Though I provided you with the news article summing up several cases in yesterday’s post , your sympathy has encouraged me to open up with my version. I am so grateful for all of your comments, emails, and messages; they truly have given me peace. While this may be hard for some of you to read, my goal is to be as honest as I can so that you take this as a warning. Most of my blog readers range from young college students to career women in their thirties. I believe we as a group are most targeted to these types of incidents. It is for you that I write this.
When I was at CofC, I heard of girls getting attacked/raped many times. I never took my safety seriously, thinking it would never happen to me. I stayed in “safe” areas of town, I was tough, I was strong, I was invincible. But the truth is, it does happen. It’s very real and it affects people regardless of age, gender, timing, area, etc. You just never know, so you should always BE AWARE. If I save just one person who reads this, then opening up about this situation will be worth every single word.
Saturday, July 28th, 2012 started out as a typical day. I woke up late, lounged around, went grocery shopping, and headed to the gym. It was too pretty of a day to stay indoors, so I immediately left for an outdoor run. On my way to the neighborhood I was running in, it started to thunderstorm. I was secretly excited that I had an excuse not to run, so I drove to the salon for a pedicure. What a girl! I then rushed home to get ready; I had dinner plans with a guy friend of mine and I was already going to be late. While rushing around, the power went out a couple times and the lights were flickering. Thinking I wouldn’t be able to finish drying my hair, I thought “Geez, is someone trying to tell me not to go out tonight?”
The lights flickered more, but I was able to finish getting ready and headed downtown. We had tapas at The Grocery and split three glasses of wine – just 1 ½ per person. We then went to the Cocktail Club for one drink – the “Safety Word” – a mix of tequila, kiwi, lime juice, and bitters. What an interesting drink I chose given the future of my evening, right? I can’t make this up! Things got a little fuzzy after that, but I was fine. We eventually moved from CC to O-Ku and then Macintosh, where I had a vodka soda at each. Usually after 4 drinks over a few hours I’d be fine, but for some reason not that Saturday. I was texting Danielle, who was down the street, to meet up and ride home with her. We never got in touch with one another. Without even saying goodbye to my friends, around midnight, I stepped outside to call Amanda as I walked. By this point, my memories are very foggy, due to being in survival mode and my brain protecting me. I accidentally passed Cannon Street (I have no sense of direction!), and met up with a man who offered to walk me back to my car. At some point he quickly went from being my friend to threatening me, hinting that he had a weapon in his pocket, and grabbed me by the wrist and led me to a Hampton Park, far away from all of the restaurants and bars. Without getting into all of the details, I will tell you he had me for over four hours, all the while, threatening my life, strangling me, and assaulting me. He would go back and forth from telling me to shut up and choking me, to befriending me for money, even telling me “I’m not trying to hurt you baby girl.” The article states that the victims were all raped, and while legally, yes, we were, I was VERY lucky in the sense that I didn’t the way you are thinking. He didn’t get that far with me because someone else was walking around the park that night. Guardian angel? He eventually gave up and we headed back towards upper King near the crosstown. At one point while we walked, we passed a group of men. He told me not to say a word, because if I did, they would surely take me and gang rape me. Not knowing if I would make it, I did my best to appease him, obeying every word he said.
And I prayed. I prayed, I prayed, I prayed. At the time, I was wearing my silver cross bracelet and it reminded me how important it was to stay strong and that God never puts us in situations we can’t handle. Regardless of this man telling me to shut up, I asked him if he believed in God – he said he did. I asked him if he would pray for me for us and he did. Whether it be luck, the grace of God, or a sudden switch in this man’s head, he decided to walk me back to my car. Still worried for my life, I offered to take him to get money from an ATM. He had been carrying my purse this whole time so I could not make any phone calls. He briefly gave it back and I attempted to call 911 but when he heard the dispatcher pick up he started screaming at me again, choking me some more. Even closer to where my car had been parked, we passed a cop who was sitting in his vehicle with the lights on. He told me not to scream or run or he would shoot me. As we passed the cop, I used my free hand to make a waving signal behind my back, but the cop did not see it.
Eventually we made it back to my car and he directed me to an ATM vestibule. It was 4:30 a.m. and nothing was open other than a 24-hour gas station a couple blocks away. I “accidentally” took a wrong turn and missed the ATM, but convinced him there was another one at the gas station. I knew that was my safety zone. Once there, I told him I was really hungry and needed to go in the store with him. I would finally escape this terrible man. I fled into the gas station, ran to the corner, hysterical crying, and mouthed to the employee “Help me.” The employee called 911 and yelled at the man “Get out of here. You know you don’t belong here.” And off he went. The police and ambulance arrived and I finally broke down, telling them what happened through tears, a lot of shaking, and sheer confusion. I was in complete shock. I had been up for almost 24 hours, had been walking around for 4 1/2, and a million emotions were running through my head. I had to answer questions upon questions upon questions. I had to revisit the places I had been with the man and give every detail of the night. After being questioned at the police station, I was taken to MUSC for medical exams. By then I couldn’t even speak. The nurses tried to tell me to call my family but I could barely function. I finally decided to text Amanda, my friend who I knew, without question, would be there for me in an instant. And that’s exactly what she did. She immediately jumped in the car with her mom and was dropped off at MUSC and by my side faster than you could imagine.
The next day pretty much sums up how I’ve learned to deal with things. I try to block them out and move on, which is not always the best but after being in some tough places over the years, it’s what has worked…I suppose. I woke up Monday morning and acted like a robot. I thought, “Ok, go eat breakfast, go return your library books, go for a run, then go see Auntie Kelly.” I didn’t want my life to be different. I wanted to distract myself. I was done vomiting up my emotions to the police, nurses, and Amanda. When I got to my aunt’s house, I told her what happened, and I kept touching my neck and chest wondering why it was so sore. At that point, a wave of emotion came over me and that was when I remembered the choking. I could honestly remember hearing my own gagging. That was the most chilling part of the whole ordeal.
Over the next week, investigators used fingerprints from my car, watch, and cell phone and matched them with the video evidence from the gas station. From there, they created a photo lineup, I immediately knew which who he was, and within just four days, a cop picked him up on Mary Street and arrested him. Using that evidence, they matched him with SIX unsolved cases of incidents that happened before mine. Why this man chose to not hurt me as much as the other women, I’m not sure. How I held it together and thought to get him to the gas station can only be adrenaline and the grace of God. I knew in my heart right away that I survived because I was going to save someone else, but I had no idea who. Putting those open cases together was my answer. Naturally I ached for each and every one of those girls as the cases popped up in the news, but I also breathed a sigh of relief for them, knowing they now had peace that he was caught.
From that night to his sentencing last Friday, was a little over a year. I am so relieved it’s finally over and that we girls have closure that he’s off the streets. While yes, he’s not the only dirtbag out there, he’s one fewer and he can no longer hurt another person. I know this post is long, and I hope you read most of it and really understand how careful you need to be. Be aware of your surroundings, have a plan when you go out, get pepper spray, and do NOT walk alone at night. I was in the same place I am most weekends and just walked a little too far. It wasn’t crazy late at night, but it was dark. I was too trusting and being my chipper, friendly self with the wrong person. And that just proves how you just never know. I don’t mean to scare you, but by being more aware and knowing this could happen, you can prevent this sort of thing. Much love to all of you who read this! BE SAFE! xo