Left infertile after being abducted and raped as an 8-year-old back in 1990, Jennifer Schuett despaired of ever having a normal life – and a baby of her own.
Schuett’s fallopian tubes had become blocked as a result of an infection she caught from her rapist, and her only hope was very expensive in-vitro fertilization.
“As a result of him raping me as an 8-year-old child, I cannot have children normally,” she told Jeff Rossen on TODAY Monday as Rossen followed up on a report on Schuett that he did in 2010. “I’m an only child. I’ve always wanted a big family.”
Enter Dr. Craig Witz, a Houston fertility specialist who offered his clinic’s services to Schuett and her fiancé for free.
To Witz, it was a way of trying to help repair the damage.
“It was without any thought ... for God’s sake, what can we do to help this person and try to make things right?” Witz said. “[Hers] really is a story of survival.”
Witz’s treatments worked. Schuett got pregnant and is expecting to deliver a baby girl in November.
The pregnancy has moved Schuett closer to being able to put that horrible night in August of 1990 behind her.
She can still clearly recall saying goodnight to her mom that evening.
“I remember saying, 'Just because I love you mom, I’m going to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Schuett told Rossen.
She dropped off to a deep sleep and didn’t wake till her abductor already had her out of the house. “I woke up to a man running with me down the sidewalk of our apartments,” Schuett said. “He’d come in through the window and kidnapped me. Of course, I tried to scream. He immediately covered my nose and mouth, put me in his vehicle and we drove off. I remember him holding a knife to my throat in the front seat and asking, ‘Are you scared, little girl?’
“The next thing I remember after that is him dragging me through this field by my ankles. He raped me. Then he slit my throat from ear to ear and left me in this field to die.”
“I knew I was going to die,” she told Rossen.
But she didn’t die. The next day some neighborhood children playing hide-and-seek in the field found her, barely alive but still breathing. They ran for help, and Schuett was rushed to the emergency room.
Doctors saved her life, but worried that the damage from the knife slash would make it impossible for her to ever speak.
Yet that didn’t stop Schuett. Just days after the attack, she was writing notes to the police, giving them details of the abduction and the first name of her attacker – Dennis. She helped the police sketch artist come up with a likeness that they could post.
“I was writing notes in the hospital because I could not physically speak,” Schuett said. “They said I would never be able to talk again.”
But with the same fighting spirit that kept her alive during those horrible hours in the field, Schuett did eventually get her voice back.
She used that voice to let the public know about her attacker and to help police catch him. And she became an outspoken advocate for crime victims' rights.
Then, 19 years after her attack, the police caught a break. DNA from Schuett’s attacker was reanalyzed with techniques that weren’t available back in 1990. When the new DNA profile was compared to government databases, a match popped up – to welder named Dennis Earl Bradford of North Little Rock, Ar. Bradford was in the database because of an arrest and conviction for a similar crime in 1996.
Once the match was made and Bradford was arrested, the police called Schuett.
“It was the most amazing moment of my life,” she said.
But while the arrest helped Schuett, it didn’t put everything right. She needed Dr. Witz’s help for that.
She’s thought about what she’ll say when her little girl is old enough to hear the details of the crime.
“I always sought justice for myself and for others,” she told TODAY. “So I hope that from my whole experience she can see that, you know, I kept going. And I hope that she learns from that and always stands up for herself and what she believes in.”
Learn more about Jennifer's story and her work for victims' rights on her website, Justice for Jennifer.