Babe 'n Arms: Tom was a hot-tempered cross-dresser with a garage full of guns — and then he became Rachel

Nov 18, 2009 at 4:00 am

Scott Clark heard screams as evening fell on May 24, 2007. He had just returned from work and climbed out of his car. The air was cool up on the wooded ridge in House Springs, where his home and a dozen others line a secluded lane. Cries of "God, help me," were coming from his neighbor's garage.

Clark was familiar with the woman next door, who asked that her name be changed to "Karen" for this story. She was heavyset and suffered from various health problems that made movement difficult. Still, she was a sociable neighbor, unlike her husband, Tom Hibdon IV, who'd barely spoken to Clark in the two years they lived side by side. Clark knew virtually nothing about Hibdon, only that he was a union carpenter with thick muscular arms.

Clark rushed into his house and shouted for his fiancée to call the police. He wanted to run next door and intervene, but authorities ordered him to stay put.

The source of the screams soon appeared at Clark's front door. It was Karen. "She was hysterical," he remembers. Minutes later, Karen's six-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son hurried over, visibly shaken, to join their mother. The son reported that he'd just seen his dad toting a large rifle.

A deputy from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office pulled up just before 8 p.m. Karen told them what had happened: An argument between her and her husband grew so fierce that he shoved her, chased her with a thirteen-foot spear and held a sword to her throat.

She also conveyed to police that Hibdon, who served in the first Gulf War, was armed to the hilt. What Karen failed to mention were her husband's other identifying traits that evening: tweezed eyebrows and girlish hoop earrings.

The deputy tried to reach Hibdon on his cell phone. No answer. Two more officers arrived, and all three tried to coax him to come outside. Again, no luck. Deputy Nick Todd set up near the rear of the residence and waited in the dark. A long and tense hour ticked by.

Suddenly, Todd heard the crunching of leaves and aimed his flashlight at a human figure. At the back of the house, Hibdon had emerged from the shadows, Rambo-like, with a loaded rifle in his right hand, a two-foot sword in a sheath over his shoulder, three rounds of ammunition in his right pocket and a loaded Glock nine-millimeter pistol in his left.

Blinded by the beam of light, Hibdon raised his rifle toward it. Todd dived behind a tree for cover.

Scott Clark heard loud shouting and raced out to his back patio, only to see three officers pointing their guns at Hibdon.

Says Clark: "They're yelling, 'Motherfucker, get down! We're gonna shoot you!' I swear we're gonna shoot you!'"

Hibdon put the rifle down but kept his left hand hidden from the officers. "Stay back! Stay back!" he repeated, his speech growing louder.

Meanwhile, Deputy Will Mertens was creeping toward Hibdon alongside the house, out of view. When he got close enough, Mertens blasted his face with pepper spray. Hibdon collapsed to his knees. The officers swarmed. As they subdued and cuffed him, they accidentally knocked off one of his earrings.

Clark heard one of the officers tell Hibdon, "Do you know how stupid that was? Do you know how close you came to getting shot?"

Karen gave police consent to search the residence. In the garage they came across a safe about six feet tall, which Mertens opened and peered inside. "It was filled up pretty good," he says. There were eight rifles (three with scopes), two shotguns, seven handguns and numerous rounds of ammunition. There was also a green hand grenade, its pin secured with a short strip of duct tape.

Concerned that the grenade might be live, federal and county explosive experts were dispatched from St. Louis. They arrived on the scene after midnight and set up their equipment to detonate the bomb on the ground behind Hibdon's house.

Clark's fiancée, Wendy Dickerman, says officers knocked on her door at about 2 a.m. and told her to move to the front of the house where it was safer. Then the bomb squad set it off. "It was a big boom," she says. "It was so loud it shook everything in the house."

According to a police report, the blast scattered the bomb squad's equipment some 30 feet from its original spot, leaving a hole, estimates Mertens, about the size of a car's hood.

In addition to the firearms, deputies also found in the garage some medieval weapons and armor Hibdon had fashioned himself. "The garage was freaky," Deputy Todd recalls.

In his report Mertens wrote that Hibdon appeared to be intoxicated. When Hibdon was transported to the Jefferson County jail that night, authorities processed him and performed a customary strip search. They discovered that he was wearing pink women's panties.

