To those friends and loved ones who did not know me prior to 1991, I would like to start this post by saying I am sorry for not sharing my story with you before. For so long I have been unable to bring myself to tell the truth about what was done to me on that most horrific night of my life. It was just too personal and too difficult to relive.
Unless you watched the Oprah Winfrey Show or Dateline or happened to run across a newspaper article, you probably are unaware of what really transpired that night.
It was Monday, October 21, 1991.
I remember it like it was yesterday. The morning reminded me of Winnie the Pooh And the Blustery Day. It was my day off, and I had walked out to the mailbox at the end of my street to drop mail in the outgoing mail slot. The autumn leaves were twirling around as I walked, and the air was fresh. The sun was shining; it seemed to be a perfect fall morning.
My son Anthony was almost 7 years old, and Lance was a little over 2 years old. Anthony was off to school, and Lance was going to be a friend’s house that morning while I went to medical appointments. For a few months I had been suffering from anemia, and that day I had a follow-up blood draw and visit with the family doctor.
I was dressed in jeans and one of my favorite black, cable-knit sweaters. I was wearing my favorite necklace, a beautiful thick silver chain with a cross, and several other very nice silver necklaces I always wore together.
After I had the blood draw, I went to my doctor and was told to continue medication for anemia until the test results were back in a few days. After the doctor’s visit, I stopped at the store for a few groceries to make the boys and I stir-fry for dinner that evening.
When I arrived home, I put away the groceries and went over to the home of my neighbor/friend to pick up Lance.
After putting Lance down for his nap, I checked my answering machine for calls that had come in while I was out. There was a message from my soon-to-be attacker (which is how I will refer to him in this blog): “I really want to talk to you tonight. Call me back at work. I really need you to hear me out and not ignore me. And I love you.”
Immediately, I called my friend Carol, whose husband was my attacker’s best friend.
“Ignore him,” Carol said. “As hard as it may be, just ignore him.”
Carol and I chatted for quite a while. Before we hung up, she said she was going to call my attacker and ask that he come by her house after work.
Lance woke up from his nap, and it was time to meet Anthony outside at the school-bus stop. I placed Lance in his stroller, and we walked to meet Anthony. Outside our front door we had a large, plastic pumpkin-shaped bag that Anthony would fill with leaves he’d gathered each day. Several neighbors had the same pumpkin bags, and Anthony was determined to fill his with fallen leaves and have the largest bag before anyone else.
We went into our apartment and had a snack, and then Anthony, Lance, and I went outside to gather leaves for the pumpkin bag. After an hour or so, I told Anthony it was time to go inside, as he needed to work on his homework and I needed to make dinner.
Anthony was at the kitchen table doing his home work when the phone rang. The caller was one of my tenants, who was delinquent on his rent payment for October. The tenant called to tell me that he would be dropping by my apartment in an hour or so to deliver the rent and the late fee to me.
As soon as I hung up the phone, my friend Carol called and said that my attacker was at her house, sitting in the garage with her husband, and they were drinking. I was pretty surprised, as my attacker usually did not consume alcohol, especially on a night when he had to work the next morning.
Carol told me my attacker had brought a bottle of tequila over to her house and was getting drunk. Carol said my attacker was very upset that I had not called him. Carol then asked, “Do you want to talk with him?”
“No,” I said. “I’m cooking the kids’ dinner and need to get them bathed and to bed.”
Carol tried to convince me to chat with him for just a moment, but I declined and told her I would call him in a few days.
About 20 minutes later, there was a knock at my door. My front door was right behind the stove in my small apartment. Because I was busy making stir-fry and was expecting my tenant, I just opened the door (which had no peep hole).
To my shock, it was my attacker. And he was visibly drunk.
“You need to leave now!” I said firmly.
“No. I have to talk with you. I love you,” he said in very broken English, which made me realize how drunk he was, because as he was fluent in English. (My attacker’s father was from Naples, Italy, and his mother was half Brazilian and half Mexican, but his first language was English.)
“What are you doing here?” I said.
As he stumbled through the door, he said, “You have to talk to me — and now.”
At that point, Anthony and Lance came into the kitchen. They’d heard my attacker’s voice, and they’d always cared very much for him. Now, as always, they were happy to see him.
My attacker hugged them and then said, “I need to speak with your mom. Go play, and I will be with you in a moment.”
