Nancy Duarte steps out for her interview at Dallas County Jail with a black eye and scratches on her elbows. She doesn't mind being in jail, because it feels no different from what her life used to be like. Before her arrest, she says, she was living with her aunt, unemployed and under the protective custody of the Secret Service. She was being protected by the Secret Service, she believes, because four of her best friends have been murdered in four months, and she is the only connection.
"Did you set the yoga studio on fire?" the interview begins.
"Yes," she calmly says.
Over the weekend, officials put out a news release saying that Duarte, 41, broke into the American Power Yoga studio on Mockingbird Lane late Saturday and set it on fire. Minimal damage was done, and about 100 people in businesses nearby were evacuated. The case made national news, probably in part because of the big, cute smile Duarte has for her mugshot.
"In a way, it was kind of a celebration," Duarte says of setting the yoga studio on fire. She chose Saturday night because she knew the building would be empty. "I waited until late at night because I did not want to hurt anyone, that was not my intention."
That same yoga studio was reportedly hit by a woman firing three gunshots at it last month. Duarte says she was "involved" with that attack too, along with someone else whose identity she doesn't want to reveal. "I was involved, but I was not responsible," she says of the shooting.
Duarte spent her Monday granting interviews all day from jail, to any of the TV stations who asked her for one, smiling for all of the cameras. By the time she gets to me, she says the story of why she set the yoga studio on fire has become more compact, but it's still odd, unlikely and sad. When she was 15, she was raped by an 18-year-old. The attacker was a teenager whom her mother had picked out of a school phone book to drive her to school, she claims. Duarte says she told her mother afterward, and her mother didn't say anything or seem to care. Duarte says she continued to be taken to school by her attacker.
Years later, as an adult, Duarte believes she began getting stalked by the man who raped her when she was 15 and by people who were helping him. She thinks that the people have been leaving dead animals on her doorstep and haunting her in other ways. Once, when she was house-sitting, she says someone broke into the home, put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. But the gun didn't go off.
Duarte says she has filed police reports and talked to a psychotherapist. They both told her that "it was my in my best interest to try and distance myself from the situation." She agreed, and moved to Florida. But whatever it was that was haunting her, it followed her to Florida, too. "Unfortunately, when I got there they put me in protective custody because in four months I had four friends who were murdered and I was the only connection," she says.
Duarte says that pursuing yoga has helped her get some relief, and says she was part of a yoga certification program at The Mat in Richardson. She targeted American Power Yoga because she believes an acupuncturist who works at the studio is connected to her rapist. As evidence, she cites her belief that the acupuncturist's daughter went to the same school where she says her attacker teaches.
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Many people have asked her why she chose to smile in her mugshot. "Why should I be angry? The woman taking my picture wasn't mean to me, she was having a good time and laughing," Duarte says. Now, Duarte says, she can share her story with the world. Before, there was nothing anyone could do to help her.
Duarte does not believe that she is mentally ill. "Not to the best of my knowledge," she says. She says she is on no medication. One illness Duarte does repeatedly mention is diabetes -- the disease makes her feel trapped, because she has little choice in what she can eat. Eating any sugar at all now makes her feel ill, she says.
Reached on the telephone, her mother declined an interview. Duarte says that she is not close to anyone in her family. "Unfortunately, when this all started happening, they all turned their backs on me."
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.