The state eventually charged him with three felonies stemming from the incident: two counts of unlawful use of a firearm and one count of possession of a loaded firearm while intoxicated.

His legal troubles mounted when the federal district court in St. Louis found out about the grenade and later, in January 2009, charged Hibdon with possession of a "destructive" explosive device.

The government, though, would soon have to amend their documents and charge someone else for the crime. Less than a week after the indictment was issued, Hibdon was no longer Hibdon. He had gone to Thailand for a sex change.

Tom Hibdon was now a post-operative transsexual named Rachel Ildeya Amratiel.

Today, Amratiel is 38 years old and living in a small two-story brick home in Maplewood. She longs to start anew, to find a job and a partner to love. She bakes Communion breads for her Methodist church and says she's so focused on the present that many details of her old life as Tom Hibdon have fallen away.

But she does remember one thing about her former self: "I was a real dick before I transitioned."

Rachel Amratiel stands more than six feet in heels and still has the broad hands of a carpenter. Her fingernails are painted the color of her hair, hot-tamale red.

Seated outside Olympia Kebob House on a warm September afternoon wearing a boxy navy-blue dress that she bought at a secondhand shop, Amratiel describes the first time she "knew."

"I remember it crystal clear," she begins in her falsetto voice. She had been a six-year-old boy, Tom Hibdon IV, standing in the upstairs bathroom of his grandfather's house. It was nearly sundown and bars of sunlight came slanting through the window.

"I was asking myself, 'If I were a girl, what would my name be?' And just as clear as if somebody else was in the room, the answer was Rachel." She continues: "That was always a part of me, but I could never share that with anybody."

For one thing, young Tom Hibdon carried the name of his father, Thomas Hibdon III, who was killed in a car accident when Tom was a toddler. The family expected that someday, Tom, an only child, would pass on the name.

Tom's widowed mother, Nancy, moved herself and her young son in with her own father, who was thrilled to raise the child, having only brought up girls. "It was very important he was a boy," says Nancy.

But Tom was constantly picked on in school and beaten up for not being "boy" enough. Shy and withdrawn, he was taunted for being a sissy. He took clarinet lessons, and after a year, the instructor pulled aside his mother and joked that Tom must be one of twins. Sometimes you bring the good one, the teacher joked to Nancy, and sometimes you bring the bad one.

"Now that I look back," Nancy muses, "I can honestly see when Rachel was trying to get out and to show herself." At age twelve, she says, Tom dressed as a girl with makeup for Halloween. A couple of Halloweens later he went as a hooker, replete with tight skirt and fishnet stockings.

It was around this time that Nancy and her second husband, Ken, sent Tom to Hyland Behavioral Health Center in south St. Louis County after he'd grown too erratic for them to handle. (Both Ken and Nancy asked that their last names be withheld.)

"I never knew what kind of mood he'd be in," Nancy recalls of her son's teenage years. "Sometimes he was compliant and sweet, other times defiant and argumentative." After six weeks of inpatient treatment, Hyland officials released the troubled boy and said there was really nothing they could do to stabilize his behavior.

Fierce arguments erupted between Tom and his mother while he was a student at Maplewood Richmond Heights High School. Twice he ran away from home. Still, he managed to hold down some part-time jobs, such as a food-runner for the late-night breakfast buffet at Shoney's. On Saturday nights, men who'd gotten in free to The Rocky Horror Picture Show by dressing in drag would meet at the restaurant afterward and ravage the breakfast bar.

"They did not eat like ladies," Amratiel recollects. "I kind of thought, 'Maybe I want to do that.'"

Instead, his life took a more masculine direction. Although Tom began high school at an advanced academic level, he grew bored, and by his senior year, he was failing most of his classes. He decided to drop out and join the U.S. Army.

"I got tired of being thought of as a pussy all the time, and I had inner feelings about myself that I wanted to try to get rid of," says Amratiel. "Being in the military, I could get out of the house. I could toughen up and get to another part of the world."

Such behavior is not out of the ordinary for people in Tom Hibdon's situation, notes Helen Friedman, Ph.D., a St. Louis-based clinical psychologist who specializes in gender-identity disorder. "It's not uncommon for transgendered individuals to join the military, hoping it'll either kill them or make them a man," Friedman says. "It might kill them but it won't make them a man, because gender identity is hard-wired in the brain."

