EVER since February 10, 2021 a vehicle slowing down at her feet pushes her instantly into flight mode — that reaction the enduring legacy of being abducted by three men aboard a grey motor car, robbed, and raped.
"I am hyper vigilant, very paranoid, especially to grey cars; anytime I see a grey vehicle I start to panic. What really bothers me, sometimes when I am walking I don't like to see vehicles slow down because it brings me back to that day so I start to plan in my head how I will escape before anything happens," the woman — who was one of four abducted, robbed and raped by convicted serial rapist Everton Bennett last year — told the Jamaica Observer.
That torrid experience, the now 21-year-old St Catherine woman said, pushed her to not only begin the medical career she had put on hold, but also to take the witness stand to testify against the main perpetrator of that nightmare.
As a result of those testimonies and forensic evidence Bennett — the man investigators say was the main perpetrator who, between February 8 and February 10, 2021 and in the company of two other men, abducted, raped, and robbed the St Catherine women whilst threatening them with a gun — will on December 15 be sentenced.
In the allegations outlined by the prosecution, Bennett rented a 2012 grey Toyota Axio motor car on February 3, 2021, initially for three days, and then extended the arrangement on four other occasions up to February 15, 2021. The attacks on the women were carried out over that period. Prosecutors are hoping that Bennett, who pleaded guilty under a plea agreement on Tuesday last week, will be sentenced to not less than 21 years at hard labour.
She vividly remembers the fateful morning and how she fought to get away from the three men.
"I was on my way to school; I was giving [formal] school a break so I was learning a skill. My project was due that day and I had mock exams that day," she told the Observer.
She said when the car with the men came to a stop at her feet, she continued walking. When two of them exited the vehicle and ordered her to get in without making any noise she did the opposite. She ran and screamed and would have made a clean getaway if she hadn't tripped and fell.
"I lost my balance and I fell. I was forced into the car; I put up a fight," she said, recalling how not even the wheel of the car driving over one of her feet deterred her from fighting. Her fighting turned to pleading for her life when she observed one of the men handing a "short, black gun" to the other who was beside her.
While she negotiated for her life the thugs took her midnight blue Cubot X30 Android 10 cellular phone valued at $30,000. When she offered to transfer money to them online, since she had dropped her handbag while fleeing, the men — who had allowed her to call a relative to retrieve the bag — then decided that they no longer wanted her money and were going to release her.
However, instead of doing that Bennett, who was the driver, detoured to a lonely road. Despite being told by the other men that the young woman had said her menses were close, Bennett took her into the bushes where he raped her. They then took her to a nearby town and left her.
In the days following the attack she remembers struggling with fear and experiencing flashbacks, triggered even by the experience of someone smoking at a family event.
"I didn't even remember that one of them (abductors) was smoking but when that person smoked, it brought a flashback. I ran inside and I was scared — I felt they were coming back for me. The smell of the smoke made me feel scared," the young woman told the Observer.
She said the ordeal also affected how she relates to her partner, who she credits for being understanding and supportive.
That Bennett was caught and will now face the penalty for the pain and trauma he caused has given her some amount of relief, but not completely.
"I wanted all three of them to die because I don't want to think they will be out there terrorising other females. The thought of having them dead would calm my heart," she confessed, adding "but at least I know that one of them was caught."
In the meantime, she believes her pain has helped catapult her into purpose and a career where she will be able to help women who fall into similar situations.
"It has encouraged me and pushed me to start nursing because I know a lot of these situations I will encounter in the hospital, and to know I went through it, I will empathise with these persons to let them know 'You are not a victim but you are victorious,' " she declared.
Last Monday, Bennett pleaded guilty in the Corporate Area Gun Court to a 17-count indictment charging him with multiple counts of rape, forcible abduction, robbery with aggravation, and illegal possession of firearm in relation to the four females.
Forensic evidence in addition to the testimonies of the women helped sink Bennett who, in August 2020, had reported that his motor vehicle was stolen and voluntarily gave a DNA sample to the police. After the forensics lab completed its analyses of samples related to the four women, Bennett was confirmed to be the source of the male DNA found in the semen obtained from the SAFE kit concerning the respective complainants.