I told him, “No, you need to leave. I am cooking for the boys and need to put them to bed.”
Then I suggested that he call me in a couple of hours and we would talk on the phone. He refused and got very angry because I was continuing to cook and ignoring him.
Suddenly, my attacker grabbed the butcher knife from the kitchen counter that I had been using to chop the vegetables and chicken. Pointing it at me, he said, “You are going to talk to me now!”
In a calm and low voice, because my kids were in the next room, I said, “Don’t do that. The boys are here, and you will scare them.”
Undeterred, he stepped close to me and put the knife against my face. For some reason, I did not believe he would actually cut me; maybe it because I was used to being abused and not really that scared. I thought this was just another way for him to try to control me, like I’d been controlled by everyone who had ever said they loved or cared for me.
Then, the phone rang. I did not answer it, as I was in a heated situation with my attacker. But my son Anthony did answer the phone.
“Mom,” he called from the other room. “Carol is on the phone. She wants to talk to you. She thinks (my attacker) is on his way to our house.”
I told Anthony, “Tell her he is here and I will call her back.”
I heard Anthony say, “My mom will call you back. Love you too!”
With the knife still pointed at me, my attacker said, “Can we talk?”
Again I said, “Later,” and then ran for the phone to call the police.
As I was dialing 9-1-1, my attacker grabbed the phone from my hand and tried to plunge the knife into me. I caught the knife in mid-air with my right hand. As I would later realize, that move almost completely severed my thumb from my hand.
I screamed to Anthony, “Get out of the apartment and take your brother with you!”
Now, my attacker had me on the floor and was repeatedly stabbing me on my head, face, arms, legs, chest, and back. As I tried in vain to rise from the floor, I saw Anthony standing near my feet.
“Run! Leave with Lance!” I yelled as my attacker continued to stab me.
But Anthony just stood there screaming, “Mom! Mom! Don’t kill my mom!”
So I kicked Anthony backward, screaming, “Get out of the apartment! Run!”
Instead, Anthony started pulling my feet, trying to get me away from my attacker, while I continued kicking him, trying to get him out of danger, and screaming at him to get his brother and get out of the apartment. At the same time, I was trying to defend myself against my attacker, who continued to repeatedly stab me.
Finally, Anthony ran away, hysterical. And I prayed to God he was leaving the apartment taking his little brother with him.
At that moment, my attacker plunged the knife into my chest.
“God help me!” I screamed.
My attacker stabbed me again in the chest, piercing part of my heart and my lung. (Crazy as it sounds, my underwire bra saved my life, as I later learned from the doctors, by deflecting the knife at an angle so it did not plunge through the middle of my heart.)
Again, I cried out to God, and at that precise instant, the heel of my left foot caught my attacker under his chin and threw him back about 5 feet. To this day, I believe God saved my life in that moment.
My attacker suddenly stopped stabbing me. He had stabbed me 21 times, and 17 of those stab wounds would end up being life-threatening.
My attacker then said, “Do you love me?”
“Yes,” I gasped the lie, thinking that was the only way to possibly save my life.
My attacker picked me up off the floor and carried me outside to my car, a Grand Prix. As he got in the car, started it up, and drove off with me in the passenger seat, slumped over the center console, I was in and out of consciousness. But I do remember him saying,”Why did you make me do this? Why didn’t you just tell me you loved me?” I kept thinking, What is going on with my sons? Where are they? Are they okay?
If my attacker had chosen another of my three cars , I would have died, because the console between the front seats of the Grand Prix proved life-saving. Later, I would find out from doctors that position had saved my life, as the pressure it put my left lung and heart slowed the blood flow from my body. But God had directed him to that car.
As my attacker drove down the streets, I realized he was not going in the direction of any hospital. I thought He is going to drop me in a field or ditch. I believed I was going to die and be thrown out of the car at any moment. I could barely breathe, let alone speak to beg for my life. Silently, I kept praying to God to save me and to protect my sons.
After a while, my attacker pulled up to an apartment complex. I recognized it as the place where one of his friends lived, on 242 Street in South East Portland.
My attacker left me in the car. Within minutes, my attacker and his friend ran out, jumped in the car, and again we took off. Thankfully, I could understand Spanish. My attacker’s friend said, “Take Becki to Portland Adventist Hospital.” My attacker told his friend he’d come to my apartment and found me stabbed by an intruder. His friend asked, “Why didn’t you call 9-1-1?”
