'My soul is broken,' mother of beaten teen says

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From the day she was born, her mother's dream for her was that she go to college.

The family raised her to put education first so that she could one day contribute something positive to a society that gave her immigrant mother freedom.

The girl with the dark silky hair is supposed to be preparing for college at the University of Florida, where she has a full scholarship.

Instead, she lies limp in a hospital bed, unable to do simple things like swallow, talk or stand. She can blink her eyes, yet she cannot see.

"Her brain is damaged," her mother said Thursday during an interview conducted in Vietnamese. "My soul is broken."

The 18-year-old was a senior at East Bay High School on April 24, the night she was raped and her skull bashed while she was returning books to the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library.

In the months following, her family locked itself away from the world, stepping into a private, numbing hell that few can ever comprehend.

Her mother never left her side, refusing even to answer her cell phone when her own mother called.

On Thursday, she asked for prayers for her child, who recently was moved to a rehabilitation facility where she is having to relearn everything.

"My whole life is taking care" of her, the girl's mother said. "I want to request the community to pray for her, for every pastor during every service, to please pray for her 100 percent recovery."

The Times is not identifying the victim or her mother because of the nature of the crime.

The girl, who had just turned 18 when the vicious attack occurred, was returning books to the after-hours drop box when she told a friend over her cell phone that a weird man was sitting on the bench. The friend heard a scream and the line went dead.

Her mom was at home getting ready for bed when the friend called. The mother rushed to the library with friends and family and discovered her child's battered body.

Three days later, the girl asked a deputy from her hospital bed, "Why me?"

She asked why she couldn't see. She had suffered fractures to her forehead and nose and multiple strokes from being choked.

The next day, the swelling on her brain spread and she slipped into a coma. She has not uttered a word since.

Authorities say she was attacked by Kendrick Morris, a 16-year-old Clair-Mel teen charged as an adult in connection with two rapes — one at the library and another of a 61-year-old woman at a day care near his home last June.

He remains in jail without bail on nine felony charges.

"He is the devil," the victim's mother says. "He is not a human being."

The first few months were a blur, her mom says, days filled with tears and disbelief.

Before this assault, the worst event of her mother's life had been her journey to America. She was 18 when she paid smugglers to get her out of Vietnam, slipping out of the country by boat. The woman thought she was near death many times. When they spotted land, she said, she felt a glimmer of hope.

For her daughter, she wants to see land. She wants to feel that same hope again.

She has come to grips with the assault on her daughter, explaining that God used her daughter to stop "the devil" from committing other crimes.

"I have to believe that," she says.

She sleeps on a cot next to her battered daughter, leaving her side once a week for about three hours when she goes home to shower.

Each morning, the mom accompanies her daughter to physical therapy, where on Thursday, the girl stood for 45 minutes, bringing tears of joy to her mom's eyes.

Otherwise, the girl stays in her hospital bed, surrounded by stuffed animals that friends have given her. Soft music plays on a portable CD player. Snapshots of the smiling teenager are posted on a wall.

She was active in honor clubs, played on the soccer team and gave her mom, who was a single mother for many years, gifts on Father's Day.

"You are so beautiful," her mom tells her as she runs her hands through her long hair, which a nurse has lovingly braided. The girl smiles wide.

Her face says it all, her mom says. When she is in pain, she cries. When she is happy, she smiles.

Each night, her mom massages face cream onto the girl's skin, which makes her smile. Talk of shopping, Thai curry and promises of a puppy all bring smiles to her face.

"My strength is through" her, her mom says. "When she has a good day, I have a good day. When she has a bad day, I have a bad day."

They do not know if she will ever see again. They do not know how far she will go in recovery.

But her mom still dreams that one day her daughter will go to college.

Gainesville seems far away now, she says. When that day comes, they will get an apartment together. Her daughter will come home to her, where she can keep her safe.

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 269-5312 or nguyen@sptimes.com.

How to help

An account has been set up for the family at SunTrust Bank. To contribute, go to any SunTrust Bank and ask that a deposit be made to the Bloomingdale library assault victim fund.

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