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[Sun Feb 10 2002]

CHICAGO (AP) - For the past five years, she's been known to the world simply as "Girl X."

Toya Currie became known to the world as 'Girl X' after being left for dead following a brutal attack five years ago. Now 14, she wants to put the name behind her.

Now 14-year-old Toya Currie - who was raped, beaten, strangled and left for dead in a Chicago housing project on Jan. 9, 1997 - wants to put that pseudonym behind her.

Toya, who remains blind, paralyzed and unable to speak since the attack, described a typical teen-ager's life in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, including a love of romance novels and junk food. She spells out letters by blinking each letter, which must be coached and interpreted by a speech therapist.

"I-t-s h-a-r-d," she blinked.

She stays up late to watch her favorite TV show, "Moesha," and loves eating hot wings and just about any other food seasoned with hot sauce.

Currie's upbeat attitude delights staffers at the Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education on the city's West Side, where she has lived the last four years.

"She's a lot of fun, she's very much with it," social worker Mary Burn said. "She is one of the cool kids, she is one of the most popular kids here."

The center, which serves 47 disabled children and young adults, last week was allowed to remain open after Gov. George Ryan reversed an earlier decision to close it because of budget cuts.

Currie's family still worries about the facility's future and granted her first interview since the attack in the hopes of boosting public support for the center. They say they also want the public to see Currie as a lovely girl with tendencies typical of most teen-agers rather than as the victim of a brutal attack.

"She's very special," said

Currie's mother, Belinda Bohlar. "We are encouraged and impressed by her strength and her courage. Through all this we have become a closer family. She means the world to me."

Currie was a 9-year-old fourth-grader on her way to school when Patrick Sykes lured her into an apartment at the Cabrini-Green housing complex on the city's North Side. Sykes attempted to strangle her with her own T-shirt. He stepped on her throat and hit her in the head with a blunt object. He also sprayed roach poison down her throat. He left her for dead in a nearby stairwell and tried to cover his tracks by scrawling gang signs on her arms and legs with a permanent marker. He was convicted last April and sentenced to 120 years in prison.

In November, surgeons installed metal rods along Currie's back to help prop up her spine. She also wears a plastic brace from her chest to the middle of her left thigh.

"Toya is totally dependent, physically," said Sandy Selakovich, a physical therapist. "The problem with her disability is that she is going to get progressively worse."

Currie, who aspired to be a dancer, said she now wants to be a writer, and describes what she would write about. "M-y s-t-o-r-y," she spells out. "L-i-f-e i-s h-a-r-d-e-r n-o-w."


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