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.