On September 29, 1997, I had to go to work and leave my 14 year old daughter home alone because today was a school in-service day for her. In-service means that the teachers have meetings at school and the children are off for the day. On previous occasions, she had stayed home alone. Cassandra was an only child and very responsible. I was a single parent that had to go to work in order to provide for my child. I remember her asking me if she could go to the mall with her friends. I told her no since I felt she would be safer at home. My work was close enough that if something happened to her, I could get to her faster than if she was at the mall. Also, we didn’t have cell phones then so I would be unable to communicate with her at the mall. Throughout the day, while I was at work, I would call Cassandra to check on her and she was doing fine.
We had a home computer and we had been receiving internet access for a few months. But I didn’t think any harm could come from it. I had AOL and I had set the child safety restraints on the computer, not knowing there would be any danger.
I called Cassandra before I left for lunch and couldn’t really decide if I should go home or go and drop off an application for a better job for us. After talking to her, I was assured that she was doing fine and went to drop off the application. When I got back from lunch I remember my co-worker telling me that I had a phone call. At the time my I was a Customer Service/Property Preservation Representative for G. E. Capital Mortgage and I assumed the call was from one of my customers. I asked my co-worker if they could ask the client to call me right back in a couple of minutes. I was told that I needed to come to the phone immediately. I walked back to my area and picked up the phone. It was my mother, she stated, “Something terrible happened to your daughter.” I said, “What happened to my baby!!??!!” She told me I needed to come home. I jumped into the car and I was shaking so much that I still wonder how I got there. When I pulled up to our building there were police, ambulance and a Crime Scene Investigator Van. The scene looked like my worst nightmare. I got out of my car, went past the police tape and up the stairs to my condo. When I walked into the door, I saw that my daughter was standing there crying and my mother was sitting down next to her. There were police all over my house. I was so glad to see my daughter. I wanted to hug her. The thoughts that were running through my head were torturing me.
Once I knew my baby was ok, I began asking questions. It was hard to believe what I was hearing. Apparently, my daughter was online and chatting with kids. One of the people that she had interacted with got my information from the internet. It was a 6-foot-4 inch, 250-pound, 24 year old male predator that used the internet to meet young girls. He obtained our address and came to my condo and kicked in the door and brutally raped my daughter.
This was too much for me to deal with. For several years, my daughter and I went for therapy. We were both treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The therapy did not appear to be working for my daughter. I decided to put her in Tae Kwon Do (she is a yellow belt now) and spend a lot of quality time with her.
This was my little girl that I was supposed to protect. And yet, she ended up being violently assaulted. I began to realize that the little girl I left at home that morning, was gone forever. But so was I. This was truly a crossroad for us. I always knew how to love Cassandra from the day she was born. Loving her easy and it seemed like my love for her was enough to heal her pain.
Over the next year I had to go to court, the district attorney’s office and care for my wounded daughter. We spent a year of our lives going back and forth to court. There were constant articles in the newspaper, discussions on radio talk shows and a segment on 20/20. Richard Brooks was convicted and given 8 years. He has to register as a sex offender and received his second strike.
My daughter is 22 years old now. It has been 8 years since this incident occurred. I do not know if I can say that my daughter has adjusted well but I can say that life happens, and every time I see her I am so thankful to have her. She is in a Pharmacy Technician class and is receiving straight A’s. I am proud of the woman that she has become, but I know she turned out different from what I had planned due to the incident.
“As time went on
I realized that
the little girl I left
at home that morning,
was gone forever.
But so was I.”
In interviewing Cassandra I asked her the following questions:
What were the warning signs, if any?
The warning signs were that the predator seemed to ask me more questions about landmarks surrounding my house and where I hung out most often rather than trying to talk to me about me myself. Once it was known that I was a girl and that I was home alone, the focus of the conversation shifted from me to where I was located. In 1997, when the incident occurred, there were no internet safety precautions in place for children. My case was the first. However, now there is more information for children and more computer/internet safety features that can keep kids better protected.
Any advice for young people?
My advice for young people would be
- Not to trust people over the internet. If they do decide to talk to people over it to please keep in mind that people do lie.
- Do not give out personal information especially information that tells where they live or go to school. I think kids think they can handle the situation because they are on the internet and they feel in control. But once the predator gets your information you are totally at a disadvantage.
Do you every plan to talk publicly to inform and help others?
There is something in me that keeps it private and I don’t care to share or talk about it. Whenever I talk about it too much, it is like I am there again. There are parts of the incident that I have blocked out and other I can’t forget.
What are your thoughts/feelings about your predator?
I hate my predator with a passion. This is how I feel at the present time. I have been through many stages and emotions but I hate him because his actions have affected my everyday life in the worse way. There are things I want to do or become, but out of fear and lack of self confidence due to the attack, I find comfort in bringing as little attention to myself as possible. I have found that healing isn’t an option, I never heal. I think as time goes on I realize all of the things I should have done as a child or teen but didn’t. I recognize in myself the feeling of being trapped when I am in small places. If I am in crowds, I feel vulnerable, so I avoid group activities. I love to dance and as much as I would love to go to a club, I know that I can’t out of fear of being attacked.
I must say that as Cassandra’s mother, I feel pain at the fact that she still feels trapped by her situation. I wish she would participate in more activities so she would not feel like she was missing out on anything. Cassandra is a very special young lady and so many people miss out on knowing her because of her fears. Sometimes I think it would be good if she would speak to other children about what happened to her and maybe that would help with her healing. But she is not in that place yet.