BRANDON — Five weeks after she was discharged from a rehabilitation hospital, family, friends and supporters gathered at the home of the Bloomingdale Library attack victim Saturday to pray for her continued recovery.
The victim, who still cannot see, speak or sit up, is happy to be home, although the struggle continues with home health therapy, said Cheryl Zemina, a close family friend.
In addition to spiritual support Saturday, the family also got a boost with the arrival of a conversion van donated to them by an anonymous civic group. Bill Weber, owner of Mobility Transportation Systems, which sold the van at a lower rate, demonstrated its remote control doors and lift.
"Did you see it?" the victim's mother asked those who gathered. "It's so wonderful."
Medicaid has not provided adequate therapy, so a number of dedicated volunteers have come forward, Zemina said. The group includes professors from the University of South Florida Speech Department, and several occupational therapists and assistants, and a physical therapist, all from around the Tampa Bay area.
"We are so grateful," Zemina said. "But we can always use more help."
The 18-year-old, who is not being identified because of the nature of the crime, was placed in her wheelchair and pushed to the center of the living room where pastors from three churches prayed.
"There are tears on Earth," said pastor Hoang Dong Truong of the Vietnamese Baptist Church of Tampa. "But God loves us."
The girl, who was raped and choked while returning books to the Bloomingdale Regional Library drop box the night of April 24, listened as the crowd of about 30 people prayed and sang.
"Why do bad things happen to good people?" asked David Kniss, pastor of the Bahia Vista Mennonite Church of Sarasota. "These are questions that are not easy to answer. But we are putting our trust in his hands."
Recovery from brain injury victims can take years. She still cannot swallow and gets her nutrition from a feeding tube. Her pupils are beginning to react to some light and she appeared more alert, the pastors remarked.
At one point, she was overcome by the commotion around her so she was wheeled back into her bubble gum pink bedroom, which had been retrofitted by volunteers to accommodated her medical needs.
She smiled when her sister accidently pushed her wheelchair over Zemina's toes.
Her girlfriends at East Bay High School, who are all now in college, decorated her room with posters and drawings. She was weeks away from graduation when the attack occurred and was supposed to go to the University of Florida. The person arrested in the attack, Kenrick Morris, was 16 years old at the time.
Now 17, he is being charged as an adult. As he sits in jail, she lies in her pink bedroom, tended to around the clock by her mother and a nurse.
Her face began to scrunch up when Zemina started to play with her silky black hair.
"It's okay, it's just Miss Cheryl," her mom told her. She grinned.
"She thought it was me," her mother explained in Vietnamese, smiling. "I play with her hair, rub her cheeks, kiss her face all day long. She gets tired of it."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813)909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org.