Using My Voice in PA...

Thinking back to the movie, "The Sound of Music" - the hills were definitely alive in & around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Not so much with music - but just alive in making me ill. I was car sick the entire time I was there. Winding, narrow roads lead Jonathan & I to my Aunt's house in Leechburg, PA. I can't even tell you how happy I was once we arrived & I was able to get out of the rental car. I had a busting migraine that had me feeling like my head was in a vice and my stomach was turning. Seeing my aunt for the first time in ten years though, well...that was totally worth the drive & motion sickness. She was just about to leave her house to go get some potatoes when we pulled up, but walked us in and we got to visiting and catching up on life. My cousin Tressa was home & cousin Autumn came over. My aunt's husband, DJ, cooked us prime rib on the grill while my aunt made the baked potatoes & fresh salad. Aunt Chris is quite the hostess & cook! After dinner & hours of chatting it up, off to bed we went.The next day, my aunt drove Jonathan & I to Greensburg where we met up with my cousins Camille & Autumn along with the other members of The Rotary of Westmoreland for lunch. The Rotary & Blackburn Center Against Domestic & Sexual Violence partnered for the event later that evening, where I presented a case study lecture on my case to their community at Seton Hill University, in hopes of empowering others to speak out while also educating the community on the importance of victims' rights. The lecture went really well as the room was full of very kind, caring, compassionate people who listened intently as I described the events that took place in August of 1990, leading up until now in my journey as I continue to fight for justice for others. Being so far up North, there was no A/C in the room the lecture took place in, so I was sweatin' bullets up there, haha. Afterward, there was a dessert reception in the parlors of Seton Hill - everyone gathered around for the mini cupcakes, brownies & cookies, and I met some of those that attended and answered questions they had. By the end of the night, I was exhausted, had a headache and was still kind of car sick from the ride earlier in the day, so we decided to head back to my aunt's house in Leechburg, about a 30 minute drive away. As we walked to the car, I contemplated taking off my heels, but didn't want to walk on the concrete barefoot, so I kept them on...big mistake. While walking downhill with cupcakes on a plate in my left hand, I started to lose my balance as I almost ate the concrete with my face. Thankfully, hearing me yell "Oh my God!" repeatedly, while going faster downhill than I would've like to, Jonathan grabbed my arm with his hand and stopped the madness of me in my heels before that happened. Whew! My face and cupcakes won the war againt the heels. Score! Too bad I was even more car sick by the time we got home that night to eat anymore, and threw up the ones I had eaten once we got there. It was truly a shame to watch that Red Velvet & Chocolate go to waste as it all came up, but I won't go into any further worries ;)

In the morning, I came downstairs to straighten my hair and get ready to head to my cousins photography studio, Skysight Photography, in Greensburg to take pictures with Jonathan..and did I notice a cupcake massacre! Icing, sprinkles, and remnants of those yummy mini cupcakes were strewn along the kitchen counter, and there was one guilty little dog named Sunny who looked miserably full standing beside me on the floor. Lets just say, Sunny had lots of "treats" that morning when no one was looking...and wasn't feeling well that day or the next. - RIP mini cupcakes, you were amazing (while you lasted).

I got behind the wheel Friday afternoon and drove to Greensburg in hopes of the car sickness not being as bad & Jonathan and my aunt were with me. We were really looking forward to spending the day with my cousin, Autumn & her fiance, Bill and having Autumn take some pictures of us, as we've never had any professional ones taken. Autumn opened her own studio years ago, and takes amazing pictures. Recently, she even traveled to Morocco and took the most beautiful pictures for National Geographic, and has been very successful at what she does, so proud of her! Autumn was so sweet to take pictures of us in her studio as well as in a few spots around Greenburg.

First, Autumn took pictures of me in my Girleo gear that Tiffany Corbett & Courtney Noelle, owners of Girl ExtraOrdinaire in Los Angeles, and authors of the Sweet Pea The Bumblebee books sent me when they named me their Girleo 2012!

And here are a few of the photos she took of Jonathan & I that day:

After pictures, we headed to Rizzo's for an authentic Italian dinner with our family on our last night in town, and then headed back to my Aunt's home and we packed our things so we'd have more time to visit with all of my family before we headed back out to the airport to board our flight home the next day. Saturday morning, my cousin Camille and her husband Dan, and their two kiddos, Logan & Livia, my cousin Michael and his pup Duke, and cousin Autumn and her fiance Bill, and my aunt & DJ all hung out and took advantage of our last few hours together over some homemade Spinach quiche, fresh berries, apple salad, and bread. Like I aunt knows how to whip up some tastiness in the kitchen :) Then, we sadly said our goodbyes, and Jonathan and I headed to Pittsburgh along those dreaded windy roads. I drove and surprisingly didn't get sick this time - kicked back in the plane, watched Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and landed home-sweet-home in Houston 3 hours later.

