Victim's leap from ship horrifies family and friends

More than a year after a horrific beating in Texas that nearly killed him, David Ritcheson's easy smile masked anguish he hid from his parents, friends and others closest to him.

"It seemed to everyone that David was climbing back to normalcy in his life," lawyer Carlos Leon said at a news conference. "What we've learned from this is he just internalized his pain."

Ritcheson, 18, leaped to his death in the Gulf of Mexico from an upper deck of the Carnival Cruise ship Ecstasy on Sunday morning.

Leon said Ritcheson had never threatened or talked of suicide and left no note. But he said it is now clear the teen was still haunted by the April 2006 attack that left him hospitalized for three months and required more than 30 surgeries.

Ritcheson, a Mexican-American, was beaten by two teens and sodomized with a patio umbrella pole during a drug-fueled party at a home in suburban Houston. His attackers, one of whom shouted "White Power!" during the beating, also stomped on him, burned him with cigarettes and poured bleach on him before leaving him for dead.

Leon said Ritcheson boarded the ship on Saturday in Galveston with two friends and the parents of one of the friends. Leon said he was not aware of any incident aboard the ship that might have upset the teenager.

Ritcheson's parents did not attend the news conference. Leon said they were en route Tuesday to meet the ship at an unidentified port in Mexico and accompany their son's body to Galveston. An autopsy will be performed there as part of an investigation overseen by the FBI.

Leon said the family has been flooded with letters, e-mails and faxes from across the United States expressing sympathy. "This comes as a shock to everybody ... to his family, to everybody who knew David," he said.

The lawyer said his client's physical condition had been improving, and that he underwent his most recent surgery just 45 days ago.

Leon said Ritcheson had rebuffed repeated attempts to persuade him to seek counseling for the emotional and mental scars left by the attack.

"David internalized his pain, and I think he thought he could just persevere through it."

But Leon said that seemed to begin to change over the last month or two. While he declined to discuss specifics, he said Ritcheson had recently started to "externalize his pain" to his parents and other relatives.

David Henry Tuck and Keith Robert Turner were convicted of aggravated sexual assault in the attack. Tuck, then 18, was sentenced to life in prison. Turner, then 17, was sentenced to 90 years.

Although Ritcheson remembered nothing of his attack, he testified about it during U.S. congressional hearings in April on a hate-crimes bill. The legislation is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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