When Young Love Turns Dangerous

May 18, 2006 — -- A year and a half ago, 16-year-old Nicole Lambert was rushed to the hospital, an 8-inch kitchen knife stuck deep in her back.

Nicole had been stabbed by her ex-boyfriend in the hallway of Romeo High School, in a suburb of Detroit. She spent three weeks in the hospital but eventually recovered. Eric Schorling, 17, was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in jail for the attack.

Nicole's story began much like the stories of young victims of dating violence -- a sweet and devoted boyfriend becomes steadily more controlling, jealous and possessive. The young woman becomes more withdrawn and spends less time with friends and family as he demands more of her time.

It's a pattern that parents of teen girls need to look out for, say experts. According to the Justice Department, 16- to 24-year-old women are the victims of physical, verbal or sexual abuse in relationships more often than any other age group.

From Devoted to Dangerous

Eric and Nicole spent most of their sophomore year as sweethearts.

Eric, with his unkempt hair and slacker demeanor, played class rebel -- a quality that attracted the shy and reserved Nicole.

But alone with her, he showed a softer, romantic side, Nicole said. "Me and him were sitting in the car, the windows were getting foggy. And he wrote with his finger on the window, 'Will you go out with me?' And it was just sweet, and so I said, 'Yeah.'"

To Nicole's friends, Eric seemed like a devoted boyfriend.

"He'd be, like, standing there, waiting for her, every single day outside of her class," said her friend Lindsay Gibson. "And then, you know, she'd come out and they'd hold hands and walk down the hallway together."

Nicole said, "We were just crazy about each other."

But her enthusiasm did not impress her parents. Her mother, Michelle, said her first reaction to Eric was "cut your hair, clean up." And her father, Dan, said he referred to him as "idiot slacker."

But Nicole's parents found out that it didn't do much good to complain about Eric; in fact, it only encouraged her to like him more.

"Even though they didn't like him, it kind of made me want to go out with him more," Nicole said. "But I probably should have listened to them."

As the months passed, Eric's devotion to Nicole crossed the line to clingy possessiveness.

"She just seemed always preoccupied with him and too busy to hang out," said her friend Samantha Gonzalez.

Her mother said Nicole withdrew from her friends and family. "Her grades were dropping, and she wasn't doing the typical teenage things that she should have been at the age of 15."

Nicole said Eric became more and more controlling. "I became depressed. And I tried to like convince myself that I was happy, but I really wasn't," she said.

A Knife in the Back

The last straw in their relationship came when Eric showed up one day and showed Nicole a new tattoo -- a swastika. Nicole decided she had had enough.

Her parents were relieved. "I was happy to hear from her that she'd finally decided that he was a psycho," said Dan Lambert. "And I asked her why they broke up, and she said that was why, that he was psycho."

Eric's neediness and overbearing attention disturbed Nicole, but he had never been violent, until she left him.

On a summer evening after they had broken up, Nicole was having an ice cream cone at the local Dairy Queen. She said Eric showed up there and saw her, and began yelling at her, swearing violently.

Then she said Eric ran toward her. "My friend's boyfriend like got in front of us, and he was kind of like pushing him off me. It was scary," Nicole said.

When Nicole told her parents what happened, Dan Lambert called Eric's mother. "Basically the two of us decided, 'OK, they're broken up. They'll stay apart. OK, it's the end of story,'" Dan said.

Nicole went away for the rest of the summer, and when she came back for school, she got some good news -- Eric had transferred to another school. But he still knew where he could find her.

One early September morning, as she walked down the hall to class, Nicole said she sensed Eric's presence.

"My heart started racing. I got really scared 'cause I knew that he was there for me," she said.

Then suddenly, Eric was right behind her, and Nicole felt a punch in the back -- so hard it seemed to take her breath away.

"I turn around and look at him in the eyes and those eyes were the same as I'd seen them last time, at the Dairy Queen," she said. "He had a look of satisfaction, like, 'Take that.'"

Nicole abruptly turned away and headed back down the hall, not realizing that Eric hadn't punched her at all -- he had stabbed her.

Remarkably, Nicole walked more than 100 feet through busy hallways of students heading to morning classes -- with a kitchen knife stuck in her back.

She walked into a classroom, where history teacher Dave Robertson was ready to begin teaching his class. He immediately noticed something was wrong.

"She doesn't look like she's doing so well, so I approach her at the front of the classroom and she says to me that she feels like she's been punched. And at that time when she says it, she drops down to her knees and she falls forward right on the floor," Robertson said.

That's when he saw the knife in her back.

Having seen wounds as an Army private in Somalia, Robertson knew that removing the knife could kill Nicole, so he made the agonizing decision to leave the blade in her back as he dialed 911.

She was rushed to the hospital, where Dr. Friedrich Dutka, a thoracic surgeon, treated her. He said the blade had hit several major organs, coming dangerously close to the girl's heart and almost severing a vital organ that controlled her breathing.

"It was virtually -- and I'm not overdoing it -- between one and two millimeters," Dutka said. "A surgeon could not have put it more precise without injuring that nerve."

Police immediately picked up Eric and took him in for questioning. Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor Steve Kaplan found that Eric's attack on Nicole was premeditated and that he planned on killing her.

At Eric's trial, the jury deliberated for only two hours before finding him guilty of attempted murder.

Nicole is graduating this spring and trying to move on by helping others to understand the consequences of abusive relationships.

She's even participating in peer mediation where students help each other resolve conflicts before they escalate. She says what happened to her could happen to any teenage girl.

"I would have never in a million years thought I'd be part of an abusive relationship," she said. "You know, you read about that stuff in statistics and your parents tell you about it, and I never thought that I'd be a part of that."