Just two weeks after two high school students were severely beaten with a tree branch on a North Miami-Dade college campus, the attacker remains free and one of the victims has recovered enough to tell her story.
Bela Perdomo, 15, sat before a gaggle of cameras Wednesday, her right eye still slightly swollen, protective gear around a fractured left wrist and with slight hearing and vision loss, and said all she could think about when she came to after the attack was staying alive. She said she feared the attacker was going to toss her and friend James Critz, 16, into Biscayne Bay.
“I was thinking, OK, try not to die,” she said. “I want to catch him. From there, I want to get past him.”
Bela and James — marine biology students at the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, who study on the Biscayne Bay campus of Florida International University — were gathering information for a class off a dirt trail by some woods on the morning of Sept. 10, when someone beat them so badly with a tree branch that the memory of the attack remains blurry.
She said they passed their attacker, said hello and about two minutes later he reappeared and beat them. Both had fractured skulls and were knocked unconscious. Bela regained consciousness enough to walk toward a building on campus and get help. Medics and police found James semi-conscious. Two weeks later, he still wears a back brace and a body cast.
FIU police originally said nothing was stolen and neither student was sexually assaulted. During Wednesday’s gathering at the library on FIU’s north campus, they were more tight-lipped. Lead Detective Yasmani Oceguera said he couldn’t disclose details to avoid tainting the investigation.
The detective wouldn’t say if police believe the attacker was a student. He did say the incident appears to be isolated.
“In my experience here, we never dealt with a case of this magnitude and with the same M.O.,” he said.
Bela has described the attacker as a heavy-set young Hispanic male with dark, short hair, around 18 years old. She called the incident “completely random” and said the two high school students were headed back toward the center of campus when they were attacked.
Asked how she managed to get up and get help, she said “I think I went straight into survival mode at that point.”
Bela’s mother, Elizabeth Perdomo, said she’s since learned the path on the southern edge of campus and along the bay is a commonly used trail by students and nearby residents. She didn’t blame security for not being present, but said she was concerned there wasn’t surveillance in the area along the water and near a large open field.
Police said they’re scouring surveillance video from around campus to see if the attacker shows up. They wouldn’t say Wednesday if they’ve made any headway.
Asked what she’d say to her attacker if he’s listening or captured, Bela said that’s not going to happen.
“I don’t want to talk to him,” said the teen. “I don’t think he deserves to talk to me.”