Wednesday Apr 25 2012
Woman ‘died’ but came back to life
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Editor
Sexual assault victim shares story to inspire
Michelle Corrao was attacked and then sexually assaulted by three men as she was entering her Indiana home the night of Sept. 12, 1996. Her life as she knew it “died” that night. Corrao told her story to an audience filled with law enforcement, chaplains and victims of crime Wednesday at the first-annual Victims Rights and Citizen Appreciation Breakfast at the Blue Goose Event Center in Loomis. On that day 15 years ago, she noticed three men walking down her street as she came home that night. “I just had a gut feeling that this doesn’t seem right,” Corrao recalled. So she took a slow drive around her block, didn’t see the men when she returned and parked in her driveway. She gathered a handful of her belongings and was opening her front door when she was knocked unconscious. When she came to, one of the three men held a gun to her head and threatened her life if she screamed. They dragged her to her backyard. They then blindfolded, gagged and tied her hands behind her back. They threw her back over her backyard fence, put her in the trunk of her own car and drove to a garage where they beat and raped her repeatedly. Corrao said she was Michelle Meyer before her assault, a woman who was a manager in the construction industry and worked part-time at the YMCA. A woman who, at the time, was starting to feel her life was finally evening out. “I will never know who Michelle Meyer might have been,” Corrao said Wednesday. “I lost my life that night in that garage.” After the assault, Corrao was put back in the trunk of her car and fell unconscious. When she came to, she could hear a “strong voice.” “This voice was different,” Corrao recalled. She kicked the trunk of the car and then heard “This is Detective Billingsley. Hang on. I’m going to get you out.” Corrao said the detective was off duty patrolling the neighborhood at the time when he noticed her car and two men standing in the back of a restaurant building. The detecetive was able to arrest one man while the other two fled. When he opened up the back seat of the car to free Corrao, she said their eyes locked. “I could hardly believe he was there,” Corrao said. “I was living this nightmare and dream all in one.” Three years after the incident, the three men who brutally attacked Corrao were sentenced to prison for her attack and for four other rapes of women in the same area. James Irby, Antoine Netherly and Bennie Copeland were each sentenced on rape charges. Irby is serving 210 years, Netherly 320 and Copeland 70 years. Corrao said her journey didn’t end there. It took years for her to work through the emotions and fears that come with surviving such a trauma. “Everything was fuzzy for me,” Corrao said. “I felt like I carried this label on my forehead that said rape.” Counseling, support from friends and family and faith helped her slowly move forward, she said. The man she was dating at the time of the assault, Chris, rushed to her side in the hospital that night and is the “rock” by her side today. He proposed after the case concluded in court. Today they are married and parents to two children and a dog. Corrao’s son was given the middle name Arthur, the first name of the detective who saved Corrao’s life. She said Detective Billingsley is like a brother to her and part of her family. Corrao currently is the director of community relations for Prevail, a victim’s rights organization in Indiana. She now shares her story in the hopes of inspiring others to help. “I can stand here and tell you life doesn’t get any better than this,” Corrao said. “When someone tells me they were inspired and want to go out and help that makes it worth it.” Reach Jenifer Gee at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @AJ_Editor.