Central Park Jogger: Support is as critical as rehab, to recovery
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- For 14 years, America knew her only as the Central Park Jogger; the Yale and Wellesley-educated Wall Street investment banker who spent five months in physical rehabilitation after being raped and beaten so viciously April 19, 1989 that the attack left her in a coma.
"I basically was left to die," she says. "I lost 80 percent of my blood. My left eye socket was crushed."
Almost 24 years later, Trisha Meili still has no memory of the assault that put the words 'wilding' and 'profiling' into our national vocabulary.
The case drew such notoriety, and so inflamed racial and social tensions, that several New York media outlets broke with long-standing custom and released Meili's name.
Five black and Hispanic teenagers were convicted in her attack; police maintained that at least two defendants confessed to it. All five's convictions would be vacated in 2002 when another man's DNA would tie him to the crime.
One year later, Meili would confirm her identity, by publishing the memoir that could have had no other title I Am The Central Park Jogger.
"I want to, in a way, tell the whole world that I'm okay, in part, because they reached out to me," Meili says.
Speaking has become her vocation. It's what brought her to Chattanooga Wednesday, to address Siskin Rehabilitation Hospital's Tenth Annual "Possibilities" Luncheon.
Particularly poignant for this year's attendees, Meili's visit comes not quite five months after a young woman was raped and beaten savagely, after being accosted while jogging near Finley Stadium on Reggie White Boulevard.
The suspects, 19-year-old Devontavious Bryant, and 16-year-old Deacon Williams, will be arraigned Friday. Police arrested them after a surveillance camera from the Chattanooga Convention Center recorded video of two young men trailing the jogger on bicycles. The men's attire matched the description the victim gave of the clothing her attackers wore. Police say security camera video from a downtown restaurant gave officers a more clear view of the suspects' faces.
In December, the victim identified Bryant and Williams in their preliminary hearings, sending their cases to a grand jury, which returned indictments in January.
"My heart goes out to her and to her family too," Meili tells Channel 3.
"It does change your life. It does make you think twice, about where you are going and when."
Nevertheless, Meili tells her Siskin audience, victims of crime, catastrophic injuries or debilitating disease don't have to allow their ordeals to change who they are.
"My rehab, the outpouring of support from strangers, taught me that I can't focus on what I can't do, but what I can," she says.
Meili's narrative rings true, for realtor Diane Patty.
"The support network for me was what I found inspiring," Patty says. "Just how important it is to have the community, and friends and family with you."
"The resilience was the part that resonated with me," says Dr. Liz Kennedy, a specialist in Neo-Natal care. "It's the ability to make a learning and teaching opportunity, out of something that wasn't an opportunity."
Meili concedes that her emotional responses have run the gamut the past 24 years, with one notable absence; no feelings of guilt.
"It may be natural (for victims of rape) to wonder 'did I do something to cause this? Should I have done something differently," she says.
"But I never blamed myself, and we shouldn't blame ourselves. I had every right to be in the park that night. Our focus needs to be, what would drive something to do this."