Next stop: McAllen, Texas on Wednesday so stay tuned, but before I go, one question...

'cause I do. :)

Purpose-Driven Life :)

As the 21st Anniversary of my attack approached, I couldn't help but reflect on my journey as I drove to the 23rd Annual Crimes Against Children Conference in Dallas from Houston. The drive was long, so I had plenty of time to ponder all of the obstacles I've had to overcome and those I'm still trying to hurdle over. Not just the attack, but personal relationships with friends and family members, and lots of other things that just sometimes make you go "hmmm..."

I (finally) made it out of Houston, had passed Huntsville and continued on my way up I-45 North when it suddenly dawned on me...that when we are born, are given the ability to breathe, it is a gift. But as we die, we must ask our bodies to fight to keep what we've been given at birth, and as we all know, sometimes it is not God's will that it be that way and it is just simply"our time to go." I then thought of my birthday, May 5, 1982. On that day, I am supposed to celebrate my birth, my life...hence, "birthday" and thought of the day of the attack, August 10, 1990, the day I survived; a "re-birth" in a sense. As I kept driving, I found myself tearing up thinking of the miracles that happened, one right after another, so that I would survive. From the drizzling rain to keep my wound moist that day, to the fireants clotting the blood in my wound, to the children playing at just the right time in the field to find me before my body gave up, and then to survive and gain back my all continues to amaze me. I am just beyond grateful that it wasn't my time to go, and that I am able to share my story with so many wonderful people, from so many different places.

I pulled into the conference site, The Sheraton in Downtown Dallas, and as I stepped out of the car, it felt like a hairdryer was blowing right in my face. The temperature? 115 degrees, according to my car. I live on the coast, and it isn't even that bad...and I had four more days of this exhausting heat before returning home. I had to brace myself. Luckily, the AC was blowing hard inside the hotel and I was able to get all checked-in and settled in my room comfortably. Well, until dinner when we walked 8 blocks to get to the Iron Cactus in the sweltering heat. I by this time, was ready for an iced tea. Our group from Galveston County all went to dinner together, about 17 of us total, and we were all looking forward to some drinks and mexican food; until our waiter appeared, sweating profusely, might I add...and had a "hypo-glycemic attack" - needless to say, I never got that tea, and ordered a margarita instead...about an hour later since he was running behind because of his episode which some were sarcastically calling a "hydroponic" attack. haha - we will never know what was REALLY going on with that guy...I'm still hoping none of his sweat dripped into my guacamole.

Moving right along, the first day of the conference was Monday. Elizabeth Smart was the plenary speaker, and read a speech. I was hoping to get a picture with her, but she didn't stay to mingle, and went to a press conference instead..pretty disappointing. Detective Cromie & I sat in on a workshop Ed Smart, Elizabeth's dad hosted with a lady whose son has been missing for over twenty years, very sad but what incredible strength that woman has to never give up hope her son will one day come home! We then met up with Agent Rennison in the afternoon and then went over our presentation the following morning as a refresher since we were presenting Tuesday afternoon. Both presentations, one 3 hour on Tuesday, one 3 hour on Wednesday, went really well! Wednesday's presentation was bittersweet as it was the 21st anniversary of my attack; yet I was standing infront of hundreds of people, not only telling my story with my two heroes, but also educating everyone in the audience (nurses, therapists, social workers, members of law enforcement, DA's, victim advocates, etc.) on how important it is to let victims have a voice! During both presentations, there were wonderful questions asked at the end, and the entire conference was one that I'll certainly never forget - it was very insightful and powerful!

This day, 21 years ago, was not just another day being was the day I survived, and I just can't thank you all enough for continuing to be so supportive! Let's all continue to the fight in conquering crime, one voice at a time!



Oh, Canada!

