Aimee Nikolov bought her daughter Danielle Jones a car for her 23rd birthday on Feb. 13.
Nikolov texted “Happy Birthday” to Jones the day before Valentine’s Day and told her the pre-owned Jetta would be ready by the end of the month. Nikolav made sure to text Jones before the moment of her actual birthday at 1:43 p.m. on Saturday.
Jones sent back a lengthy text, thanking her mom profusely. “I know I can be difficult at times but I know that you love me even if we don’t understand each other sometimes. I’ve been trying really hard to get things together in my life, that will help alot (sic),” she texted. “I love you, and not because you got me a car. Because your (sic) mom and much more.”
Less than 12 hours later, Jones’ apartment was splattered in blood. She had been beaten, choked and stabbed in the face. Her parents said the attacker was a roommate she found on Craigslist.
Nine days later, Jones still hasn’t awakened from a coma. Nikolov said doctors put her oldest daughter in a neck brace with breathing and feeding tubes. They stuffed ice packs in her hospital bed so her organs don’t have to work so hard.
Her mom says she’s cold to the touch.
On Monday, Jones fluttered her eyelids and responded to the “intense pain” of surgical scissors poking her hand. Nikolov and the rest of Jones’ family and friends are holding out hope for her recovery.
“She’s not really acting like a normal body,” Nikolov said. “Nobody can promise me anything.”
Jones moved into her apartment in downtown Miami almost a year before the attack, but she’d been staying with her uncle for the previous week.
To cope with the high rent, Jones began searching for a roommate for her small apartment. In texts with family, she explained that “I’m willing to share my room or let them take the (living) room for $400 a month.”
She found Byron Mitchell, a 35-year-old fitness trainer, on Craigslist. He moved in the week before her birthday.
Nikolov said Jones’ father was on the phone with their daughter when Mitchell moved in, but Jones and Mitchell hadn’t spent any time together until Valentine’s Day.
She said Jones intended to celebrate with a group of friends, but they weren’t able to get off work. Jones arrived at the apartment the night before her birthday and called an old friend, who came over with a bottle of wine.
Jones, Mitchell and her friend stayed up late and finished the bottle. Her friend left the next morning at 8:30.
At 11 a.m. Mitchell called 911, saying he acted in self defense. He also told police he and Jones were dating, something her mother says isn’t true.
The next day, Mitchell was arrested for attempted murder. He’s being held in jail without bond.
Five days later, Jones’ father visited the apartment to retrieve her cellphone. He found the wine bottle shattered on the floor and blood everywhere.
A GoFundMe page Jones’ cousin set up (with graphic photos of the bruised and bloody young woman) in two days helped raise more than $22,000 for her recovery. Other friends set up a charity candle sale, with some proceeds benefiting her recovery.
Nikolov said her daughter is loving, friendly and generous. She took in a “fluffy little rescue puppy” named Max, and years before she’d let two homeless boys live with her rent-free.
Jones attended Palmetto Senior High School and Miami Jobcorps, a free education and career technical training program, before landing a job as a human resources manager at Bison Business Consulting.
“I’m trying not to talk about her in past tense. I don’t know if she’ll ever be the same again,” Nikolov said. “Her scars will never go away.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Jones’ birthday.