards started to arrived at the hospital. Friends from school. Strangers. Everyone wishing her well. There were enough cards to cover the entire hospital wall by the time she left. Employees at the Sheraton Hotel took up a collection for a hand-held video game.

When she got back to her block in Midtown, all the neighbors wanted to visit. Her playmates brought presents. Another little girl she didn't know showed up with a bike. A lady left a bag of teddy bears. A guy dropped off a stuffed Sponge Bob.

And Anchorage police officers collected money and coordinated donations from Alaska Airlines and Marriott to send Am-Marie, her mom, brother and cousin to go to Disneyland. Am-Marie doesn't know about it yet.

"The brutality kind of surprised people," said APD Sgt. Derek Hsieh, who was involved with the collection. "It was an opportunity to do the right thing."

Am-Marie Martin with her parents, Andrea Dunwoody and Tom Martin, and brother, Thomas Martin, 9. (STEPH ANDERSON / Anchorage Daily News)Am-Marie Martin with her parents, Andrea Dunwoody and Tom Martin, and brother, Thomas Martin, 9. (STEPH ANDERSON / Anchorage Daily News)

Dunwoody created a Facebook page for Am-Marie so that she could post thank you notes to all the people who reached out to her. Am-Marie made a homemade card as well. What happened to her daughter was terrible and unreal, Dunwoody said, but the people who reached out to them made it easier.

"It taught me that there's more good than evil," Dunwoody said.

"We just want to say thank you," Martin said.

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