'This is a deep story' 

John Mark Byers contemplates the deaths of first his son and now his wife.

After her 8-year-old son Christopher was murdered, Melissa Byers became depressed, her widower, John Mark Byers recalled. "She gave up her will to live," he said in a telephone interview. "She didn't want to live without him." Asked if his wife had been using illegal drugs, Byers answered: "To my personal knowledge, no. I did not see her taking illegal drugs. But, if she was or if she wasn't, I'm not going to talk bad about my wife who's passed away. Melissa's death was another tragedy, another heartbreak. I'm the victim here, let's not forget that."

The two had been married for 10 years. After the murders of Christopher and two other boys in 1993, the couple moved to Cherokee Village to get away from what Byers described as persecution in West Memphis. "This is a deep story," he said. "There's a lot of crazy people out there. I mean really crazy people."

After the trials in which three West Memphis teen-agers were convicted of killing the younger children, Byers said residents of the city left dead animals on their car and in their yard, along with notes "saying all types of terrible things." He described the time there as being "pure hell."

But life in Cherokee Village proved no easier. "It was very hard," he said, "because of the backward people that live up there, people that are so narrow-minded. We thought there would be intelligent retired people from up north, but instead there were a lot of inbred, banjo-picking hillbillies living there, people whose family trees run in a straight line."

Asked if they did not perceive him and Melissa as sympathetic figures, being the parents of a murdered child, he said no, that for some reason "they got it confused; they thought I was the father of one of the boys who committed the killings."

Byers now lives "in a modest little apartment" in another city, the name of which he does not want revealed. He subsists on a Social Security disability check which he receives because of a tumor he says is located "in the front right lobe of my brain." Because of the tumor, he said, he cannot work--he used to be a jeweler--and he suffers "terrible migraine headaches."

In the interview, Byers described his life as an unmitigated series of woes, as "pain piled upon pain." Publicity about the West Memphis deaths has kept them "an ongoing thing," he said, prompting people to "want to open the wound and pour salt in it." Asked why, then, he and Melissa had agreed to cooperate with the filming of the documentary "Paradise Lost," he explained, "I just could not stand for my son and his two friends to die for nothing. We didn't want people to forget who he was. We wanted them to know that this witchcraft and black magic and demon worship was real. There's black and there's white, like we said on 'Maury Povitch.'"

One of the most remarkable parts of the film was a segment in which Byers and Todd Moore, the father of one of the other dead boys, blasted pumpkins that they pretended were the heads of the convicted teen-agers. Byers said the producers "asked us what we did with our aggression and our anger. We said we go out and target practice. We said we go out and shoot. We were out there basically just releasing anger, and in our minds, thinking, 'If that was the three of you. ...' We were still very raw with anger. I think anybody would be. But it was not detrimental to anyone. And if we wanted to think that that was them we were shooting, and it made us feel better, what was wrong with that?"



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