The ride to the hospital seemed like an eternity. I was worried about my sons and my life. Finally, we pulled up to the hospital. My attacker opened the passenger side of the car, pulled me out and dropped on the asphalt, and sped away. Several people who were walking into the emergency room started screaming, and the next thing I remember is the ER staff running toward me.
I lay on the asphalt while my clothes were cut off of me. A mask was put over my face, and medical language I did not understand was being spoken. I could barely speak, as blood was gushing out of my mouth.
Amidst all the madness and struggling to remain conscious, I remember scribbling on a pad the medical staff gave me, asking about my sons. Deputies from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department found my sons under their bed, safe, and secured them with a friend.
I was alive when my attacker pushed me out of the car onto the ground in front of the Emergency Room doors at Portland Adventist Medical Center. The ER staff stabilized me as we waited for the Life Flight crew to arrive and fly me to Emanuel Medical Center. I was alive when I arrived at Emanuel, although I would later learn that I had “died” twice during that life-saving process. I remember one of those “deaths”.
I was on a gurney and rushed from the helicopter into a surgery room. I could see and hear the doctors and nurses rushing around, talking, and preparing for the multiple procedures that would be necessary to save my life. I was going in and out of consciousness. I was conscious when one of the doctors noticed the cotton ball taped to my arm from the blood tests earlier that day, and remarked to the others present, “we might have an intravenous drug user here.”
I had tubes in my throat to keep me breathing and I couldn’t talk to explain that I had a blood test earlier in the day to test for anemia. He immediately took the tape off to inspect the needle mark. I could see the rush, the activity, but I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t say a word. I could hear the conversations going on around me, but I couldn’t explain what had happened to me and what I was doing with tape and a cotton ball on my arm.
I went back out of consciousness, and was put into a medically induced coma. They worked for hours to close massive head, neck, back, and chest lacerations. Doctors inserted chest tubes to re-inflate my lungs, and closed the stab wounds in my heart. Surgeons worked on the skull damage and brain injuries. They repaired my right arm and hand, reconnecting tissues, muscles and tendons, and re-attaching my nearly completely severed thumb. They sutured wounds in my legs, neck, and back. And, for a while, I watched the surgeons work methodically and feverishly to save my life in an out-of-body experience. I heard the conversations. I saw my bloodied body.
A few weeks into my recovery I asked one of the doctors about part of the surgery. He asked me how I knew about what I was asking. I explained how I watched from above. I explained I recognized him as one of the doctors who came in after the surgery started. I was able to describe in detail what had been done to me. He explained that was the moment I had flat-lined. I died on the surgery table. It was matter-of-fact to him; he’d heard many patients describe the same experience. I flat-lined a second time while in ICU and a second time they were able to resuscitate me.
After surgery I went to critical care in the ICU. I slept for several days before I came to. I woke up slowly, and dazed. I felt the tube in my throat. I was confused. I saw the machines, and I began to realize I was in a hospital. I was in and out of consciousness again, but after a couple of hours I was able to open my eyes and keep them open. I knew then where I was and I had no idea why. I had no memory of what had happened. Nurses were coming in to check vitals and ask me questions about what I could feel: if I could feel my legs, if I could feel my hands, and if I could feel any pain.
One of the nurses explained to me they would be removing the tube from my throat in a few hours and that there were a couple of detectives who would come in to talk to me once the tube had been removed. She said they had some questions for me, and I didn’t know why they would want to talk to me.
Over the next few hours pieces of the attack starting coming back to me. I saw the memory of my attacker, I remembered he stabbed me. It felt like trudging through a fog, like being drunk and trying to remember what happened after a black-out. Piece by piece, it all started coming back. I was becoming more and more aware of where I was, what had happened, and how seriously I was hurt. I looked around and saw the respirator, the bandages all over my body, and then it hit me: my kids! Panic set in and I immediately wanted know, where are my kids?
A nurse brought in an alphabet board and I pushed letters around with my bandaged hands until I could finally make the word “kids”. She explained that they were safe and who they were with, and that they were in good hands and being well cared for. I recognized the name as a good friend of mine. With that comfort, and still being heavily drugged, I went and in and out of sleep for the next couple of hours. I would wake up and question, how do people know I am here?, and then fall back asleep. I would wake up and question, where is my attacker?, and then fall back asleep.
