Teen says faith helped her during abduction

March 7, 2005

By Danielle Letenyei
Gazette Staff

EDGERTON — As the man known as “The Mall Rapist” dragged 13-year-old
Cassie Chivers down a fire escape, she was able to briefly pull his hand
away from her mouth.

In the one breath she had, she didn’t scream. She called out to God.

“Jesus, I love you. Jesus, Jesus,” Cassie said.

Her words burned into James Perry’s memory as much as the gun he held
burned into her temple.

Her faith in God helped Cassie escape from Perry’s grip before he could
do to her what he had done to dozens of girls and women before, she said.

Cassie, now 14, shared the story of her abduction and escape at the
Sunday morning service at Saunders Creek Community Church in Edgerton.
Her parents, Charlie and Debbie, are longtime friends of Saunders Creek’s
pastor, the Rev. Tom Zillman.

Cassie’s story can’t be told without reference to God and her beliefs.
Her faith is what got her through the ordeal, helped her recover and
allowed her to forgive the man who abducted her, she said.

Charlie and Debbie Chivers founded the Special Touch Ministry in Waupaca
in 1982. The organization ministers to people with disabilities. Cassie
and her sisters, Stephany, 17, and Carley, 7, grew up helping their
parents help others.

It was on a Special Touch retreat on Feb. 6, 2004, at a Comfort Inn in
Madison that Perry tried to abduct Cassie. Cassie had left to run an
errand. She said she didn’t think anything unusual about the man, Perry,
who got on the elevator with her.

“He wasn’t walking around with a sign on him that said, ‘I’m bad,’” she
said.

Perry made small talk with Cassie during the elevator ride. She said she
never looked up at him and focused on the snow on his boots. When the
elevator door opened, Perry offered for Cassie to go first in what
appeared to her as a gentlemanly gesture. But as she stepped out the
door, Perry walked up behind her and put his hand over her mouth and a
gun to her temple.

“He said, ‘If you scream, I’ll blow your brains out,’” Cassie said.

Earlier that day, the Chivers family was upset to hear that the body of
an abducted Florida girl, Carlie Bruscia, had been found. The news
prompted Cassie to ask her father for advice on what to do if she was in
a similar situation, not knowing that she would be abducted just hours
later.

“My dad said, ‘Fight, scream and get away,’” Cassie said.

As Perry dragged her off, Cassie said she thought about what happened to
Bruscia. Cassie knew Perry was going to rape her, she said.

“He told me to shut up, but I just kept praying,” Cassie said.

At the bottom of the fire escape, Cassie could hear her family and
friends talking and laughing through the wall.

“I didn’t know if I would see them again,” she said.

That is when God told her in her heart that she had to trust him, that he
had it under control, she said.

“I made the decision then and there that I wasn’t going to go,” Cassie
said. “He could shoot me, but that was OK because I would go to heaven.”

Perry took Cassie to an alley where, police believe, he was looking for a
place to rape her, she said. Down the alley, about 100 feet away, Cassie
saw friends who had just arrived at the hotel for the retreat.

Cassie said she doesn’t remember what happened next. She remembers every
detail of the ordeal except the moment when she broke free from Perry and
ran screaming toward her friends.

“I really believe the Holy Spirit pushed me,” she said.

She remembers looking back at Perry once as she ran. All she saw was the
back of his head.

“At that point, I knew I had won,” Cassie said.

The peace of mind that Cassie maintained during the incident helped
police identify her abductor. On the surveillance camera, they saw him
enter the hotel and then knock snow off his boots. They were the same
snowy boots that Cassie had stared at during the ride in the elevator.

The Chivers stayed at the hotel for the rest of the week for their
retreat. Right away, they made the decision not to let the incident
affect them in a negative way, Cassie said.

“What’s the point of worrying about something in your past that you can’t
control?” Cassie said.

Cassie was Perry’s last victim. He was arrested, and in November 2004, he
was sentenced to 470 years in prison for child pornography, rape, child
sexual assault and kidnapping.

At Perry’s sentencing, Cassie, her father and Perry’s other victims got a
chance to confront him. When Charlie was talking to Perry, he referred to
when Perry was taking Cassie down the fire escape and she was able to
remove his hand from her mouth for a moment.

Charlie said, “She didn’t use that breath to scream,” and Perry finished
the sentence.

“James Perry said, ‘She used that breath to cry out to God,’” Cassie
recalled.

In her statement, Cassie told Perry that she forgave him.

“Even though you hurt my family, I forgive you,” she told him.

Cassie has used the experience to talk to others about safety and faith
in God. She has appeared on the “Montel Williams Show,” and she was on
the ABC news program “20/20″ on Friday. She also has been asked to speak
to high school students in her hometown of Waupaca.

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