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Video: Woman recovering after vicious acid attack

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    >>> you about a horrific attack. a 28-year-old woman in washington state who had acid thrown into her face by a complete stranger. she's sharing her story and showing some remarkable courage even as her assailant remains on the loose. kristen walker has more on this.

    >> reporter: good morning, ann . bethany storro has endured a lot in life. a childhood illness has made it difficult for her to hear but she has overcome that obstacle and now she's showing her strength again.

    >> i can't let what she did to me wreck my life. that's not fair.

    >> reporter: bethany storro, wearing the bandages from this week's surgery is not letting the physical or emotional pain stop her from speaking out.

    >> if we can catch that girl, that would be awesome.

    >> reporter: that girl bethany wants police to find changed her life forever. a few days ago, this was bethany storro, a 28-year-old professional. here, sharing a laugh at her sister's wedding. but monday night, bethany stopped to get a cup of coffee in downtown vancouver when a woman she had never seen before approached her and, for unknown reasons, threw acid in her face.

    >> it was the most painful thing. my heart stopped. i almost passed out. imagine that on your skin. i could hear it sizzling. once it hit me, i could actually hear it bubbling and sizzling in my skin.

    >> reporter: bethany dropped to the ground. strangers rushed to help. her family is devastated.

    >> you can imagine how i feel. this is my little girl . we're a strong family that loves each other very much. we'll get through this. we're not going to allow this to stop our lives.

    >> reporter: bethany has experienced challenges in the past. as a baby, she contracted spinal meningitis , which caused partial hearing loss. doctors say the acid attack could have taken her eyesight, but it didn't, because she was wearing sunglasses.

    >> i don't normally wear sunglasses. i just don't like them or anything. it's a miracle because, i mean, 20 minutes before, you know -- i want to buy glasses. that's jesus for sure. i mean, you know? that's a miracle.

    >> reporter: according to experts, acid attacks are unusual in the united states and say they are more common in countries like bangladesh and pakistan. young women are usually targeted for domestic disputes. police investigating the attack on bethany says it appears random.

    >> i have no enemies.

    >> reporter: in fact, she has a community of friends at the safeway grocery store where she works, all rallying around her. amazingly, bethany is trying to lift her loved one's spirits, too.

    >> i have an amazing family and friends that love me and i'm blessed, you know. i'm trying to stay positive. i'm a happy person. i like making others laugh because i'm just hilarious.

    >> reporter: incredible grace under extraordinary circumstances.

    >> in time, i'm going to forgive her because if i don't, then it's hard to move on with my life.

    >> reporter: bethany 's doctors say she has second-degree burns and are hopeful they can repair most of the damage. ann ?

    >> kristen welker, thank you very much.

    >> clint van zandt joins us. she is described as an african- american woman , hair slicked back into a ponytail, wearing several earrings and a green top. bethany said she walked up to her, holding a cup and said, hey, pretty girl , do you want to drink this? clint , possible motivation?

    >> number one, it's amazing the resilience this woman has and, number two, she was able to take this mental snapshot in her mind of her assailant. one of four different motivations. one, it could be someone who is substance abuse . we see a lot of these, for lack of a better term, crazy attacks related to somebody who is under the influence of something. number two, it could be a mental illness . number three, ann , many times we see these bizarre gang initiations where you have to commit some horrific act to be a member of a gang and, number four, because we have this black/white type of issue, it could also be considered a hate crime . that's the challenge right now. what was the motivation?

    >> and you also suspect that something likely happened to the attacker just hours -- within hours of the attack?

    >> yeah. you know, should it be either substance abuse , just the ingestion of something or some type of mental illness within the last 24 or 48 hours , we usually find something happened in that assailant's life that would cause, in this case, her to come forward and do this. ann , the interesting thing is that this appears to be obviously premeditated. in essence, the victim just happened to show up, just happened to get out of her car, but the assailant is already there, already has the acid in a cup. you don't carry acid in a cup up and down the street all day. she had to have been planning to do this. premeditated. the question is, was, in fact, as police believe now, this victim just a random victim of violence? if so, what, again, is the motivation to commit this terrible act that, as your lead-in piece says, is normally associated with south asia , bangladesh, not here in a true drizzlization.

    >> to do it here, to attack a woman's face has its own specific meaning. and what has to be in the mind of this attacker?