Finally a nurse came in to remove the tube from my throat. She explained the process before she did it, and that even after it came out I could only have ice chips and that I needed to limit my talking to give my throat a chance to heal. She explained that there were some detectives waiting to talk to me, and that they would be coming in to ask me questions after she removed the tube.
Two detectives came in. They introduced themselves and told me why there were there. They wanted to know who did this to me. They already had their suspicions, but they needed confirmation from me. I confirmed the name my son had given the police was the correct name.
The officers explained they had started a search to find and arrest my attacker. They had so far searched his house, his cousin’s house, and his sister’s house and had been unable to find him. They took what information they needed from me, and then they left. It was frightening to hear that my attacker was still free, that he hadn’t been caught, that I wasn’t safe.
I had staples in head, stomach, legs, and arms, and I had chest tubes keeping my lungs inflated. The chest tubes were hooked up to two machines that would show how much lung capacity I had. Even as the stab wounds started to heal, my lungs weren’t improving. This was the biggest issue on daily basis. Everything else was showing signs of improvement, but not my lungs.
The doctors were worried about a hole in my lung and a surgeon came to discuss what would be required to try to fix the issue. He explained that my lung wasn’t healing and he needed to do a thoracotomy to try to seal the hole in my lung. He explained the process and the risks; that it was a serious procedure with a 50/50 chance of survival. I would need to assign a Power of Attorney.
I was scared and overwhelmed and I started crying. I had survived so much only to be told that there was a 50/50 chance that a surgery necessary to save my life might take it instead. The surgeon told me to talk it over with my support system and take a day to make my decision. He was very clear that this was the only option there really was, even with the bad odds, it was the best chance we had because I couldn’t live with chest tubes. I decided to have the surgery, assigned Power of Attorney, and was put on the schedule for surgery.
The night before the thoracotomy I was very nervous. My surgeon came into my room to check on me and talk about the surgery. He asked how I was doing, and told me he felt positive about the surgery. Then he told me about a ritual he had had since his days in medical school. He had already had a long and esteemed career, and he explained that before he performed a risky surgery he would visit his patient and say his version of a prayer while holding his medical school scalpel over the patient’s head. This made me even more nervous. It seemed like a quack move. Once he finished, he patted my leg, said he’d see me in the morning, and reassured me that everything would be fine.
I went to sleep, only waking slightly when the nurses came in to check on me throughout the night. They would check the lung machine and write down my oxygen and capacity levels. Sometime in the middle of the night, one of the nurses came in to check things, suddenly switched on the light, and said out loud, “what the hell? I can’t believe this.” By now I was fully awake. She called in another nurse to check on what she thought she was seeing.
Everything was normal. My oxygen levels and lung capacity levels had returned to normal. They notified the surgeon and he rescheduled the surgery for the next day. He came in to visit with me and told me they would monitor everything for another 24 hours before doing any surgery. The surgeon commented that this was first time he had ever seen this happen. He wanted to be sure the levels stayed stable before the surgery was cancelled. My levels stayed up. They determined the hole in my lung had healed and they removed the chest tubes.
The next issues to resolve were the skull injury and the infections in the wound, and preparing me for a life without the use of my right arm. When I grabbed the knife, my hand was sliced in half, and the tendon in my arm had also been severed with one of the stabs. I was warned that I was not likely to regain the use of that arm, and that my muscles would atrophy and my arm would become limp and skinny.
I still had a long road to recovery.
The hole in my lung had closed, my stab wounds were healing, and my head wound was also beginning to heal. I was in the hospital for several weeks, progressing from trauma and critical care in the ICU to a regular hospital room. Friends visited daily.
My friends came in to check on me, and to help me keep my life together while I recovered. I had a good support system. I learned who was a true friend, who truly cared, and who did not. My mother was one who did not. Shortly after waking up from the medically induced coma and initial life-saving surgeries, the nurses needed to know who to call in case of an emergency.
Friends had been notified, but not any family. A family member needed to be notified, so I gave the nurse my mother’s name and phone number. My mother’s response was “I don’t care. I don’t have a daughter.” When it came time to assign Power of Attorney before the surgery to repair my lung, the surgery which, thankfully, never happened, I didn’t ask my mother.