During the Persian Gulf War, Hibdon was a TOW gunner, manning anti-tank missiles with the 3rd Brigade, 24th Infantry Division. On one occasion, heading north through Iraq, his unit approached an Iraqi convoy that had just been hit hard by Hellfire missiles. Hibdon caught a glimpse of incinerated corpses.

"Their flesh was dripped like wax into a puddle from the heat of the missiles. I remember the whiteness of bone. I don't think they were combatants; I didn't see any weapons." She pauses and then adds quietly, "I think about that a lot."

After four years in the U.S. Army, Hibdon was released from active duty in late 1991. He returned to St. Louis and found steady work with the carpenter's union. Living by himself, he began to secretly wear women's clothing around the house. Then disgust would set in, and he'd throw the garments away.

Dr. Friedman refers to this as "binge-and-purge" behavior. "It becomes a cycle. It's very common."

Loneliness during these years drove Hibdon to RFT's personal ads. Through them, he met Karen. They dated for only a few months, married in September 1996 and moved into a house in south St. Louis. A couple years later, while Karen was pregnant with her son, Hibdon came to her one day with something to confess: He was a cross-dresser.

"I said, 'You're joking, right?' I was shocked. He was super-macho; he was built. He had huge arms. He was a good-looking guy; he had a military haircut."

Exploring blogs and websites on the couple's first computer, Hibdon discovered transgenderism and felt something click. "All of a sudden things started making sense," Amratiel says. "But I didn't want to accept it about myself."

Nor did Karen accept it. She got upset and demanded that Hibdon stop cross-dressing, which he agreed to do in the hope of appeasing her. She never thought the issue would resurface. Hibdon would frequently become fixated on a topic, she says, such as metalworking, diamonds or wine. He'd learn everything there was to know about it, then grow tired of it and move on.

"As far as the cross-dressing, I thought it was just another thing he'd get tired of."

Tom Hibdon began to amass a small arsenal of weapons in the early 1990s. He'd been a crack shot in the service, earning the distinction of expert marksman, and later, as a civilian, made frequent visits to a shooting range. "I was really good," boasts Amratiel. "And it seemed like the macho thing to do."

Some guns were gifts from family members; others came by way of trading with work colleagues. At one construction job in the late 1990s, he met a man who sold him a hand grenade for $15.

Karen insists that a deep paranoia drove her husband to collect guns. She says he referred to the police as the Gestapo and feared the government was conspiring to strip the citizenry of its weaponry. "He used to say we were coming to a civil war, and he wanted to be prepared."

Amratiel dismisses this as hyperbole. "It's true I don't trust the government. I think the police can do whatever they want and get away with it. But [Karen] is trying to make me out as some kind of militant whack job."

Once his daughter was born and the young family relocated to House Springs in 2001, Hibdon started writing a novel. On weekend nights he'd hole up in his garage and type up a story inspired by the sci-fi fantasy writers he'd read in high school. The novel was supposed to be the first of a nine-part series titled World of Tantaria.

In 2006 he finished book one, Nine Sisters Succubi. It would've run about 350 pages in standard paperback. He never published it, but copyrighted it with the Library of Congress. In the book a male named "Amratiel" and a female named "Ildeya" give birth to a girl called "Rachel."

Karen says that on Halloweens when he'd go as a female, friends would marvel at how convincing Hibdon's feminine body language was. One year on an outing to a haunted house in downtown St. Louis, the security guard mistook him for an actual woman, asking "her" why "she" wasn't wearing a costume.

Sometimes, when Hibdon's daughter played dress-up, he helped do her makeup. After a while he grew bolder and played dress-up himself, wearing androgynous clothing, such as spandex pants. All the while, he refused to believe a sex change was necessary. "I thought, 'I don't want to be a woman, I just want to pretend like I'm one.'"

Then, in late 2006, Hibdon had a fateful encounter at a monthly meeting of the St. Louis Gender Foundation, a support group for "gender-questioning" adults. He noticed a 58-year-old female transsexual sitting by herself. He approached her and asked why she had waited so long to get sex-reassignment surgery. The woman responded that she took the plunge only after her terminally ill wife passed away and her kids were through college.

"She just had a look in her eye, like she regretted waiting so long," Amratiel says. "And I made a choice that whatever I was going to do, I needed to do it. I didn't want to wait that long. I didn't want to have that regret."

