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Couples recall 'shocking' attack

Atlanta pair may not return to city

Nora Sullivan and her husband drove up from Atlanta this month to visit his brother and sister and her husband for the weekend and tour the city's historical sites.

The group walked the Freedom Trail, ate oysters on the half shell at Quincy Market, and in the evening went to the top of the Prudential Center and dined at the Top of the Hub, where Sullivan's sister-in-law, Laura Sullivan, treated everyone to dinner overlooking the city.

But the visit that included some of the best aspects of Boston quickly clashed with one of the worst -- its crime.

On their way back to the hotel, the couples were assaulted by three women, who slammed Nora Sullivan, 25, in the face with the wedge heel of a shoe and grabbed Laura Sullivan, 36, by the hair, tearing at it so violently, parts of her scalp were ripped off.

Two weeks after the attack, Nora Sullivan and her husband said they may never return to Boston. Laura Sullivan, who works for a staffing agency four blocks from the scene on Tremont Street, said she avoids walking near the place.

"I would never want to go back there at night, that's for sure," Sullivan said yesterday in a telephone interview.

Police have not arrested anyone in connection with the Aug. 5 assault, but Laura Sullivan said the next day a detective told her he planned to look at cameras in a nearby parking garage to see if anything was captured on film. She said she has not heard anything from police since then.

"This incident is under investigation," said Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department. "It appears to be an isolated incident. The department has received no other reports of any type of similar incident prior to or since the time that this was reported. If there were any witnesses in that area who might have seen anything, we would appreciate it if they would come forward with any additional details."

The women said they are still trying to understand why they were attacked.

"We did not provoke these women or say any kind of hateful things to them," said Nora Sullivan by phone from Georgia. "We were simply trying to get back to the hotel."

After dinner, the couples went to the Alley off Boylston Street, a popular strip of bars downtown. Laura Sullivan's brother, who lives in Tennessee, went back to the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in the Theater District, where Nora Sullivan and her husband also were staying.

About 1:30 a.m., the couples, who said they were laughing and chatting excitedly, began walking back to the hotel. They were about a block away when they saw three women whom they estimated to be in their late 20s staring at them.

As the couples passed, Nora Sullivan said, the women, who were black, screamed "honky" at them and swore at her.

Laura Sullivan said she responded, "Excuse me?"

"They took offense at it," she said. "Who knows what offends people?"

The couples walked on hurriedly and were about 10 feet away from the hotel door when the attack began, she said.

Nora Sullivan, who fell to the ground, looked up to see her sister-in-law surrounded by women. One woman had grabbed her from behind and wrapped her arms around Laura Sullivan's face.

Suddenly, several other people appeared on the sidewalk with them, she said. Some tried to help the couples, but others joined in and hit Nora Sullivan's husband.

"He got punched in the face," she said. "He said the guy just came out of the crowd and just sucker-punched him."

The fight broke up when police officers arrived. The crowd scattered, and Laura Sullivan said she was placed in an ambulance.

Nora Sullivan said the attack might have been motivated by race. But Laura Sullivan said she does not know what to think.

As she stood on the street, being hit by at least six women while her husband tried to shield her, she said she felt more confusion than pain.

"What's going on?" she recalled thinking to herself during the attack. "What happened?"

Driscoll said it is too early in the investigation to determine whether the attack was racial. "To suggest a motive at this point would be inappropriate," she said.

Laura Sullivan said she was also confused by the reaction of one police officer, who she said seemed to think she instigated the attack.

"I think he was treating me as though I was in a street fight, and I was sitting there and I had just been attacked," she said.

Security guards at the Marriott Hotel filed a police report on behalf of the victims.

"I never heard about an incident like that before," said Willie Nagda, a hotel manager who has worked at the Marriott since January. "This is the first time I heard about someone being attacked in the past six months."

At Boston Medical Center, a doctor put seven staples in Laura Sullivan's scalp, which might have been ripped by one of her assailants' jewelry or from her hair being yanked. For several days, she said, she could not sleep on her back or the right side of her body because of the pain. The bruise on her leg is finally fading.

"It was shocking, absolutely shocking," Nora Sullivan said. "We were just wanting to have a good time."

Maria Cramer can be reached at