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For mother of a victim, a prophetic wish

Elizabeth Phillips, who is undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer, prayed Sunday night -- not for her health, but for the police to catch the man who killed her daughter, Majane Mazur, and dumped her body along railroad tracks in downtown Buffalo in 1992.

"My final words were: 'I hope they catch him tomorrow,' " she told The Buffalo News from her home in South Carolina.

At midafternoon Monday, her granddaughter got a call on her cell phone from a reporter who said a suspect believed to be the Bike Path Killer had finally been caught.

"It was like God answered my prayers," Phillips said.

It was a wish fulfilled for so many women and their loved ones across Western New York and beyond who had been hoping and praying that the man who had wrought so much savagery and fear in their lives would someday be brought to justice.

"It's amazing," said a 31-year-old Buffalo woman who was just 14 when she was attacked off the Willow Ridge Bike Path in Amherst. "It's truly amazing. . . . I'm just thankful for science and for the diligence of all the police."

The woman, who spoke to The News on the condition of anonymity, said she learned about the arrest of Altemio Sanchez when she walked into her family room at midday Monday, and her mother, who happened to have been watching television, announced to her: "They've got someone."

"Really?" the woman replied, in a total state of disbelief.

"It's shocking," she said. "I haven't processed it yet."

She was overwhelmed with a feeling of apprehension -- hesitant to believe that the man who had accosted her on her way to cheerleading practice, grabbed her, took her over a fence, wrapped a cord around her neck and raped her had finally been found.

"But after the policeman from Amherst said on TV that it was 100 percent that it was him, I thought, 'That's good. It's great,' " the woman said.

The survivor said she has never let the attack change her. "I've lived my life the way I lived my life," she said. "I didn't change because of the fear of that person."

But looking at the mug shot of the suspect, juxtaposed on TV with the composite sketch she had helped police put together, she said she couldn't help but hope that the killer will face the harshest punishment possible.

The woman knows that her case can never go to trial because the 5-year statute of limitations for rape has long passed.

And she hates it that so many other women had been raped and killed by the same man before police could catch him.

"It's not fair that he could bring such atrocities," she said. "I feel for these women. . . . But it's good to know he'll be brought to justice."

Dr. William Barney noted sadly that police would likely never have caught Sanchez if Barney's daughter, Joan Diver, a Clarence mother of four, hadn't been killed this past September -- reinvigorating the search for the Bike Path Killer.

"I suspect that if it hadn't been for Joan being murdered, he never would have been found," Barney said from his home in Utah.

The arrest, he said, "doesn't give us any closure."

But he is glad to know that the suspect is now behind bars.

"Fortunately, we have DNA evidence," he said. "That can lead to these things. It would be much harder to get someone with just eyewitnesses."

Despite his disdain for the suspected killer, Barney said he empathized with Sanchez's family.

"I feel bad for his wife and kids," he said.

Barney's son-in-law, Steve Diver, called him early Monday morning after receiving word from the police about the arrest.

"He was OK," Barney said. "He's all right."

Steve Diver answered his door Monday afternoon with his daughter at his side. He declined to answer a reporter's questions.

"The Diver family is relieved an arrest has been made and appreciates the excellent work all the law enforcement agencies involved in this investigation have contributed," said a statement released later in the day by Diver's attorney.

For Mazur's family in South Carolina, the arrest in Buffalo meant an end to years of heartache.

The slaying of Majane Mazur, who had suffered from drug addiction and had sometimes resorted to prostitution, had not been linked to the Bike Path Killer until 2004, when DNA found on her body was matched to the elusive predator.

"They told me then that they'd never catch this person until he murdered again," Phillips recalled. "It's so tragic that someone else had to be murdered. I hated that this happened."

But, she said, Monday was one of the happiest days of her life.

"It's a blessing," she said.

Her granddaughter, Christine Mazur, who was just 5 when her mother was killed, said she was thrilled to hear the news.

"I'm just so glad," she said. "It hasn't sunk in yet."

Investigators had called her from time to time to reinterview her about details of the case.

"Every time, they'd call and say, 'You have to have hope.' "

Both Christine Mazur, who is almost 20, and her grandmother plan on coming back to Buffalo if there is a trial.

"I didn't get to go to my mother's funeral because I was really young," she said. Seeing the case come to an end in a courtroom might help her bring an end to the years of nightmares and sadness, she said. "It's going to be really good closure for me."

She believes that her mother is at peace now as she looks down at her and her family.

Christine Mazur believes that her mother has a message for her: "All of us can stop worrying now."

News Staff Reporter Niki Cervantes contributed to this report.


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