Life at home, meanwhile, began to deteriorate. Nasty shouting matches between the parents led to shoving. Karen claims that Hibdon would get drunk, then grow belligerent and discipline the children with unwarranted physical force.

Once he smacked his daughter's face when she talked with her mouth full at the dinner table and later slapped the back of her head when she rocked in her chair. On another occasion, Karen says, he flung his son down hard on the floor in anger and called him a "dumb shit."

Karen says he would complain that their life was too "vanilla" and dull. On weekend nights Hibdon would dress as a female, leave Karen home to watch TV and mind the kids, then go out on the town and return very late. At the December 2006 meeting of the Gender Foundation, he arrived drunk, lost his temper with another member and was asked to leave, according to Sallie, the group's president who only goes by one name. He never returned.

"It was the first time I'd been around anyone yelling at one of our meetings," says Sallie. "Rachel as a guy was really sort of muscular. It would scare you. But personally, I really liked Rachel. She had a great mentality. It killed me to not have her as a member. She really needed that camaraderie."

In February 2007 Hibdon ordered some black-market estrogen pills online but continued to waffle about the sex change — until the package arrived.

"When I sat there holding that first pill," recounts Amratiel, "I knew I'd lose my family, I'd lose my house, I'd lose my career, lose my job. I knew I'd lose the respect of my peers, the carpenters. I knew I'd probably lose my kids, although I was hoping I wouldn't. But I decided that my life was for me to live. It was at that moment I made up my mind." He swallowed it.

Karen noticed her husband was starting to look odd. He'd lost weight, was shaving his legs and grooming his eyebrows. She found an estrogen pill on the floor of the bedroom and angrily confronted him. He said it was none of her business.

When Hibdon cross-dressed, Karen tried to keep the children down in the basement. But in April 2007, their nine-year-old son came upstairs and saw his father wearing a dress. Hibdon thought the kids should be exposed to it. The episode deeply disturbed Karen, however. She stopped cooking for him and doing his laundry.

Hibdon passed long hours in his garage fashioning medieval plate armor and weapons, such as swords and a flail. He also began forging metal chastity belts designed to hide his male parts. He couldn't get the pattern right and made at least eight different belts. One belt, which he wore for 22 days straight, gave him painful blisters because it didn't fit correctly.

For months Hibdon had been reading about Wicca, a religion that harkens back to the pagan beliefs of pre-Christian Western Europe. He created offering bowls, a ceremonial dagger and a "goddess board" filled with ancient symbols of femininity.

Meanwhile, Karen, who was raised Lutheran, told him that transgenderism was against God and a sin. She claims he would respond by saying Christians were evil and needed to die.

"I used to say all kinds of things in anger," Amratiel admits. "She was crushing me underneath that Christian stuff. Anybody would lose their temper over time. She would push me to the point of rage."

On May 23, 2007, the day before the blowout at their House Springs home that culminated in Hibdon's arrest, he told Karen for the first time that he wanted to get a sex change.

According to a court memorandum filed later by Hibdon's lawyer, Karen became so enraged at the news that she threatened to get their neighbor, Scott Clark, to come over and "kick his faggot ass."

The evening of May 24, 2007, began calmly at the Hibdon residence. The family was eating supper and watching Pirates of the Caribbean. Hibdon was drinking a beer. He and his son got in a wrestling match, and he pinned the child down to make him say "uncle." When the boy began to cry, Karen ordered her husband to quit it. An argument ensued.

Fed up with his drinking, Karen walked out to the garage, grabbed cans of beer from the refrigerator and smashed them on the floor. Hibdon followed her out, and they screamed at each other.

When Karen told him she was leaving him and taking the children, she claims Hibdon held a sword to her throat and growled, "You're fat; you're sickly — you're bleeding me dry with doctor bills. I want you dead."

Amratiel concedes uttering such things but says he wasn't drunk and never brandished any weapons. Besides, he adds, Karen twice had knee surgery and, at the time, suffered from a suspended bladder and uterus.

"How are you supposed to chase a 270-pound woman with bad knees and not catch her? How did she get away unscathed if I'm this crazed attacker?"

Whatever the case, Karen says she flew out of the house, telling him she was going next door for help. Then, expecting a confrontation with his neighbor, Clark, Hibdon armed himself.

Hibdon later said he eluded authorities, at least for an hour or so, by slipping out the back of the house and picking his way down the steep, forested hill, before finally coming to a creek bed.

