Likely Suspect

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"After the first 20 or 30 seconds," she recalls, "some of the terror eased and I made myself think only about survival." She struggled to focus her thoughts on a favored photograph of a stone carving of an angel that hung above the bed where she was being assaulted, silently praying for its protection.

The rapist ordered that she accompany him to the bathroom and told her to shower. She tried to assert herself. "I turned on the water, and he started pushing me," she says. "I told him I wouldn't get in until the spray had warmed. That seemed to shock him a little, but he let me wait. He just told me not to look at him and sat down on the commode, waiting for me to get into the shower."

As she did so, she got her best look at her attacker. Peeking from behind the curtain, she saw only the top of his head and the fashionable black shoes he was wearing. Without her contacts, her vision was seriously hampered, but she got the impression he had "deep-set eyes." Later, she would estimate that the man was probably 6 feet tall and weighed about 250 pounds.

The humiliation was not over. Following her shower, the intruder forced her to perform oral sex on him and ejaculated into her mouth. He then shoved her into a closet, closed the door and disappeared into the night.

The attacker exercised extreme care to leave no physical evidence behind. But he had not anticipated the calm and resolve of his victim.

Once she was certain he'd left her apartment, Cotroneo exited the closet. She hurried into her kitchen and spat his semen into a plastic bag.

"All I could think," she says, "was that I wanted to be sure this guy was caught."

When police arrived, they were amazed at her controlled demeanor. "People deal with trauma in different ways," she says. "At the time, I felt a lot of strong emotions--fear, violation--but not guilt. I knew I had done nothing wrong. What had happened was not my fault."

Above all, she was angry. After the attack, she missed only a single day of work. She spent much of her spare time searching the Internet for information on rape and its victims.

"After about three weeks," she says, "I felt I was ready to be on my own again, to get my life back to normal." She attended a Toastmasters gathering, not anticipating that the first speaker's topic would deal with ways to prevent home break-ins. "I had to get up and leave," she says. "A lady in the group noticed me and came outside to ask if I was OK. When I explained why I'd left she gave me the name of a counselor she recommended I contact.

"I felt I'd been handling things pretty well," she continues, "but I also knew I didn't want to be one of those who suddenly suffers a breakdown in the middle of a shopping mall a year later. So, I spent the next six months in therapy."

"She had an incredible determination to work through what had happened to her," says Patsy D. Phillips, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in trauma. "It was made easier by the fact she absolutely refused to see herself as a victim. Gina was a young woman with a strong spiritual foundation, and she used that to her advantage. She saw what had happened to her as something she needed to learn from. I admire her a great deal."

Cotroneo's progress, in fact, was well ahead of what law enforcement was making. No database match of the DNA sample was found, no suspect singled out.

The man eventually arrested and charged with the attack on Cotroneo and five others had come a long way since leaving Dallas' Hope Cottage when he was just 8 days old, adopted by James and Vera Faison. He'd grown up in a home where his father, a Tom Thumb grocery store manager, demanded discipline and hard work. His mother made sure her new son regularly attended services at the neighborhood Baptist church.

"He was as good a little boy as you could hope to have," says the now widowed Vera Faison. "He'd even save part of his weekly allowance so when Christmas came he could buy gifts with his own money." She proudly remembers him singing in the choir, always quick to lend a hand to others. Hers is the unwavering love of a mother for her child. "I pray for him every day," she says.

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers