Published October 31, 2002
BATON ROUGE, La. – When he heard that a sniper was terrorizing the suburbs of the nation's capital, Jim Ballenger said, he just knew the same killer was behind his wife's slaying weeks earlier in Baton Rouge.
"God put it on my heart and I knew," Ballenger said in an interview Thursday, hours after authorities issued murder warrants for sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and 17-year-old John Lee Malvo in the death of Ballenger's wife, Hong Im. "I'm just glad he is in prison and can do no more harm."
The knowledge came even before reports that Muhammad had been raised in Baton Rouge, Ballenger said.
Earlier Thursday, Baton Rouge authorities said ballistic tests of the bullet that killed Hong Im Ballenger on Sept. 23 matched the rifle used in many of the sniper shootings.
The police report on the crime said Mrs. Ballenger was leaving the Beauty Depot, a supply house she managed, at about 6:30 p.m. She had her keys in one hand and her lunch box in the other when a man confronted her by her car.
Investigators said she had a canister of pepper spray in her pocket but didn't use it.
Mrs. Ballenger was shot once in the head and died almost instantly. Police quoted a witness as saying the shooter grabbed her purse and ran toward a small park near the store. He evaded bloodhounds called in to track him down.
The day after Mrs. Ballenger was killed, her husband told reporters that he forgave the killer and would pray for him.
"I still feel that way," Ballenger said Thursday at the nondemoninational Korean Central Church, where he was cooking hot dogs at a party to give children an alternative to Halloween trick or treating.
"I didn't like what he did but I have to forgive him," Ballenger said. "Jesus said to forgive and I am born again. The man who did it needs to do time in jail."
Ballenger, a retired Army veteran, met his wife when he was on a military tour in Korea.
The family moved to Baton Rouge in 1996 with their three sons. They lived south of town in a community of mobile homes, but were active in the Korean church in a tree-lined neighborhood near the Louisiana State University campus.
Church members remembered Hong Im as kind and honest. They said she helped at the church, studied the Bible and attended services regularly — usually three times a week.
Ballenger said he was at peace with what happened.
"I know my wife is in heaven," he said. "She brought me to God. She was a wonderful person."