Bethany Storro Exclusive Interview: ‘I struggled with negativity’

Attack on her own face was suicide attempt by a woman obsessed with her ‘ugliness’

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Bethany Storro was candid Friday about her mental health problems and apologetic for the lies she told to cover up a suicide attempt last August.

Forty-five minutes after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor and receiving a suspended jail sentence for lying to detectives from the Vancouver Police Department about being the victim of an acid attack, Storro sat down with her attorney, Andrew Wheeler, at Wheeler’s offices in downtown Vancouver for a 10-minute interview with The Columbian.

Storro, 28, said she continues to live at Elahan Place, a Vancouver rehabilitation program operated by Columbia River Mental Health Services.

She said she has been diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression.

Through professionals at Elahan Place, she’s receiving counseling and help with managing her medication but also enjoying spending time talking and playing board games with other residents.

“They say I make them feel good, when I’m around them,” she said.

Wearing a clear compression mask that she’s had to work up to wearing 12 to 15 hours a day to help heal her skin, she said her doctor has told her that it could take as long as two years, but her red skin should return to her normal color.

She said she will have scars, but once her skin has healed she will be able to wear makeup.

According to police reports, Storro told detectives that she applied drain cleaner to her face thinking the vapors would kill her; if she survived, she would at least get a new face.

Asked whether she still feels that was her motivation, Storro said Friday that on Aug. 30 she was trying to kill herself.

“It wasn’t about getting a new face,” she said. “I struggled with negativity, thoughts I didn’t want to face.”

While she heals physically, her other focus will be healing mentally.

She said she has been reading about her diagnoses.

The Mayo Clinic describes body dysmorphic disorder as a condition in which people can’t stop obsessing over “imagined ugliness.”

The youngest of three siblings and the daughter of Joe and Nancy Neuwelt of Vancouver, Storro said that when she was 15 or 16, she withdrew from her friends and started spending hours in the bathroom, staring at herself in the mirror and examining what she perceived as flaws in her face, hair, hands, arms.

She said she would think, for example, that she had a growth on her face. Then she didn’t believe people who said they could not see it.

“I was very consumed with it,” she said.

She’d been on medication before, but was not taking anything when she burned her face.

“I’ve had this for a very long time,” said Storro, who moved to Vancouver in November 2009 after she divorced. “I want to get better, mentally, physically. I also think it would be really great to help other people, too, if they are having problems like this.”

Wheeler said after Storro leaves Elahan Place, she will likely live in a group home before she lives independently.

Storro spent the last two minutes of the interview describing all the people she has to thank.

She expressed gratitude to the community, which responded to her at first as a victim but still showed support when her lies were exposed.

During her court appearance, Storro apologized for saying that she’d been attacked by a black woman.

According to police reports, Storro said she described her attacker as black because she figured that police wouldn’t be able to find anyone who matched that description.

She said she’s also thankful her attorney worked out a deal with Prosecutor Tony Golik to spare her from spending time in jail or having a felony record.

She’s grateful for her pastor at Calvary Community Church, her family and close friends who have supported her these past seven months.

“I have awesome friends who have kept in touch with me, to make sure I’m OK,” she said.

She said that when she’s been in public, strangers have approached her but none with any unkind words.

“They will just say, ‘Jesus loves you.’ They are awesome,” she said.

That’s not to say everyone in the public has been kind. After the interview, Wheeler said Storro, who is partially deaf and can read lips, can see when people, who think they are being discreet, are talking about her.

As for the future, Storro said she loves playing with her nephew and it would be nice to have a family one day. Since she loves cooking and baking, she could see herself going to culinary school. She stressed again, however, that she knows her health is her priority.

“I’m just really grateful for how it turned out,” Storro said. “And that I’m still here.”

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.