    >> for most of us, what we look like. for men, how tall we are. and not being a sexist but for a woman many times we put a lot of value in her face. when you and i meet somebody, ann , the first thing we do, we look at their face. we start to make a judgment on them, based upon how they look. well, this assailant attacked what was very near and dear. again, it was a woman. so, she knew the value of the face, of the attractiveness. and that's what she went for. but, ann , this wasn't just taking a key and scraping the side of your car. this is i'm going to do this and for the rest of your life, you will have these permanent physical and mental scars. a terrible attack.

    >> the woman is at large, the attacker. based on the nature of this crime, what is the likelihood that police will be able to gather enough evidence to find her?

    >> there's a potential lot of evidence. number one, the cup. the assailant would have disposed of that. we have the potential for fingerprints. we may have dna that may be recoverable. we're going to have surveillance cameras . it's hard to walk down the street without your picture taken from a surveillance camera . if she bought the acid, let's say it was toilet bowl cleaner or something like that, in a local drugstore or hardware store . that's going to be receipts. if she took a bus or took a cab, there's going to be some record or somebody who is going to recognize her as having used that mode of transportation. so, there's a lot of potential leads. notwithstanding that distinctive picture we have and those three ear piercings, if that woman is from the local area, someone should recognize those distinctive piercings.

    >> clint van zandt , thank you, as always.

    >> thank you ann .

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 9/2/2010 8:59:44 PM ET 2010-09-03T00:59:44

Bethany Storro had just bought a pair of sunglasses and was celebrating a new job when a woman walked up to her with a cup and said: "Hey pretty girl, do you want to drink this?"

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The woman then splashed acid in the cup on Storro, who stumbled in pain and fell to the ground screaming. She felt agonizing pain as the skin on her face bubbled and sizzled and portions of her blouse disintegrated.

"It was the most painful thing ever," Storro, 28, said Thursday. "My heart stopped. It ripped through my clothing the instant it touched my shirt; I could feel it burning through my second layer of skin."

Story: Acid attacker: 'Hey pretty girl, do you want to drink this?'

Police are seeking the woman in the Monday attack as Storro, with her head wrapped in white bandages, recounted Thursday how only days before, she had been celebrating a new job and a recent move to Vancouver, Wash., from Idaho.

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But she insisted that she would not let the attack in Vancouver wreck her life, and laughingly marveled how her eyesight was spared just minutes after she bought those sunglasses.

Storro said she had spinal meningitis twice as a child, which robbed her of most of her hearing.

"Oh my gosh, to be hard of hearing and blind? That would drive them nuts," she said, laughing and pointing at her parents, Joe and Nancy Neuwelt. "They have to be in the same room for me to hear them. I'm just so glad it's a miracle."

Doctors at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland performed surgery on Storro's face Wednesday night, removing dead skin from the areas that were most deeply injured.

Image: Acid attack victim
AP
Bethany Storro is shown before surgery at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.

Her mother said Storro was getting something out of her car before heading into a Starbucks when the woman approached her with the cup. Storro told police the attacker was a black woman with slicked-back hair in a ponytail, wearing a green top and khaki pants.

"I have never, ever seen this girl in my entire life," Storro said. "When I first saw her, she had this weirdness about her — like jealousy, rage."

After the attack, the woman ran off. A passer-by called police using Storro's cell phone.

Dr. Nick Eshraghi, a burn surgeon who operated on Storro, said it was an acid as strong as hydrochloric or sulfuric acid.

Storro said she wanted to find her assailant and ask: "Why?" Was it was a dare, or did the woman wake up Monday morning and tell herself that today, she was going to "carry some acid in a cup and throw it on the first person I see?" Storro said.

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Storro said she has received letters and e-mails from people all over the country, and has been relying on her friends, family and faith to get her through this ordeal.

Nancy Neuwelt called the attack "an act of evil." Joe Neuwelt said the family hopes the attacker is found, but is focused on Storro's recovery.

"You can imagine how I feel," Joe Neuwelt said. "This is my little girl. We're going to get through this we're not going to allow this to stop our lives. We're going to get through it."

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Columbian newspaper reported that law enforcement officials in Vancouver had spoken to officials in another city about a similar attack. The paper said a police lieutenant from Puyallup, Wash., south of Seattle, said his department had spoken to Vancouver officials about the July 30 incident.

In that attack, 23-year-old woman was approached in an apartment complex parking lot by a man who said he'd been locked out of his apartment and needed water for his vehicle. When she returned with a container of water for him, the suspect threw on acidic substance on her using a cup.

The woman suffered severe chemical burns to her face and eyes. Police described the suspect in that case as a husky black man about 5-foot-10 with two distinctive marks on his right cheek.

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