I’ve lived in Monmouth County, New Jersey, my entire life. My daughter, Kiersten, was born the day after I turned 20. I was young, single and unprepared but I had a lot of support from my family. Born into a large extended family and loved unconditionally, it reflected in her personality and spirit as she grew up.
Over the years, my career in the marine fuel brokerage industry has taken me all over Europe and exposed me to many amazing experiences, people, places and things.
At the end of 2012 with much heartache I found myself on a path to a new life, 40 years old and starting over. My faith and spirituality were reassurances that everything would work out, I just needed to believe it. So, with my kid and my cat, I moved to a charming old farmhouse in Colts Neck, New Jersey. It was set on a flower farm, rustic, bare bones living. I loved it!
Financially, I was down to a single income and it was difficult to make ends meet. I was starting over. I hoped that eventually everything would even out. I hung a sign just inside of the front door to the house. It read Faith is not believing that God can, it’s knowing that He will.
Life went on, but it was never the same after one night in July of 2013.
The night was very hot and, not having air conditioning, the windows were open to let in the cooling air. Thinking I heard my cat scratching to be let back in, I opened the front door to find a 16-year old kid, with a knife in his hand, cutting a hole in a screen. We startled each other. He could have run away, but instead, he charged in. In trying to push him back, my hands were cut. He continued to slash at me, cutting my face and stabbing my chest. Doing the best, I could, to apply pressure to my wounds, the blood poured out of me. I was terrified, confused and could not process what was happening.
I made it to the door of the bathroom, but my legs gave out and I fell to the floor. He watched me struggle and came at me again. I tried to escape but I was on the floor, bleeding, with no place to go.
The slashing continued to my face, chest and neck. While this was happening, I could taste, feel and smell the blood rushing out of me.
He walked away, to the kitchen table, as I lay there in shock and bleeding to death. For the first time he spoke to me, asking for my car keys. I told him I couldn’t die like this; “I have a daughter that needs me. My keys are in my purse, take them.”
He took the keys, he could have left, but he didn’t. Instead, he came back to where I lay. He told me I was “a dead *****”, plunged the knife in my chest, pulled it out and walked out the front door.
My mind was racing. I was afraid my daughter would come home to find me dead and I couldn’t bear that. Not knowing how long I would have before losing consciousness, I managed the strength to crawl up the stairs to where my phone was and dialed 911.
I survived, but the injuries to my face, neck, chest and torso were extensive. I lost over 50% of my blood. The injury to my psyche unmeasurable.
I never went back to live in the house where I was attacked. My family and friends arranged for movers to pack up my home and put it all into storage. Essentially, I was homeless. I was also immediately hit with moving and storage expenses.
My stolen car was found and taken into evidence. Although I couldn’t access the car, I was still responsible for the outstanding loan payments. Worse, though the car was stolen, it was also found, meaning there wasn’t a claim to be made. When I was cleared to drive again, I needed a car but was not in a position to go out and buy another one and my insurance policy did not include rental coverage. I had no choice but to rent a car out of pocket, incurring yet another expense.
As the shock and the reality of what had happened started to surface, I found myself trying to manage and navigate life with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I could see the sadness and horror on the faces of everyone who knew and loved me. It’s difficult to describe the level of fear I was feeling but if I could put it on a scale of 1-10, it was 5000. I couldn’t feel safe; I was attacked in my own home. If I’m not safe there, where am I safe? I could not release it, it felt as if there was a poison inside me saturating every cell in my body. I just assumed that eventually it would be more than my physical body could handle and I would implode and die. My brain felt frozen in fear and sadness; I was uncomfortable in my own skin. No longer recognizing my own reflection, I couldn’t stand looking in the mirror. I was physically, emotionally and financially devastated. Although surrounded by my family and friends, I felt so alone.
While out of work for three months to heal my physical wounds, there was no prescribed time to heal the mental and emotional wounds. The best way I can describe it is to imagine being bitten by a poisonous snake. It’s not the snake bite that kills you, it’s the venom. That venom was PTSD.
Overwhelmed, and in disbelief of what was happening to me, I felt as if I was losing my mind. I knew I was fortunate to have a family that could take me in and care for me after the attack; family and friends jumped in time and time again. But once my physical injuries healed, I was on my own.
I tried to imagine what other people in my situation would have done. I was suffering and struggling but I knew I was much more fortunate than a lot of other crime victims. The desire to speak with others who had gone through what I was experiencing was strong. I wanted to understand how they managed and what they needed to begin to heal.
I searched for support groups for people who had experienced violent crime, PTSD, and trauma. What I found in New Jersey was a large network of support for victims of Domestic Violence, Veterans with PTSD, and specific trauma related services but, nothing for surviving victims of random acts of violence or non-combat related PTSD.
Knowing I wasn’t the only one struggling to manage in the aftermath of a crime, I felt compelled to reach out to others. I knew I was not the only person in NJ to be stabbed, experience a home invasion, or to be a crime victim. Unfortunately, there is a lot of victim blaming and a stigma associated with PTSD, so I think that keeps a lot of victims from reaching out. Being told to get over it, move on with my life, be grateful that I survived, was devastating. What I experienced was not something that I was going to get up from, wipe the blood off, and resume my day. It was life changing.
PTSD was prominent in every moment of my new life. I researched and read everything I could about crime victims and PTSD to help me better understand what I was feeling, and what to do about it. I was also determined to get the information into the hands of other survivors of violent crimes, telling myself that if I help just one person, spare them even a tiny bit of the struggle, then it’s all worthwhile.
Out of my strong desire to create a peer support group, I self-funded the creation of a website, resource material packets, and marketing materials. From this beginning, Survivors of Violent Crimes, a 501(c)3, non-profit, was born. Partnering with two other survivors, our goal is to be a place to bring together survivors of violent crimes to support, educate and empower each other. We’re also a resource and advocates for raising awareness for crime victim needs and non-combat PTSD.
As survivors, we know what we need to break through the aftermath and harness life with PTSD. For me, I have not had the opportunity to properly deal with the psychological trauma. I was forced to get back to work and back to life, although I have not been able to return to my pre-attack schedule. If I don’t go to work, I can’t pay my bills. I was forced to grin and bear it. It was unacceptable to exhibit signs of PTSD, it was over for everyone else, it was expected to be over for me. That was, and still is, damaging.
As our organization evolves, we plan to offer financial assistance as well. As I painfully learned through my experience, many expenses related to the aftermath of a crime were not covered by insurance and I was not able to cover on my own. We plan to help survivors rebuild their lives when there is no other financial option. Our focus is on ensuring surviving victims have the time and resources to deal with their emotional health. Time to re-establish their sense of self, safety and comfort. Time to try different healing modalities. Time to try different relaxation therapies. Time to prepare and eat healing and nourishing meals. Time to exercise. Time to just be.
For more information about Survivors of Violent Crimes: www.survivorsofviolentcrimes.org
Survivors of Violent Crimes Group FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/survivorsofviolentcrimesNJ/
For a more in-depth look at Donna’s story, including her Victim Impact Statement:
For more insight on PTSD Awareness: