TAMPA — Few in the northern hemisphere took note last month when a woman told Tampa police her boyfriend had beaten and strangled her.
His arrest was one of 16 that day on domestic violence charges in Hillsborough County alone.
But the account of 22-year-old Melissa Gentz went viral in her native Brazil, after she posted a photo on Instagram of her battered face and bloodshot eyes, and blamed fellow countryman Erick Bretz, 25.
An article by Brazilian news site O Tempo about the Sept. 23 fight at downtown Tampa’s Element condo tower drew more than 1 million shares on Facebook, and news portal Globo reported that Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is monitoring the case.
News agencies throughout the country reported on the fight. Scores of Brazilian celebrities took to social media to share Gentz’s photos.
Actress and model Luiz Brunet shared Gentz’s posts to her own Instagram page, writing in Portuguese: "Women, for the love of God, pay attention to the signs. For the love of God, let’s unite, it’s past time."
João Vicente de Castro, star of the Brazilian soap opera, Espelho da Vida (Mirror of Life), also shared Gentz’s posts. An English translation of his post reads: "Courageous. Doing what you have done is important and necessary. I’m proud of people like you. We are with you."
Bretz, meanwhile, has pleaded not guilty to charges of domestic battery by strangulation and tampering with a witness.
The couple’s own social media pages begin to explain why their case has captured the country’s attention. Bretz has made headlines in the Brazilian Motocross Championship circuit since he was 15, and Gentz has more than 218,000 followers on Instagram, where she typically posts photos of her adventures, workouts, clothing and makeup.
Both Bretz and Gentz are from Belo Horizonte, a city of more than 2.5 million people in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.
Neither replied to phone and text messages from the Tampa Bay Times, sent to their Florida numbers. Gentz did not answer a Facebook message, and Bretz’s Coconut Grove attorneys did not reply to voicemails or emails.
His father owns one of Brazil’s largest grocery store chains, according to O Tempo, and the family is considered to be among the wealthiest of Brazil’s celebrity socialites.
In court documents filed in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Gentz wrote that Bretz "is a multi-millionaire and has resources to harm others."
She came to Tampa in January 2015 to study molecular and cellular biology at the University of South Florida, according to her Facebook page.
The couple dated for three months before Bretz’s Sept. 23 arrest at his apartment. In a report, police wrote that he takes Patz for insomnia and became "argumentative and jealous" after taking his medication and drinking about four beers and three-fourths of a bottle of wine.
The fight started about 4:11 a.m., the report said.
Gentz told police that Bretz took her cell phone and "bothered" her to the point she pushed and attempted to punch him. He threw her to the floor, kicked her in the face and began to strangle her with his legs, the report said.
Bretz punched Gentz repeatedly in the face and pulled out chunks of her hair, she told police. He tossed her around the room by her hair and struck her in the face with a bottle, leaving a long cut across her forehead, the report said.
Gentz managed to free herself and ran to the apartment’s bathroom. She attempted to call 911, but her boyfriend kicked in the door and trapped her inside the room, she reported. Eventually, Gentz managed to escape the apartment and ran to the building’s lobby, where the doorman called 911 for an ambulance to take her to a nearby hospital.
Near nightfall, Gentz returned to the Element with two police officers to collect her belongings from the apartment, records show. Bretz was sleeping when they arrived. He was arrested at 7:17 p.m.
He was released from the Hillsborough County jail Sept. 25 on $60,000 bail after surrendering his passport to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and agreeing to a restraining order prohibiting any contact with Gentz and barring him from USF’s campus.
Gentz quickly took to social media after her boyfriend’s arrest, sharing graphic photos of her severely bruised face and the bathroom door she said Bretz broke in two. She also shared audio recordings she said she captured during the fight, in which a man is heard yelling the following in Portuguese:
"You do not accept the man who has more dominance than you. You do not accept, you think you’re the man of the relationship. But you’re not, you’re a woman, you see, you have to accept that."
On her Instagram page, Gentz posted a message in Portuguese about the escalating violence in her relationship.
It started with complaints about her Instagram photos, she wrote. Then came complaints about comments that people left on photos. And about messages she received.
"(U)ntil he grabbed me by my hair and said that I needed to accept my reality because I was the woman of the relationship," she wrote. "A man who treats you like that does not respect you and does not see you as a human being. He will not change.
"Put yourself first of all, before it’s too late."
Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.