Raped, beaten and left for dead: Meet the Calgary woman police call a 'fighter'
WARNING: The details in this story are disturbing and might be triggering for some people
Every day, Cathy worried she would get "the call" — the call that her 29-year-old daughter Katie had overdosed on drugs and was dead.
With Katie becoming addicted to drugs at 14, Cathy lived like this for 15 years until the afternoon of July 14, 2019, when her cellphone rang and a Calgary police detective was on the other end.
It was Katie and it was bad. But it wasn't drugs.
"It was my worst nightmare," says Cathy.
Katie spent eight days in a coma and three months in hospital. She now lives with Cathy and has been sober for 13 months.
After leaving a friend's house in the early morning hours, Katie was attacked. She was raped, beaten and left for dead, her body hidden in thick bushes between two homes in Forest Heights.
She was alive, but barely.
It took hours before police were able to get Cathy to her daughter's bedside.
CBC News is calling the victim Katie in order to protect her identity; likewise, Cathy is not her mother's real name.
Katie has no memory of the violence she suffered and she's still recovering from a traumatic brain injury.
Weeks ago, on the one-year anniversary of the attack, Calgary police released grainy, dark images of the suspect,
The man responsible has not been caught. That's part of the reason Katie and her mom agreed to speak with CBC News.
They don't want another woman suffering like Katie has.
The family also wants to give credit to the police officer who they believed saved Katie's life — a constable who fought to find her.
Today, Katie's life is simpler than before. She helps around the house, makes meals — spaghetti on the afternoon of her interview — and paces the main floor while snuggling a neighbour's bunny.
Katie loves animals. She loves that she's sober. But she's struggling to find purpose and happiness in her new normal.
Katie is petite, her dark hair pulled up into a messy bun, and on the day she sat down with CBC, she wore a long, striped cotton summer dress.
It looked like she might have been headed out for a patio lunch with girlfriends on a hot August afternoon.
But Katie doesn't have friends anymore.
When she chose to stay sober, she had to leave behind the only people she'd socialized with for the past 15 years.
Katie says she gets lonely. But she knows this is the only route to surviving.
"I have friends, I know people, but I was doing drugs since I was 14, so everybody I know is a drug addict," says Katie.
"I just look at it like, it's a really bad situation but now I'm sober. I would have died from doing drugs 'cause I was doing fentanyl, so it was just a matter of time."
Katie is the hero of this story but there's someone else who helped keep her alive.
A 911 call came in about an altercation in the Forest Heights community just before 5 a.m. on July 14, 2019. Residents had heard screaming.
When Const. Brion Teichroeb arrived, the neighbourhood had returned to its pre-dawn state of stillness.
People flee scenes all the time, says Det. Jeff Anderson, who, along with Det. Aimee Cowley, is leading the investigation.
Anderson says Teichroeb could easily have justified leaving the area.
But gut instinct and intuition kept the officer there, searching until he finally heard something.
It was Katie, choking on her own blood.
Officer 'searched and searched and searched'
Teichroeb found her in dense bushes between two homes. Her pants had been removed and she was covered in blood.
"He just searched and searched and searched … and did all the right things to get her to hospital," says Cathy.
Once first responders got Katie to the hospital, Teichroeb argued with hospital staff to be allowed to fingerprint her so they could get ahold of family as quickly as possible.
Katie was so badly beaten, suffering broken bones in her face and a severe head injury, that she was nearly unrecognizable. The concern at that point was that her family might need to say their goodbyes.
"Yes, I could recognize her, but I could certainly understand why the police did not recognize her — the trauma to her was so significant," says Cathy of the moment she walked into Katie's hospital room.
'You can't cry, you can't freak out'
Cathy had no time to grieve or panic. She had to give doctors consent to do a rape kit and she was providing the detectives as much information as she could.
"You can't cry, you can't freak out," says Cathy. "You're making decisions, you're listening to all these people talk to you, you're answering the detective's questions, learning what happened."
"You just have to do it. These are the things you have to do. You have to be strong."
Teichroeb is set to receive a Chief's Award from the Calgary Police Service for his diligence that day. It's an honour Cathy says is richly deserved.
"He certainly was, in our strong opinion, responsible for [Katie] being alive today."
Teichroeb and another officer who spent initial days at the hospital with Katie were so invested in her recovery, they shared their contact information and asked Cathy to keep them updated.
A month before she was discharged from hospital, the two men showed up and spent an hour of their own time visiting Katie.
Katie learns she was raped
It wasn't until two months after the attack that a counsellor told Katie she had been raped.
Before then, her mom says, she was not in a state to digest that information.
Luckily, says Katie, she has no memory of the attack.
"It just feels like a bad dream or something. I'm very glad for that, that would be horrible … that would have destroyed me."
As Cathy and Det. Anderson point out, Katie is a fighter; that's how she survived the attack.
And now, even though she's bored and lonely, Katie is still fighting to survive. Every single day.
But she vacillates between feeling like her life is over and being grateful that it's not.
"Some days are worse than other days," says Katie.
Katie cleans her mom's house and helps make meals.
Her goals at the moment are humble: she's working on applying for income assistance and getting a driver's licence.
It isn't in the current plan for Katie to work — she is still actively recovering.
She can't handle loud sounds or more than one person speaking at a time.
She's just recently mastered walking up stairs without holding on to the railing.
"My life just seems kind of pointless because like, what am I going to do?"
She's come 'a huge way'
In a move recognizable to any parent, Cathy jumps in when Katie gets too down on herself.
She reminds her daughter of how far she's come, switching between answering the questions originally directed at Katie and addressing her directly with encouragement.
"She's certainly come a huge way from where she was to where she is right now," explains Cathy.
"She kind of sees herself as watching TV during the day and, yeah, she certainly does that. But she's up, she's making her food in the morning, she's getting herself ready, she's looking after her medications, she's cleaning the house."
"So when you say you're not doing too much, the reality is every day you're helping out more."
Katie pulls at her fingers and glances down as her mom speaks.
Katie says she isn't carrying around anger toward the man who attacked her. But she is fearful: not for herself, but that he might hurt another woman before he's arrested.
"I just really hope that it doesn't happen to somebody else."
Anderson says he and Cowley have come a long way with the investigation but are missing the crucial piece of the puzzle: the offender's name.
He's hopeful Katie's story will embolden someone to come forward with information.
"This type of offence is not one that people tend to brag about, so the circle of knowledge, I'm sure, is very small. But I think there's people that know something."
The violence Katie suffered is the worst Anderson has ever seen in someone who survived.
"I'm impressed as to how far [Katie] has come, the fighter in her," says Anderson.
"I think it served her to survive in the first place. So whatever spirit is there, we're pretty impressed with. I just hope she continues to keep fighting."