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By Lorraine Sanders
May was a memorable month for Hoffman Avenue high school student Loren Schaller. On May 1, the 17-year-old Bay School junior received a series of official proclamations--from city supervisors, the Mayor's Office, and the Board of Education--for a project she created to benefit arts programs in San Francisco public schools. Eight days later, she attended her first prom. Then Memorial Day weekend brought a long-awaited trip to San Jose's FanimeCon, a convention that each year attracts some 10,000 costumed fans of Japanese art and and animation and for which Schaller had been sewing since the summer before.
"I really like making costumes. Also, it's a social thing. I get to go with my friends, and I really like anime," she says.
Taken alone, these events would have been enough to stir anyone's emotions. But another May milestone made them even more poignant.
On May 19, Loren and her parents, Linda and Tim Schaller, arrived at the two-year anniversary of the severe attack Loren suffered as she stood in line at Creighton's Bakery on Portola Drive. Her attacker, a mentally disturbed man, was mistakenly released from San Quentin Prison and given a bus ticket to San Francisco, where he encountered Schaller, a complete stranger, and stabbed her repeatedly. Also involved in the incident were local residents Kermit Kubitz, who fought Thomas off and suffered wounds as a result; Dr. Sang-ick Chang, who came to the victims' aid; and Jonas Svallin, who chased Thomas on foot as he fled the scene. The Schallers remain in contact with all three and still call them "the heroes."
As a result of the attack, Schaller temporarily lost the use of her right arm and underwent multiple surgeries, including a nine-and-a-half-hour nerve transplant performed at St. Louis Children's Hospital. Since then, her arm has not fully recovered, but has improved significantly. Lifting the arm is still difficult, as is sustaining movement for long periods of time. She continues to get physical therapy once a week.
"She's probably got 65 to 70 percent back. It's not ever going to be what it was, but it's not paralyzed," says Linda Schaller.
If her arm's lack of movement bothers Loren, an artist who's been drawing and painting since she was a small child, she doesn't let it show.
"Usually, when I draw, I have it in my lap. When I have to paint on an easel in class, I have to hold it up," Loren explains, matter-of-factly demonstrating how she positions her arm when she puts brush to canvas.
At least one painting Loren has done since the attack has gained recognition that extends far beyond her home or classroom.
Begun as a final project for a class she took during her sophomore year, Loren's painting depicts hands reaching toward an airborne paper airplane set against a blue background. Although she first considered selling the painting to raise funds to benefit arts in public schools, she soon landed on another tactic: turning the painting into a poster. Reproducing the image on posters would allow the fundraising effort a much wider scope than a single painting, she reasoned. The finished poster contains the phrase, "Reach for Creativity: Support the Arts in Public Schools."
"I thought it would be something that could keep on making money," she says.
The first print run raised $300, which Loren Schaller decided to donate to the Creative Arts Charter School, a public elementary and middle school in the Western Addition that integrates music and art into its curriculum. The Schaller family has since given the school non-exclusive rights to reprint and sell the poster to raise future funds.
"We really struggle as a community-based charter school to continue to fund the arts to the level that we do, so the donation meant a lot that way," says John Perry, vice president of Creative Arts' board. "But for the kids it really was a validation from somebody just ahead of them and young and cool that the arts are really essential and really important."
The project prompted the school to honor Loren during a special presentation. Along with Loren's family and friends, Supervisor Bevan Dufty, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, Board of Education President Kim-Shree Maufus, and the Mayor's Education Advisor Hydra Mendoza were all in attendance. Loren received four letters of proclamation, each framed and bound.
"I feel so official," she deadpans good-naturedly before offering the ornate certificates up for inspection.
With the end of her school year approaching and an exciting four-week summer program in Japan on the horizon, the last thing Loren wants to dwell on these days is the 2007 attack and her family's subsequent ordeal.
"It's not something that bothers me in daily life. It seems far away," she says.
But that chapter in the Schallers' lives is far from closed.
Next month, the Schallers will head back to the courtroom for a criminal hearing on Loren's assailant, Scott Thomas, who has yet to be convicted of a crime as a result of the attack. Earlier this year, a Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit the Schallers brought against the state for failing to treat Thomas's apparent psychiatric disorders while in prison and for releasing him under conditions that violated California Corrections Department policies.
"I want this chapter of our lives to be closed, and until he's given a conviction and put back into prison, it's not closed," Linda Schaller says.
And even then, she admits that the event will never completely be excised from their lives.
"The cold reality is, every x number of years, we will be a part of the parole hearing to keep him in jail. We are never really off the hook. It's sort of like it's become a permanent fixture in our lives," says Linda.
If the hearing results in a trial, Loren will be asked to testify.
Loren awaits her courtroom appearance with equal parts nonchalance and curiosity.
"I have sort of mixed feelings. I think it's going to be boring, but I'm sort of morbidly curious to see what the guy looks like, because I've forgotten," she says.
Meanwhile, Loren is looking forward to finishing up her junior year and leaving for Japan, where she'll build upon her Japanese language skills and learn more about the country whose art and culture so fascinate her.
Physical recovery, Loren admits, has taken longer than she expected it would, but her outlook on life remains unchanged.
"I think, as far as mindset goes, I'm probably the same as I always was," she says.