Victim, her family shocked by attack

Unknown woman threw caustic liquid in her face, causing severe burns

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

Published:

 
photoBethany Storro

A Vancouver woman suffered severe burns Monday night when someone threw a caustic liquid in her face in an attack so unusual that a veteran police detective said he hadn’t heard of such a thing in 30 years working in Vancouver.

“I’m a nice girl and I don’t know why this happened,” Bethany Storro, 28, said Tuesday in her hospital room in the Oregon Burn Center at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.

“It’s very bizarre, very random and very weird, and we don’t understand it,” said Storro’s mother, Nancy Neuwelt, reached by phone while at Storro’s bedside.

“She’s having a hard time,” Neuwelt added. “It’s changed her life now and her emotions are all over the place.”

About 7:15 p.m. Monday, paramedics and police rushed to West Eighth and Columbia streets, near Esther Short Park. A woman who happened by after Storro was attacked called 911.

Storro, a Vancouver resident like her mother, had been standing outside on the passenger side of her car, planning to get some coffee at the Starbucks there, Neuwelt said.

Neuwelt said Storro told her a woman whom Storro didn’t recognize walked up to her and said, “Hey, pretty girl. How are you? Would you like a drink of this?”

Storro, sensing something was wrong, declined the offer and the woman threw the liquid into her face.

Fortunately, Storro wore sunglasses that protected her eyes and she closed her eyes tight. She stooped down, Neuwelt said.

“It was burning through her shirt. She took off her shirt and she was trying to wipe her face,” Neuwelt said.

Storro, screaming and in excruciating pain, “kind of remembers walking in circles,” Neuwelt said. “She felt like her heart stopped at one point.”

Storro ran and collapsed in pain. The bystander called 911 and also called Neuwelt, using Storro’s phone.

Paramedics rushed Storro to the hospital and a Vancouver police officer spent several hours there to begin the investigation into the attack.

On Tuesday, Detective Cpl. Wally Stefan with the police Major Crimes Unit took over the investigation.

Stefan said he had not heard of such a case here in 30 years with the Vancouver Police Department.

“We’re still doing interviews of people who were in and around the location when it happened,” Stefan said.

Stefan said he didn’t know the motive of the attack, or exactly what type of liquid burned Storro’s face.

“I submitted the evidence to the crime lab today, so I won’t know what it was for several weeks,” Stefan said.

The assailant was described as a black woman between 25 and 35, who wore a green shirt and khaki shorts. She had medium-length black hair that was pulled back, said Stefan, who is hoping for more information from the public.

Neuwelt said her daughter is single, has no children and had recently moved to Vancouver.

“She wanted to make a fresh start and this happened,” said Neuwelt, who is a worship leader and administrative assistant at a local church.

Neuwelt said it was unusual that Storro was wearing the sunglasses that protected her eyes.

“She on a whim decided to buy a pair,” only about 20 minutes before the attack, Neuwelt said. “The weird thing is, she doesn’t like to wear sunglasses.”

She said she and her daughter believe God provided that help.

Storro, even in her hospital bed as her mother spoke on her cell phone, was trying to be upbeat.

Neuwelt was explaining that Storro’s nickname is Beese when Storro jested that there was no ‘O’ at the front of the nickname, and no ‘T’ at the end of it.

“Bethany is a really great, fun, energetic and adorable girl, and she didn’t deserve this,” her mother said.

Neuwelt said her daughter had never seen the assailant before, and it would be only speculation to try to explain a chemical attack she called “senseless.”

“It happens in the Middle East all the time,” the mother said.

“I am so disgusted with society right now!” Storro’s brother, Abraham Neuwelt of Seattle, said on his Facebook page. “Yesterday my little sister got some form of acid thrown into her face while walking through downtown Vancouver, WA. She is currently in the hospital with severe burns and could face permanent damage. This incident was totally unprovoked and malicious in nature. If you believe in prayer, now is the time to ask for a full recovery and that the assailant be brought to justice! I love you Beese!!”

Storro, in serious condition at the burn center, issued a statement.

“Thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers,” Storro said. “I appreciate all of the well wishes being sent my way. I do ask, if anyone should know the woman who assaulted me, please contact the Vancouver Police.”

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call detective Stefan at 360-487-7425.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.