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Father Keeps Mind on Girl, Not Attacker

January 22, 1986|JERRY HICKS | Times Staff Writer

Gary Ogawa has no time for rage at the man who splashed acid into the face of his 4-year-old daughter, Rachel. All his emotional energies are for his daughter as she recovers from first-degree burns to her eyes, her face, chest, arms and legs.

Despite the agony of watching his little girl's pain, Ogawa has had little time for tears. He and his wife Elaine have been determined to remain strong for their daughter.

"We need to pull together on Rachel's behalf," Ogawa said during an interview Tuesday night near his daughter's room at St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton. "She needs reassurance that we are there and that everything is OK."

Acid Tossed in Park

A man tossed two cups of the acid at the girl just as she and her mother came out of a restroom at Los Coyotes Regional Park in Buena Park late Sunday afternoon. Ogawa had already strapped the couple's 2 1/2-year-old daughter Michelle in her car seat and was bringing the car around to pick up the rest of the family to return to their La Habra home.

Doctors report that the 4-year-old is doing well and that there is a good chance her recovery will include no permanent damage to her eyesight.

But when Ogawa first saw his daughter, he was panic-stricken.

"My wife was screaming that someone had thrown something at them; Rachel was crying and screaming," Ogawa said.

The next few minutes were chaotic.

"We didn't know how serious her injuries were, but the smell of acid was overwhelming in the car," Ogawa said.

Girl Doused in Pond

Ogawa drove to the front of the park at high speed to get help. No rangers were nearby, but a motorcycle rider hurriedly called paramedics while Ogawa carried his daughter to a three-foot-deep pond a short distance away.

He doused her in the cold water, first with her clothes on, then with them off.

"Keep your eyes open," he directed her. She was still crying, but obeyed, and he doused her again. Then a fourth time. His wife also jumped into the water to soothe burns she had suffered just from touching her daughter. The cold water and evening air seemed to help ease Rachel's pain, her father said.

While paramedics took his daughter away, Ogawa had to remain behind to answer questions from police.

It wasn't until Monday afternoon that the Ogawas learned that a suspect, Mark Edward Hand, 26, of Whittier, had been arrested.

Ogawa said he and his wife see the attack as the work of a seriously ill individual.

"The response we have had from friends and neighbors, the people at the hospital, everyone, shows me there are a lot more good people in the world than bad," Ogawa said.

While Ogawa said he and his wife were relieved that a suspect had been arrested, "I have no ill feelings toward the person who did this. I don't have time for anger at what that person did. All my time has to be devoted to Rachel."

Ogawa, 35, an assistant professor of chemical pharmacy at USC, describes his older daughter as advanced for her age, extremely bright and very caring.

Tuesday, for example, the girl began to query her mother about what happened. She vaguely remembers a man and the cups of acid.

Ogawa and his wife alternately remain with Rachel in her room at St. Jude. She likes them to hold her hand, and hospital officials occasionally allow them to take her from her oxygen tent to hold her.

She can open her right eye, but the left eye is swollen shut. The scars that cover her face were first red, then purple and are now peeling. The Ogawas have kept her from seeing herself in the mirror.

"She has handled this whole thing in a remarkably mature way," Ogawa said. "But we are concerned not only about permanent physical damage, but also damage to her psychologically. We don't know the effect this will have on her later."

While Ogawa tries to remain strong, he said he broke down Monday night and could not stop crying.

"I tried to sleep, but I could only think of my little girl's pain and suffering; it was all so needless."

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