I admit... it's been awhile. It's been a long while. Time to catch you up on my latest speaking engagement in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Many of you may not know this, but I was actually born in Canada. Not in Manitoba, but in Quebec. I was born in the city of Montreal, and I'm actually still a Canadian citizen. Long way from Dickinson, Texas - eh? Let's just say that's a story that I won't bore you with and I've lived in the United States for all but a couple of months of my life, (and I have only been back to Canada once since I was born there) so I happily accepted the invitation to speak at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection's 11th Annual Missing & Exploited Children Conference and share my story. Jonathan, Detective Cromie, and I flew from Houston to Minneapolis, and then arrived into Winnipeg, where we went through customs. The last time I went through customs (when I visited Canada in 1996 or so) - I was scared to death they wouldn't let me back into the U.S. because my "green card" (now referred to as a Permanent Resident Card) had a picture of me on it as an infant. This time, with a renewed permanent resident card & brand new Canadian passport, I had no worries. The process surprisingly seemed much less complicated. They asked what I was doing there, how long I'd be staying, where I was staying, etc. - and then we walked out to meet Erin, who works for CCCP and is a doll. She welcomed us and drove us to our hotel, The Fort Garry, also the conference site, an almost 100-year-old property which sits in the heart of downtown Winnipeg. Isn't it pretty? Looks like a castle and the conference was held on the 8th floor. The large meeting rooms where we were presenting were even more beautiful than the outside of the hotel; with ceilings painted in gold-leafing, chandeliers, and large mirrors, as you can see below. The first day of the conference, Detective Cromie and I attended workshops and heard a very compelling story of a girl named Lindsey Ryan, of Michigan, who was reported missing from her home in 2003. She was 14 at the time, and had been what we call "groomed" by a family friend by the name of Terry Drake, 56; she met through church. Drake formed a relationship with Lindsey by obtaining her e-mail address from the church directory, (scary, I know..makes you stop and think, doesn't it?) and began communicating with her over the internet without her parents knowledge. He was also a convicted murderer. Lindsey's story is much more detailed, not to mention, horrific..but ends happily with her being recovered in California, and her abductor now in prison; she alongside her mother, shares her story of survival. In the early evening, Jonathan, Detective Cromie and I wanted to do a little sight-seeing, so we walked over to The Forks Market, a few blocks from the hotel, where we bought souvenirs and I banned the word "eh" - Imagine two grown men ending every word with "eh" - it's not funny after 10 or 20 times, and I'm pretty sure they (Jonathan and Cromie) were purposely trying to drive me crazy! When Jonathan went to buy sunglasses, the lady at the kiosk in the mall told him, "You've got a big noggin, eh?" and he thought it was THE funniest thing ever..believe me, I heard that story more than once. And, to top it all off, Cromie of course had to buy himself a "Canada, eh?" t-shirt! Moving right are a few photos from The Forks Market in Winnipeg:

After a couple days of attending the conference during the day, meeting the most wonderful people, sight-seeing in the evening and eating amazing food, we ended the conference with our presentation. Wednesday afternoon Agent Rennison flew in from D.C., and Thursday the 3 of us presented together and it was awesome! We first did our presentation infront of child welfare professionals, and then law enforcement in the afternoon. It was so interesting hearing the reactions and questions of the different professionals there, and it moves me to tears everytime, just knowing that I'm making a difference by sharing my story. When I share my story, it's still hard to talk about not getting my time in court with Bradford, and a lady walked up to me after my presentation, whose attacker had also died. She told me that I changed her life by sharing my experiences, and telling how I sat at his grave to read my victim impact statement. I can't think of any other word to use than empowering. We took a picture with two of our new friends, Erin & Christy, of The Canadian Centre for Child Protection, and got ready to say our goodbyes to Winnipeg, and hello to Houston, once again.
Thank you, Canadian Centre for Child Protection, for the invitation to present, your friendship, your hospitality, and an experience I'll most certainly never forget. It was nice, eh? ;)

Reshaping The Future, Honoring The Past

This week one year ago, Crime Victims' Rights week 2010, you may remember me blogging about how I was nervous, my palms were sweating, and I was stepping up to the podium to speak infront of a crowd of crime victims and their families for my very first speech at the Texas City Police Department. I cried as I spoke, I trembled, and had to catch my breath. I was still in shock that Bradford had been arrested after 19 years of hoping, wishing, praying, and searching for answers...and we were preparing to go to trial in the Fall of 2010. There was alot weighing on my mind. But, I knew I had to gather up the strength to speak to all of the tearful eyes looking at me. I needed to give others hope, as nervous as I was. Needless to say, I got through the speech, all the while Jonathan rubbing my shoulder and trying to help calm me down, as anxiety was getting the best of me. After the balloon release, and many, many hugs later, I thought to myself, "Well that wasn't so bad..." and started to wonder why I had been so nervous; afterall, this is my purpose in life, to help other people through my own experiences, and no one was there to judge me, we were all there, connected through, unfortunately, one common denominator: crime.

A few days later, I spoke again, this time at Dickinson PD, to crime victims and their families. This time, I was more excited to speak and show support to others. I was joyful, didn't cry and was so proud of myself. Dickinson PD is my second home, my comfort zone, and having all of those I've worked with on my case throughout the years in attendance, as well as close friends, gave me the strength I needed. That weekend, Jonathan and I, neighbors, friends and family participated in the 5K Walk/Run in support of Crime Victims' Rights in Galveston. Little did I know then...the course of getting true justice was about to change.

