For most of her 26 years, Katie Schlinger led what some would call a charmed existence. She grew up in Florida then traveled the world, even teaching elementary school in the Middle East.
“I've lived in Syria in a third world country for three years, I've been to 10 countries,” Katie remembered.
There she knew what to do, what customs to follow, how to stay safe:
“I know how to protect myself, the one time I let my guard down, this happens to me,” Katie, now in a wheelchair, said.
Of places, in Aiken — just days before Christmas.
Katie was visiting her brother who was having emergency heart surgery on Dec. 20; she let her guard down while arguing with her boyfriend on the phone in a hotel parking lot.
“A gentleman came up to me and asked if he could have a cigarette,” she explained.
And he asked for a ride. When Katie told him why she was there, he said that he too had family in the hospital and that he was worried. Would she drive him the four minutes to the hospital?
“I felt for him and I said, 'yes, as long as you don't hurt me,' I said it jokingly.”
But, when they got to the hospital, he told her to keep going.
“He said to keep driving,” Katie said, “and I was crying and he hit me in the head with the pistol, keep driving, if you don't want me to kill you, keep driving.”
Katie escaped when she accidentally crashed her Dodge Durango, but not before she was pistol whipped, and sexually assaulted.
“He broke my neck in six places, paralyzed the side of my body,” she cried. “I can't move my arm, I can't dress myself, I can't even brush my teeth.”
But she can still laugh.
“I know I'm going to walk again and I refuse to live my life in this wheelchair, even though I've grown fond of it”
And she has a lot of lessons for all of us to learn.
“Don't give up. Whatever situation, cancer or an illness, whether a victim or not don't want them to give up, because I wanted more than anything to die, but I believe I'm going to have a life again and my life's going to be better.”
Katie does not have any medical insurance, but a website has been set up for folks to make donations to her health care costs.
A suspect in the case, Michael Antwon Fuller, 23, was found by police half-conscious in the car with a pistol near him. He faces various charges including kidnapping, criminal sexual conduct, unlawful carrying of a pistol, according to the Tallahassee newspaper.
— Story from WJBF-TV