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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 23:58 GMT 00:58 UK
Hometown puzzles over intern case
Kim Peterson, executive director of the Carole Sund/Carrington Foundation
For the family and friends, it has been a living hell
By Maggie Shiels in Modesto, California

It's nine in the morning and for the last three hours the phones have been ringing off the hook at KFIV Radio in Modesto, as listeners comment on the behaviour of local Congressman Gary Condit after he admitted to having an affair with the missing intern, Chandra Levy.

Talk radio host Dave Thomas
The number of calls to the local radio station soared
Nearly two and a half months ago, the 24-year-old disappeared from her apartment in Washington.

Despite repeated denials, it was 35 days before Mr Condit told police that he had been romantically involved with the dark-haired woman.

Until then, many in Modesto, which prides itself on its Christian values and conservative views, had sided with the good-looking politician.

Media frenzy

Once the affair came out, this Central Valley city of 200,000 was mobbed by media.

Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino
Mayor Sabatino: Time to get to the truth
Hoards of television crews have been camped outside the Levy family house and also the congressman's office.

And the number of calls to KFIV's Morning Express programme soared.

One caller, Richard, presented a view typical of how many feel about this once popular politician.

"He has done too much to besmirch the office of the Congress of the United States, and when you do that you need to step down. We need to hold our elected officials to a higher standard."

Attitudes change

Morning Express host Dave Thomas says he has been overwhelmed by how people's attitudes have changed.

"The feedback is substantial. Everyone has an opinion and the tide has turned. A lot of people were willing to give Gary all the support in the world.

"Most realise that's not rational now. They are devastated and they feel confused, bewildered and very let down," Mr Thomas said.

And that disappointment is already being translated locally, as once-loyal voters plaster bumper stickers to their car calling for Mr Condit to step down.

Leaflets are also circulating, as is speculation about who stand for election, if the seat is vacated.

Not time for politics

But a long-time friend and democrat, Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino, says it is wrong to focus on politics at the moment.

"Now is the time to get to the truth. Now is the time to do what we can to relieve the anxiety and grief of the Levy family because that is what this is about - the disappearance of a young lady and the grief her parents are experiencing today," Mr Sabatino said.

Support for the Levy family has been overwhelming and pictures of missing Chandra are on display all over the city.

Yellow ribbons line her home and her neighbourhood and the offices of the Carole Sund/Carrington Foundation, which has been instrumental in getting publicity for the family.

The foundation's office, located on the second floor of a local shopping centre, is where Chandra's mother Susan comes for support.

Kim Petersen, the foundation's executive director, says the ordeal of the last 11 weeks is beginning to show.

"They are going through hell and yesterday, Mrs Levy told me 'I am terrified.' And if you look back on the TV footage, you will see they have lost weight and they can't sleep.

"This is a living hell for them and they won't rest until they know what's happened to their daughter."

See also:

11 Jul 01 | Americas
Chandra Levy: Accusation and denial
11 Jul 01 | Americas
Congressman under the spotlight
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