Wearing carpenter pants and a T-shirt, along with earrings and pink panties, "I was just sitting there quiet, thinking, 'How did I get to the point where I am hiding in the woods, armed to the teeth, wearing women's underwear and smoking cigarettes?'"

When finally he climbed back up to his home, a flashlight shone in his eyes, and voices told him to drop his rifle. Realizing those voices were coming from deputies, he thought, "Oh, no. This does not look well."

Tom Hibdon spent the final week of May 2007 languishing in jail before making a last-resort phone call. He hadn't spoken to his mother in nearly six years.

Nancy says that several times she drove past her son's house but couldn't bring herself to knock on the door. "I really couldn't have handled the open rejection of not being allowed in."

But when her son called from Jefferson County jail, says Nancy, he was "shaking and trembling." She and her husband Ken immediately sped out to Hillsboro to pick him up. They posted his bond, and he walked out. "There was something different-looking about him," she remembers.

Having talked with Karen the month before, Nancy was aware of her son's cross-dressing proclivities. So when they climbed into the minivan, Nancy looked him square in the eyes and asked, "Have you been cross-dressing?" Hibdon finally replied, "Yes."

"I was so afraid," Amratiel says, reflecting back on that moment. "My mom was just staring at me through the rearview mirror. There was a painful silence. Then she said, 'OK.' I was floored. I was expecting the ax to drop."

Hibdon moved in with his mother and stepfather. Karen immediately petitioned for a restraining order and a child-protection order against her husband. Both were granted. She filed for a divorce in late June 2007 and won custody of the children. Hibdon was ordered to pay $800 in monthly child support.

He struggled to keep his carpentry jobs at various construction sites, but the estrogen pills were making his appearance hard to ignore. One day he was told by some fellow workers that he should probably look into another line of work.

Says Amratiel: "They told me, 'You wouldn't want to accidentally fall off some scaffolding.'"

In the latter part of 2007 Hibdon gathered up all his male clothing, drove to a McDonald's parking lot downtown and threw the garments into a Dumpster. From that point on, he wore wigs and women's apparel in preparation for sex-reassignment surgery. He dressed as a woman while attending classes full-time at Metro Business College in Arnold and while working part-time at Starbucks to help pay child support. He even wore dresses when he visited his children under court supervision.

Hibdon lost his rights to see his kids after missing four visitations. He blamed his ex-wife Karen, the custodial parent, for refusing to agree to a time outside his work shifts at the coffee shop. Karen countered that he didn't make an effort to reschedule.

With his new life in full swing, Hibdon began referring to himself as Rachel Ildeya Amratiel. One night in the fall of 2008, while playing darts at a south St. Louis bar, Amratiel met a trucker in his fifties named Keith Milton. The two started dating and fell in love. She invited him over for Thanksgiving dinner, and he got along well with her parents.

With Keith's blessing, a $25,000 loan from her parents and the court's permission, Amratiel scheduled the sex-change. She flew to Thailand in January 2009 and checked into the clinic of Dr. Suporn Watanyusakul, a well-known gender surgeon in Chonburi province.

After submitting referrals from an M.D., a therapist and a veterans' affairs psychologist, Amratiel took the necessary blood tests and was ready. On January 13 she underwent an eight-hour procedure that removed her testicles and created a vagina. Her Adam's apple was shaved off, her breasts augmented.

Fitted with a catheter, her nether-region packed tightly with gauze, Amratiel spent a painful eight days on morphine and antibiotics. "He" had become, anatomically, a "she."

The surgery had no effect on her sentencing several months later. On June 17, after pleading guilty to three felonies, Thomas Hibdon IV received five years probation from a circuit court judge in Jefferson County. It wasn't until the following week that the state of Missouri formally recognized Hibdon as Rachel Ildeya Amratiel.

By that time she was living with Milton, her boyfriend. One condition of her probation — total abstinence from alcohol — was very much at odds with his lifestyle. "He was a party animal," Amratiel says, adding that her man was quite popular, especially in the bars of Soulard.

"I couldn't be in that environment; I was tempted a lot," she says. She broke up with him in mid-July. Two weeks later she received a phone call from a sheriff in Illinois. Milton had died while riding his motorcycle to Wisconsin. Authorities found in his wallet Amratiel's phone number listed as the emergency contact.