It was my friends who helped me through my recovery, and helped me keep a handle on my responsibilities while I healed. I needed to take care of my kids, pay rent and bills, and altogether manage my life so when I could return I had something to return to. At the time, I owned three cars. I had one of my friends sell two of them for the best price he could get for them. My friends took care of depositing the money into my bank account, and they wrote and mailed the checks to maintain my apartment and other financial responsibilities.
Once I moved into a standard hospital room my children were able to come visit. The first time they visited was for Anthony’s birthday. We had a Ninja Turtle party for him in my hospital room. I still looked like the victim of a murder attempt, and it was traumatic for the kids and for me. Anthony had witnessed the attack, and now was seeing me bandaged and bruised.
When I was alone, I watched a lot of TV, and started watching Oprah every day. I had never watched her before I hospitalized. It was during an episode on domestic violence that I decided I was going to get on her show. There were so many stereotypes and inaccuracies and I wanted to correct that. I knew what it was like to be a victim of domestic violence. I was lying in a hospital recovering from stab wounds inflicted by a man who said he loved me, who stabbed me because I wouldn’t tell him I loved him. I told my friends, “mark my words; I will get on that show.”
A few days after Anthony’s birthday party, almost a month after being attacked, I had another visitor. I was lying in bed watching TV. It was around dinner time, and the door to my room opened. My attacker walked in. I thought I was hallucinating. He had cut his hair and was wearing a baseball hat, but I knew who it was. I laid there thinking, this can’t be happening…he isn’t really here.
He walked across the room and sat down on the edge of the bed. I was terrified, frozen. I thought he must be there to kill me, to finish the job. He started talking. He told me he was sorry, and that he couldn’t believe he had done this to me. He started crying. I still wasn’t sure it was real. He told me it was nice to see me. He said he loved me. He hoped everything would be fine. He said to call his sister if I needed anything and he would get it to me. Then he left.
He walked back out of the room as carefree as he had walked in. I hit the nurse call button and screamed “emergency, emergency, get in here now.” The nurse came running in. I told her my attacker had just been in my room. I asked her if a man with dark hair and a baseball hat had just walked down the hall. She said yes. I told her, “that’s the man who stabbed me.”
She called security and he was arrested before he could leave the hospital. The police came in and took my statement. They asked about what he said, how he acted, and if he had threatened me. I wanted to know why no one had told me he hadn’t been caught yet, and why the hospital hadn’t been notified that he was still at-large. Everyone assumed he had left the country, or at least lest the Portland area. He was taken to jail, and put into a high-risk area after trying to run from the police at the station. Even handcuffed, he managed to run five blocks before he was apprehended again.
A few weeks after my attacker visited and was arrested, I was released from the hospital. I decided to go back to my apartment. I thought I could return and pick up the pieces of my life. I only stayed there a few days. Even though friends had cleaned up the bloody mess, it was obvious where my blood had spilled. I knew where, and I could see the faintest outlines of stains. Not only did I leave that apartment, I left that area of Portland. I still had some money left from selling my cars, so I packed everything, and my kids and I moved into a new apartment.
I had been told to apply for disability and other financial assistance, including welfare and food stamps. I was advised that I stood a good chance of being awarded the disability claim, and that the government assistance would help keep me in a home and food on the table. I knew that I wasn’t going to do that. I felt like I wanted to return to work. I had been attending classes at the community college, and I wanted to go back.
I found a job managing an apartment complex and I started painting apartments. Working helped me stave off depression, and gave me the money and the motivation I needed to keep living life. I took classes and went to therapy, both emotional and physical.
My attacker was charged with attempted murder and assault. He pleaded guilty with a plea deal. I never had to testify against him. I didn’t have to face him in court and relive that nightmare. He served six and a half years in prison. I was awarded a million dollars in damages, but I never saw a dime of that money. After he was released from prison, and before he reported to his parole officer, he fled the country.
Eventually I regained 100% use of my right arm and hand. In the Fall of 1994, three years after the attack, I was a guest on The Oprah Show. I married the man of my dreams and we raised two boys together. I worked a long and successful career in the Event Industry, producing events for notable public figures such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and entrepreneur and philanthropist Phil Knight, as well as for world-renowned companies like Nike and Microsoft. I left the hospital determined to survive, and I have.