Monday, January 22, 2018
Public safety

Tampa woman says she was abused, terrorized by her boyfriend in Mexico before making escape

TAMPA — Rachel Bravo fell in love with a man she met at a coin laundry on Hillsborough Avenue.

Manuel Miranda Colon told her she was beautiful. He bought dinner at Outback Steakhouse. Within weeks, he promised a vacation to Mexico.

Bravo, 30, says she didn't know he had served time for attempted murder — or that he was wanted on three counts of sexually abusing a minor.

So she went with him.

Soon after they crossed the border and settled in Mexicali, he began to change, she said. He beat their dogs. Then he started beating her, she said, and he raped her repeatedly.

She felt as if she couldn't leave.

Bravo was able to escape Sunday with the help of two women, and she shared her story with a reporter Friday.

Though authorities say they're investigating allegations that she was a victim of a sex crime, Bravo wants her name in print. She hopes she can encourage other abused women to look for their opportunity to run — and to take it.

"I'm so glad I got away," she said, crying in a telephone interview. "Amazingly happy."

Miranda Colon is in a California jail on the three existing warrants. Authorities found him Sunday after Bravo explained where they had been living.

They are still investigating Bravo's statements.

She's living with her mother in New York now, and was finally able to sleep through the night Thursday. She has a counseling appointment next week.

She regrets not seeing the warning signs.

In Tampa, she says, he monitored her phone conversations and kept her from telling her family about their trip. Still, she went willingly to Mexico. He was "sweet" then, she said.

But her family was becoming worried. After not hearing from Bravo for a couple of days, her mother called a son who lives in Spring Hill.

That son, Anthony Bravo, 37, drove to his sister's apartment. She wasn't there, so he filed a missing person's report.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office went to the apartment but didn't take the case much further. Deputies say she didn't appear to be in danger.

Her apartment didn't show clues of a struggle. She's 30 years old and not considered "endangered," they said. She was with her boyfriend.

At the same time, though, the U.S. Marshals Service was tracking Miranda Colon. They saw he had traveled to Texas, Arizona and then to California. In California, the couple sold the vehicle.

They made their way to Mexicali by taxi, Bravo said.

Miranda Colon befriended the taxi driver, she said, and the pair often went to his mother's house for dinner.

Then on Saturday, Bravo says, Miranda Colon attacked her with a hammer and said he was going to kill her.

She says she knew she didn't have much time, so the next day when they went to the woman's house for dinner, Bravo made a move. When Miranda Colon was in the bathroom, she says, she mouthed a word she had learned: ayudame.

Help me.

The woman seemed to understand. She had her daughter take Bravo on a trip to a grocery store, insisting to a worried Miranda Colon that they'd be right back.

Instead, the young woman took Bravo to a woman who spoke English, and after explaining her situation, that woman drove Bravo to the border. The U.S. Marshals listened to her, and by Tuesday, she was on a plane to New York.

Dozens of friends and family members who had been turning to a Facebook page titled "Please help us find Rachel Ann Bravo" celebrated online.

"Thank you for all your prayers," Bravo responded. "It's been quite an ordeal."

Times staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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