It was only a few weeks after this week a year ago that I got that dreaded phone call that Bradford had committed suicide in his jail cell - one of the most awful moments of my life. Pure shock, heartache and devastation are the only words I can still use to describe that day. How many more obstacles in this journey could I handle? I would say I questioned my faith the most during this time. Flowers and words of encouragement arrived at my door non-stop, and it would make me smile for a little while, but the pain was still there. There was NOTHING anyone could say or do to make the pain go away. For a few weeks, I had a major pity-party but one day woke up and came to my senses and realized I couldn't let the unfortunate death of Bradford get me down...once again, I'd have to jump back on my feet and remember why I'm here on this Earth, and I needed to use my voice and help others. I couldn't let anyone down, I needed to continue to fulfill my purpose.

Fast-forward to Crime Victims' Rights Week 2011 "Reshaping The Future, Honoring The Past" - what an awesome "theme" for this year! I have now accomplished and overcome so many obstacles, and strive to continue to do so on a daily basis. My attack is something that happened going on 21 years ago, but changed my life and perspective on crime, forever. I have done many speaking engagements, and met many people and continue to feel inspired to share my story and know I am making a difference, which makes me feel truly blessed. I know I am doing what I was called to do, and that is an indescribable feeling on so many different levels.

In March of this year, I was invited to attend and present alongside Detective Cromie in Austin for the annual TAASA conference, and what an extraordinary experience that was! I became a TAASA member last year, and this was the first conference I had ever attended, and it was full of amazingly insightful experiences. I went to several workshops throughout the days I was there, and learned so much about being a better victim advocate and learned more about the unfortunately "real" statistics on sexual assaults in our state. All of the information I learned just added more fuel to my fire, and has me striving to continue fighting for others and speaking out.

Day 4 of the conference, Detective Cromie met me in Austin and he and I presented a workshop together. This was our first presentation that we were presenting together, and it went really well, we even got a standing ovation! Members of law enforcement, social workers, therapists, SANE's, and victim advocates attended our workshop, and asked alot of questions. I'm beginning to feel more comfortable speaking infront of crowds of people, and I'm able to control my emotions better although Bradford's death is still very "fresh" and there are times when I just think about how he took his own life and start bawling. It's something that has been very difficult for me to deal with. After our presentation, Detective Cromie and I went to the TAASA awards luncheon. We sat at one of the head tables and were called up on stage to accept the award for "Champions For Social Change" from TAASA. I am so proud of this award, and will cherish it forever. Thank you, friends at TAASA, for acknowledging the changes we are trying to make to end sexual violence in Texas!

Last week, Detective Cromie and I spoke in San Diego, CA at the National District Attorney's Associations' Equal Justice Conference. Our presentation lasted just over an hour, and we were able to meet with conference attendee's on the terrace of the hotel for "table talks" - which were question & answer sessions. I love hearing the questions the different professions we present infront of have to ask. All of the questions vary from one extreme to the next, and I love seeing what people come up with, and it gives me insight into what I should add to future presentations. The thought of and hearing how my story not only effects and changes the perspectives of crime victims, their families, and different professions involving those who work with crime victims makes me tear up.

Today, still tired and having a headache, and recooperating from my trip to San Diego last week (I just got back in town Sunday evening) - I arrived at Dickinson PD for the annual brick laying ceremony and there was not one empty seat in the room the ceremony was held in. Chief Morales started off the ceremony by having everyone in the room tell their name and why they were attending. Some were there in support of crime victims, some were directly affected by crime. Of course he picked on me and made me go first, and put me on the spot. My mind went blank for a few seconds as I tried to push words out and come up with something to say to let others know we had a connection, and I was there to offer help to anyone in need. The woman sitting next to me cried as she told her daughter had just been murdered only a month ago. Another woman cried as she spoke of her son, murdered in 1999. No matter how recent or long ago the crime has happened, it's something that effects our lives, forever. People who haven't experienced what us "victims" have been's easy to tell us to "get over it" or "just move on" - I'll tell you this is much easier said than done. As we all stepped outside for the brick laying ceremony, and I got my camera out of my purse to take pictures, the Chief told me to put my camera up and move upfront because they were about to unveil my brick on the walkway of the PD. I said, "MY brick?!?" - I couldn't believe the police department was honoring me with my very own brick, and was elated. Thank you, DPD, so excited!

In closing, we ALL have a story to share, mine is one of trauma and pain; yet survival and victory, and it's one I'll always tell and use in positive ways to inspire others. What is your story, and how will/are you using it to help others? You never know when or how a few simple words may change the life of someone you don't even know. Together, we can "Reshape the Future" and "Honor the Past." - Won't you join me in making a difference?

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