Bridget Kelly, 26, was kidnapped by a stranger, robbed, raped, shot repeatedly and left for dead. When she learned the rape was considered too shameful to mention in media accounts, she wanted to tell her whole story. So she enlisted the help of a newspaper columnist — her own father.
For Michael Kelly, it may have been the hardest story he ever wrote. But together, they publicized her painful story to show other rape survivors they don't need to suffer in silence.
It started at 3 a.m. on a summer morning nearly two years ago when Bridget, a first-grade-teacher, was alone in her apartment in Killeen, Texas. A young man — a complete stranger — kicked in the door to her apartment, wielding a gun and demanding money. They headed for a nearby ATM, where she withdrew $200.
She hoped that would be the end of it, but her abductor forced her back to the car at gunpoint, and drove her farther away from her home.
She was frightened. She tried to talk with him, saying she was a teacher. She asked him, "Were there any stories that were special to you when you were a little boy?"
"I really loved Peter Rabbit," she said. "Do you know that one?"
"I was thinking maybe he's going to rape me; maybe he's going to kill me," Bridget told ABCNEWS' Charles Gibson.
A Will to Live
They arrived at an empty field beside a subdivision, where the man told her to take off her clothes. She obeyed, but then bolted and ran. The man quickly caught her, then told her to lie down.
"As I was getting down on the ground, I said in a calm voice, 'I'm going to give this to God. I'm giving this to God as an acknowledgement that this is so far beyond what I can handle.' And I got down on the ground and he raped me."
Afterward, the man told Bridget to get up, and indicated where he wanted her to stand. She was standing naked with her back to him when he fired his gun at her.
He missed — the bullet flew by her right ear only a couple feet from her head — and she screamed. Then he fired again. This time, the bullets struck her, and she fell to the ground.
He moved closer to her, and fired again into her back. "And then he started to walk away, I think," she said. "I believe that he turned back. And maybe it was an afterthought, or maybe it was just to be sure, just for good measure, he shot me one more time."
Bridget was left to die, but a remarkable determination and will to live took over. She somehow made it to nearby houses, winding up on the doorstep of a retired Army sergeant, Frank James.
"When I saw her condition and I seen the two bullet holes in — no, I didn't think she was going to make it," he said.
Bridget was rushed to the hospital for 6 ½ hours of emergency surgery. Doctors say if she had arrived 10 minutes later, she would not have survived. The shots miraculously missed Bridget's spine, heart and lungs, but not much else.
Michael Kelly learned of the attack on Bridget the next morning as he sat in office at the Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska. He had covered many rape cases in his career, but this time it was different — it was his daughter.
To Tell the Whole Story
Michael was at his daughter's side shortly after she regained consciousness. "Her normally very lively eyes were open, but they were lifeless. There was no sparkle. As if she had seen hell," he said.
With tubes down her throat, Bridget couldn't talk. But she made a motion as if she wanted to write. So he pulled out his notebook and gave her a pen.
Michael says he'll never forget what she wrote as long as he lives. "Dad, I was thinking about you and mom and my whole family when it was happening," Bridget wrote. "I just wanted to see you again."
As he stood at her bedside, he told his daughter the man who had raped and shot her had been caught. Her attacker had come back to the scene to show friends what he had done. Police saw him in her stolen car and pursued him.
And Michael told Bridget his paper would cover the story of the attack. She wrote in his notebook, "Say rape?" Kelly said no. "The policy of our paper, and most organizations, was not to link the name of a victim with rape," he told Gibson.
But that policy made no sense to Bridget, who, when she could talk, urged her dad to help change it. "I said, 'Well, why is it more shameful to be a rape victim than a gunshot victim?' " she asked.
"At that time I was just thinking, 'That's kind of a significant detail to leave out!' " Bridget said. "I didn't get why they wouldn't report that. If you're going to tell this story, tell the whole story."
An Outpouring of Emotion
Bridget thought the greater stigma would be to have her name withheld — as if there were something to be ashamed of. So Michael Kelly set out to write Bridget's "whole story."
In his first columns about his daughter, his editors wouldn't let him mention the rape, but after a month of discussion, they relented. "Now you don't have to read between the lines and wonder," he wrote. "My daughter was raped."
Once those words appeared in print — once the story was in wide circulation — there was an outpouring of reaction.
"So many women who had survived rape then came forward," said Michael. "It was almost as if they'd been waiting for someone to give them the OK to talk about it."
Bridget also made a public service announcement sharing her story — and her face. After that campaign, calls to the Texas rape hotline went up 200 percent, she says proudly.
There are almost 100,000 reported rapes a year, according to the FBI. But the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a victim advocacy group, says more than 60 percent of rapes are not reported. And 80 percent of rape victims are under the age of 30.
Bridget has put a face on those numbers. Various other newspapers reported her story, including the Killeen Daily Herald, the paper of the town where she lives. She has reached thousands more with her TV ads, and now gives public talks.
She takes every question — no matter how blunt. At her old high school in Omaha, an audience member asked her about her feelings about her attacker, who has been sentenced to life in prison plus 40 years.
"I think God would know that I'm not ready to pray for him and really mean it," she said. "So when people tell me they're praying for him, I say 'thank you.' That's a load off me."
The crowd laughed. But in the end, there are more tears than laughter.
"A year ago I would have said, 'I don't think I know anyone who's been raped.' You all do. You all know many. And I can say that with certainty," Bridget said, with tears in her eyes.
"Now I think I'm so fortunate. Because even though I would do anything to erase that night, it happened. And it's my reality."
For more information:
The national rape hotline number is 1-800-656-HOPE. It connects people to services and crisis centers in their communities.
The RAINN (rape, abuse and incest national network) Web site is www.rainn.org.
The site for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (for which Bridget is a spokeswoman) is www.taasa.org.