Community & Current Events

How she survived a brutal attack

By: Ann Douglas

Photography by John Hryniuk Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by John Hryniuk

Community & Current Events

How she survived a brutal attack

By: Ann Douglas
Survivor: Diana, London, Ont.

If it hadn't been for the courage and quick thinking of her young sons, Diana wouldn't be alive today.

A life-changing night
On May 28, 2000, then-five-year-old Michael and eight-year-old Steven were awakened by their mother's screams. Their stepfather's brother Thomas was trying to choke their mother with a piece of clothesline.
 
Steven tried calling 911, but the telephones had been disabled. He ran to a neighbour's house to call for help while Michael attacked Thomas with a pool cue.

When emergency crews arrived on the scene, they thought Diana was dead. Thomas had beaten her with a garden shovel and slashed her neck, arms and face with a utility knife.

His motive? He had mistaken Diana's concern about the suicidal thoughts he had been expressing in recent months for something more than friendship and developed a romantic obsession. When she made it clear that those feelings were not reciprocated – she had just married his brother Ben six months before – Thomas came up with a plan (spelled out in notes discovered later by the police) to rape and murder Diana, and then take his own life.

As she slipped into unconsciousness on the floor of her garage, Diana had just one wish: "Dear God, please don't let my children see me die this way." Her wish was granted. She spent 11 days recovering in hospital, and the summer recuperating at home.

A strong support system
She says that a willingness to accept help from others was key to her physical and emotional recovery. "I was fortunate to have a tremendous support system of family, friends and coworkers," she says. "When I was in the hospital, I received hundreds of cards and gifts, many from people I hardly knew or hadn't seen in years." Friends from church brought meals, and people in her community came to clean her house, replacing yards of blood-stained carpet and painting the garage. Her coworkers hand-sewed a quilt with personal notes written on the fabric squares.

Diana recalls making a conscious decision not to allow the attack to destroy her life. "It's how we respond to change that determines whether or not we lead healthy, happy lives."

Part of Diana's recovery involved forging a new path for herself. She took up running. "It helped to relieve stress and it brought different people into my life," she says. And that stress relief was needed. When the case went to trial, Thomas initially pleaded not guilty to the charges he faced (including attempted murder, confinement, attempted choking, assaulting Steven, and a count each of threatening the two boys). In the end, he changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He has since completed that sentence.

In 2002, Steven and Michael were awarded the Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner's Citation in recognition of their bravery on the night their mother was attacked.
 
Check out more inspiring stories of women who rebuilt their lives in the wake of disaster.            
                                               
This story was originally titled "I Will Survive" in the September 2013 issue.
           
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How she survived a brutal attack

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