Sunday, November 19, 2017
News Roundup

Bloomingdale Library rape survivor goes public with her story

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TAMPA

For years, she was known to the public as the Bloomingdale Library rape victim.

Then, in 2011, her family asked she be called the Bloomingdale Library rape survivor.

Now, she wants people to just call her Queena.

On the night of April 24, 2008, when Queena went to the Bloomingdale Library to return books, she was raped, beaten and left to die. She was 18, about to graduate high school and getting ready to attend the University of Florida on a full scholarship. Her attacker, Kendrick Morris, now 21, was convicted in May 2011 and is serving a 65-year state prison sentence.

Since then, her family and the community have held fundraisers and 5K races to raise money for her treatment, never revealing her name or showing her face.

That's changing.

UPDATED COVERAGE: Convicted Bloomingdale rapist Kendrick Morris sentenced to life in prison

On Saturday, the family will launch a new website, JoinQueena.com. The site documents Queena's life and recovery. It features updates on her progress from her doctors, therapists and her family, photos and a link to donate through PayPal.

The family wanted a way for the public to help Queena, now turning 23, without having to write a check or go to a bank, her mother Vanna, 50, said.

But they wanted a better name for the website than "Bloomingdale Survivor." Friends offered suggestions like "My Angel" or "Living Angel." Queena would make a face, with her mouth in the shape of an O, to indicate no, she didn't like those.

Her sister, Anna, 26, asked her: Did she just want Queena.com? Her face lit up with a smile, Vanna said. They asked her over and over, are you sure you want to use your real name?

She was sure. She wants to be an inspiration, her sister said, not a victim. They decided on JoinQueena.com.

At the request of the family, and because of the nature of the crime, last names are being withheld by the Tampa Bay Times.

The attack left Queena unable to walk, talk, see or eat on her own. She lives at home southeast of Tampa with her mother, who cares for her full time. But she has made some progress, Anna said.

Queena eats pureed foods, can form some syllables and can stand for periods of time with little assistance, Anna said. She has taken a few steps with the help of therapists and is tracking objects with her eyes better.

Her therapies include speech, physical and occupational, aquatic, yoga, neuro-stimulating treatments, acupuncture, massage and music.

Medicaid covers $1,500 per year for speech and physical therapy. But it costs the family about $70,000 a year for all of Queena's therapies and medical supplies.

Queena has different therapy sessions each week in St. Petersburg, Palm Harbor, Valrico and Sun City Center. Her mother drives her, and the cost for gas adds up.

The family relies on donations to a fund for Queena through the Bank of Tampa and SunTrust. In the first three years after the attack, donations poured in. People still donate, but every year donations are fewer and fewer, Vanna said. She's concerned about the fund running dry.

She's worried about bankruptcy. She's worried they'll have to cut back therapies, that she won't be able to take Queena out as much. When they go out, people talk to Queena and she listens to everyone around her. It's good for her, Vanna says, because it stimulates her brain.

"I get afraid," she said.

In addition to the website launch, Queena will attend a 23rd birthday celebration her family is holding for her at 1 p.m. Saturday at Keel and Curley Winery in Plant City, with a prayer vigil at 2 p.m.

"Every time her birthday rolls around, we are all reminded of how precious life is," Anna said. "To see the community come together every year, it is very heartwarming and gives the family that extra comfort and motivation to keep pushing forward."

On Wednesday, Queena lay in a hospital bed in her blue room at home, where her physical therapist comes for the day's session. Her therapy dog, Charlie, a little white Shih Tzu adopted from county Animal Services last year, waits for her in another room. Medical supplies share the shelves with stuffed animals and Gators memorabilia. The therapist works with Queena while her home health aide looks on. He works on her leg muscles while she's lying down. He props small inflatable balls under her legs and has her push against his hands with her foot.

They slowly help her up so her arms are resting on balls on either side of her. The therapist tells her to look straight ahead. When she's sitting up, he'll let go of her for seconds at a time to work on sitting up on her own. He'll ask if she's doing okay. She makes a noise to tell him she's all right.

Paula McDonald of Wimauma helped put together the website. She got to know Queena's family when her daughter, Kendall, was a senior at East Bay High School last year. Kendall and other students at East Bay, which Queena had attended, helped organize a 5K fundraiser, and McDonald offered to help the family any way she could.

McDonald works in design and communications, and in November got in touch with Full Media, an Internet marketing company in Georgia she had worked with before, to get some tips on how to set up Queena's website. The company ended up offering to create the site for the family.

"They really stepped up to the plate," McDonald said. "They were really interested in Queena's story and helping with the website."

McDonald admires the family's sense of strength and forgiveness, she said.

"For me as a parent, it hits close to home," she said. "Parents of teenage daughters, especially, you never hope to find yourself in that situation."

As kids, Queena and Anna were inseparable, Anna said. Their mother worked a lot, and Anna babysat her sister.

"We played together, slept in bunk beds, took the bus together, went to sleepovers together, crossed the street together," she said. "We were opposites, but we rarely fought."

Her sister was "Miss Bossy," Anna said. "She cracked me up all the time, and still does. She has a cute, klutzy personality and it's hard not to laugh at her nonsense."

Like the time, just after getting her driver's license, Queena drove her sister to the mall for the first time. She pulled into a parking spot, got out, shut the door, then realized the keys were still in the car. And the car was still running.

"She is the best, most supportive and fun sister I could have ever asked for," Anna said.

Anna has lived with Queena and their mother for the past five years to help with Queena's care. She's moving soon, to a house about 15 minutes away. Queena has already staked claim on her bedroom for when she visits.

Queena's journey has put life into perspective, Anna said.

"It's almost impossible to have a bad day when I think of everything that she has gone through and the resilience that she shows," Anna said. "Life is about family and community and doing the best you can to positively influence those around you."

Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2453.

     
       
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