Amratiel's mother spoke to Milton just hours before he died. "He professed his love for Rachel," she says. "It hit me really hard. I so loved Keith. I was really looking forward to them making it a permanent thing."

Amratiel says she had an argument with Milton the morning before his death. Upon hearing the news, she says, "I wanted to jump off a really tall building onto something really hard. I felt overwhelmed."

What most attracted Amratiel to the Gathering United Methodist Church on McCausland Avenue was that she didn't feel like everybody was staring at her.

"The Bible doesn't answer the question of how to deal with someone like Rachel walking into your church," says the Rev. Matt Miofsky, pastor of the Gathering. "But what Scripture is clear about, over and over again, is that Jesus was a person who wasn't uncomfortable hanging out with people on the margins of society."

Amratiel is sometimes joined by her mother, who has fully accepted her child's new identity. "Thomas was such a hard person to be around, whereas Rachel is an absolute, total sweetheart," Nancy says. "I couldn't ask for a better daughter."

Amratiel's stepfather says the emotional gulf between Tom and Rachel is vast. Whereas Tom used to boil with fury, Rachel will melt into tears. She's also more compassionate, he adds, and enjoys the company of others far more than Tom ever did.

Amratiel herself has felt her mood stabilize since she began taking Cymbalta six weeks ago to treat depression and anxiety.

She believes she's been railroaded by a biased criminal justice system. "Trans have it rough," she posits. "We're the most discriminated group in America right now."

Her legal troubles over pistols, rifles and a live hand grenade shouldn't be viewed as typical for transgendered individuals, stresses Dr. Donald Tarver, a former San Francisco health commissioner who now specializes in transgender therapy.

"They're no more inclined to be prosecuted for criminal behavior," he says. "In fact, the opposite may be true because, given their history of being harassed, teased and oppressed, transgendered individuals tend to be fastidiously avoidant of infractions that will draw more attention to their lives."

Amratiel believes her ex-wife feels profound shame for having married a transsexual and, as a result, is trying to ruin her new life. "I just wish she'd leave me alone. I want to be allowed to be me without having to fight to do it."

Karen, for her part, still has a restraining order against Amratiel and doesn't want herself or her children associated with her in any way. Karen still uses masculine pronouns when referring to her ex-husband. "He's a monster," she says. "Everybody's afraid of him."

Amratiel has dated various men but says it takes a special guy to love a woman in her situation. Some have even asked her to go out target shooting, but she has no desire.

"I'll put it to you this way: If I got into a firefight, I could still hold my own. But I'm just not interested anymore."

Rachel Amratiel wore a black skirt suit to her sentencing on November 5. Seated in the tenth-floor courtroom of the Thomas F. Eagleton Federal Courthouse, she appeared calm and at one point whispered that if she had to go to jail, she's "going to go with dignity."

Only her mother, Nancy, showed up in support. A handful of courthouse employees trickled in to watch. "I can't tell you how many sentencings I've done in this building," said Amratiel's lawyer, Matthew Radefeld. "But every time we come in the courtroom, Rachel draws a crowd."

When U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel entered, both attorney and client approached the podium. Radefeld argued that Amratiel, who has pleaded guilty, should not serve prison time.

She's not a menace to society, and besides, Radefeld added, she has unique medical needs — the aftereffects of the sex-change operation — that confinement might not easily accommodate.

Twice a day Amratiel must insert a dilator fitted with a lubricated condom into her vagina for an hour to prevent it from closing permanently.

Still, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannette Graviss insisted she be punished for possessing an unregistered hand grenade and recommended 27 months of incarceration.

"I am a completely different person than I once was," Amratiel told the judge. "My goal is to be a productive woman that supports her family and to live a peaceful, godly life that will influence others to do the same."

Finally, Judge Sippel ruled that Amratiel must serve eighteen months behind bars, but gave her until January to surrender herself to authorities. By that time, he said, her medical condition, now being monitored by the VA Medical Center on North Grand Boulevard, will be under control.

The court adjourned. The only sound in the room was Nancy, sobbing. Amratiel glided over to her, her own cheeks wet with tears, sat down and wrapped a big arm around her. "It's OK, Mom," she said softly.

Exiting into the hallway moments later, Amratiel gazed out the window toward the riverfront below. With a smirk she muttered, "Well, this is going to be interesting."