Lincoln, Nebraska – “I am not a pawn in a game, you know. I am a person.” Charlie Rogers, the victim of an alleged hate crime mutilation in the Nebraska capital city spoke out for the first time in an extended interview on KETV Omaha on Thursday. Rogers, a 33-year-old small business owner who lives openly as a lesbian, said she decided to grant the interview in response to media reports that police were investigating if her report was a hoax.
The five-minute interview shows the passion and hurt Ms. Rogers feels as the victim of a horrific home invasion, allegedly by three masked men early on Sunday who stripped her, bound her with zip ties, carved anti-gay slurs into her flesh, and then attempted to set the house on fire. Her harrowing experience did not end with a stay in the hospital and then in a safe house where she has been recovering since the attack. Now Ms. Rogers has to deal with the suspicions unleashed by doubts about her report of what happened to her in the dead of night in her own home. “It feels like a kick in the stomach,” she told KETV, even though she understands that there will always be doubters. “Being a victim in situation like this or a survivor and then having your integrity questioned, I guess, it feels very victimizing again,” Rogers said. “It makes an already difficult situation more difficult because my world has been changed forever by these events.” Lincoln Police Officer Katie Flood suggested to NBC that they were investigating all aspects of the case, including whether Ms. Rogers made the whole thing up. The media seized on the suggestion of a hoax immediately, sensationalizing the story of this outrage into an inquest into the victim’s credibility.
Investigators found three spray-painted anti-gay epithets in Ms. Rogers’ home, including one that read, “We Found U Dyke!” Coupled with the victim’s report that the attack was motivated by homophobia, and the slurs sliced into her skin, all these factors have led police to proceed as if this case was a hate crime based on sexual orientation.
But the hate crime investigation notwithstanding, Lincoln’s populace is reportedly plagued by doubts. Speculation mounted in the days before Ms. Rogers’ interview–“what if…?”
Ms. Rogers’ attorney, Megan Mikolajczyk, told CNN that her client wanted to dispel as much of the doubt as she could. Mikolajczyk said she wasn’t surprised that there were people who wondered if the attack really ever happened at all. She also said that Ms. Rogers was not answering any one person’s doubts in particular. “I don’t think it’s safe or necessary to point the finger at any one individual,” Mikolajczyk said. “I think it’s par for the course for any sort of high-profile incident for people to question what happened.”
Sadly, Ms. Rogers’ attorney is right: it is “par for the course” for doubts to be raised about the veracity, mental state, motives, and character of LGBTQ hate crimes victims whenever they are targeted by violent attacks. Such suspicion may or may not aid investigators to arrive at the truth in cases like this one, but it surely re-victimizes the person wounded or killed in such attacks. “We-doubt-you” stories in the press and on TV also rob many of these outrageous crimes of their news worthy power to draw badly needed national attention to the soaring increases in anti-LGBTQ hate crimes. Blame and besmirch the victims of hate crimes is one of the leading ways heterosexist communities control gay people, as dozens of stories on the Unfinished Lives Blog show. One has to wonder whether statements of police officers to the media about hoaxes are less about the search for forensic truth than the desperation of the status quo to stay intact when revelatory events begin to disturb the public.
Ms. Rogers, an avid LGBTQ advocate, community volunteer, and former University of Nebraska basketball star, deserves a great deal of credit for coming forward to set the record straight, and to quell as much of the doubt as she can. Time will tell who is right, but time is also of the essence as the trail of the alleged attackers grows increasingly cold. Many in Lincoln, hundreds of not thousands, do believe Charlie Rogers, and support her full recovery even as they remain watchful that police investigators carry out a thorough, speedy search for the truth in this case, and expeditiously bring these hate criminals to justice.
“We are committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice, ensuring the safety of our people, and caring for those who have been wounded. As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family. All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come.” ~ President Barack Obama
We at the Unfinished Lives Project join with Americans everywhere in support and solidarity for the families and loved ones of the fallen in Aurora, Colorado.
According to her brother, Hilario Chapa, Kristene is now in rehab and is “doing awesome.” NBC Latino reports that Hilario, a tech sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, is astounded at the progress his little sister has made since someone attempted to kill her with a high caliber hand gun, and left her for dead in the tall grass of the state park. Hilario relates that in the last days of her hospital care, friends were allowed to visit her, and “she lit up” when she saw them. Kristene faces a long medical recovery, and just as challenging a recovery from the loss of her girlfriend, Mollie. “She’s in neurological rehab, getting her speech and her way of thinking better,” Hilario told NBC Latino. “She also is in physical therapy to help strengthen her left side and mental therapy as well.”
Initially reluctant to let Kristene know that Mollie had not survived the attack, the family finally let her know that Mollie was dead. Police specialists and Mollie’s family were present to help break the news to Kristene. “With that support group we passed the info to my little sister,” Hilario said. “She was brokenhearted, very upset.” Hilario went on to say how difficult it was to know how to comfort his sister. “They told us you have to let her cry. I didn’t want to tell her not to cry. But Mollie’s father (Mario) is a very good man, considering he lost his daughter.” Grateful for Mr. Olgin’s support for his sister, Hilario says, “He comes to visit her and when he does she gets emotional but he is supporting her. He wants to go visit her in rehab.”
Portland Police released the information that Kristene was the previously unidentified eyewitness who aided them and the Texas Rangers in creating both the first and second renderings of the attacker’s likeness. She was reportedly eager to help authorities apprehend the person who killed Mollie. The suspect is a 5-feet-8-inches tall, 14o pound Anglo male, with brown hair and a scruffy beard. Kristene’s assistance with the sketch has prompted great public interest in finding the man who shattered the Portland community’s peace of mind, and set the South Texas LGBTQ community on guard against a possible hate crime. Police authorities have repeatedly said that the attack did not appear random, but they have declined so far to support an anti-gay hate crime motive for the shooting. According to friends and family, Kristene and Mollie had been in a five-month love relationship at the time of the assault.