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February 1, 2013

Virginia woman pieces together 17 years lost to amnesia

(Continued)

When she found herself in a group, she often kept quiet and hoped she would go unnoticed. But often her confusion became obvious, which prompted her to withdraw.

Marsha identified one woman in Shawnda's phone as a longtime friend, so Shawnda asked her to lunch. The other woman turned out to be harboring a grudge about the cost of a bridesmaid gown for a wedding Shawnda had called off in her 20s. "I didn't even know I was engaged!" Shawnda said.

Her previous engagement was only one of many surprises from Shawnda's past. In addition to selling timeshares and working as a legal secretary, Shawnda's longest, most accomplished career was as a sheriff's deputy and a correctional officer, jobs she had held for nearly 10 years. She was astonished to find in one of her boxes a stack of paper targets, riddled with bullet holes — a souvenir from her past life.

"I remember sometimes, she would tell [unruly inmates], "No, uh-uh, we're not going to have that kind of mess. It's not going to be that kind of day," said Les Tinsley, her commanding officer when Shawnda worked at Prince William- Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center. "And she would put an end to it."

The woman who could disassemble, clean and put back together a semiautomatic sidearm had to learn from her mother how to use far more ubiquitous tools: a stove, a phone, a can opener.

Shawnda had to put together a new persona, based on what she could learn of her previous self and how she felt about her new identity. In the past she'd been a party girl who could talk like a sailor; now she was a devoted mother and more ardent Christian.

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