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Tuesday, February 20, 2024
Feb. 20, 2024

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Storro case rivets community

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Armed with a clearer picture of what led Bethany Storro to claim a black woman threw acid in her face, residents in Clark County are experiencing a wide range of emotions.

Take Alan Retchless, for instance, who responded by e-mail to an online appeal by The Columbian to Storro benefactors: “Yes, we did donate to the Bethany S. fund. Yes, I was a fool. It won’t happen again.”

Bethany Storro was charged Monday with three counts of second-degree theft by deception. The day was exactly three weeks since the 28-year-old Vancouver woman burned her face with caustic drain cleaner and then hatched the story of an Aug. 30 acid attack near Esther Short Park. Storro told police she was attempting to commit suicide, or get a new face, when she dabbed her face with the chemical.

o The theft charges against Storro each come with an aggravating factor, because they allegedly were committed against “good Samaritans,” that is, three well-meaning people or businesses who donated $750 or more to Storro. She could face additional charges, including false reporting to public officials, a misdemeanor.

Bethany Storro was charged Monday with three counts of second-degree theft by deception. The day was exactly three weeks since the 28-year-old Vancouver woman burned her face with caustic drain cleaner and then hatched the story of an Aug. 30 acid attack near Esther Short Park. Storro told police she was attempting to commit suicide, or get a new face, when she dabbed her face with the chemical.

o The theft charges against Storro each come with an aggravating factor, because they allegedly were committed against "good Samaritans," that is, three well-meaning people or businesses who donated $750 or more to Storro. She could face additional charges, including false reporting to public officials, a misdemeanor.

o The warrant for her arrest has not yet been served.

-- Bob Albrecht

o The warrant for her arrest has not yet been served.

— Bob Albrecht

John Pax reflects the views of a more sympathetic bloc. Pax, the owner of Anytime Fitness, organized a Sept. 10 self-defense seminar that raised $800 for Storro.

“Quoting Bethany, ‘If you don’t move on and forgive, you can’t get on with your life,’” said Pax, referring to comments a bandaged Storro made in regard to her fictional assailant during a press conference staged three days after her alleged attack. “When you see someone beaten up, you help them out.”

On Tuesday, a day after Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Tony Golik announced his decision to file three counts of second-degree theft by deception against Storro, it’s clear healing is happening in fits and starts.

Who will pay Storro’s medical bills? Read here.

In some cases, the sentiments of individuals and entities are shifting between frustration and compassion.

“She’s made no apology to the black community at all,” said Sebrenia Johnson, 36, of Vancouver. “I’m a black woman with my hair pulled back. Well, it was pulled back. As small as our community is, it put a big shining light on it.”

Johnson said she’s changed her hairstyle since Storro, 28, alleged she was attacked by a black woman with hair pulled back on Aug. 30, around the corner from Esther Short Park.

“A lot of people don’t like themselves — their nose, mouths, eyes,” Johnson said. “She’s a pretty girl. I still feel bad for her.”

Umpqua Bank partnered with Pax’s gym, housing the $20-a-person contributions made by participants in the self-defense seminar.

The bank hoped to add to the more than $4,500 it collected for Storro during a silent auction scheduled Oct. 1 that has transformed into a “Community Appreciation Open House” following the revelation her injuries were self-inflicted. The event at the bank’s downtown branch, 720 Esther St., will feature food from downtown businesses in a gesture of appreciation to the community that showed a “willingness to help out when there was a need.” The open house is scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The bank is preparing a flier that will read: “We would love for you and your employees to drop in. This is a reminder to our community that we all came together and our hearts were in the right place.”

In total, more than $25,000 was raised for Storro.

Officials from Umpqua Bank and Riverview Community Bank, which is hosting an account opened by Storro’s co-workers at the Safeway in Washougal, have said it is difficult to trace cash contributions to their original source, making them, therefore, difficult to return.

“The account is currently frozen while the investigation is going on,” Umpqua spokeswoman Lani Hayward wrote in an e-mail. “Once we have a release of the account, donors can be reimbursed.”

That process is complicated, too, at Riverview, where an account for Storro contained approximately $20,000.

The bank can’t release money from the account opened by Storro’s Safeway co-workers because “they’re the owners of those funds,” said Kim Capeloto, the bank’s executive vice president in charge of operations and marketing.

“I know that they are working with law enforcement to figure out the best course of action in this particular case,” Capeloto said. “They’ve been cooperating fully.”

Both banks have considered donating the money that cannot be returned to area nonprofits.

Kent Bott, 61, who said he made a $50 cash donation to Riverview, is among the donors whose money is unlikely to be returned.

“That would be perfectly fine with me,” he said of the banks’ still-forming plans to donate the money to a local nonprofit. “I’m not really concerned about it other than I don’t want it going to her. I wouldn’t have donated if I couldn’t afford it.”

Even if Storro’s attack had been legitimate, Bott said he had qualms with how the money was spent. Storro told detectives she spent about $1,500 on dinners, train tickets, clothing, shopping at Target, an Apple computer product (which she allegedly returned), and to pay most of her $620 bill for her laser facial peel, which she’d gotten in Portland two weeks before she blotted drain cleaner on her cheeks, nose and forehead.

“The calls that we have gotten I don’t think are so much focused in anger as they are in disappointment,” Capeloto said. “People that donate to any cause, specifically in this particular financial environment, want to make sure they’re donating for good.”

Change of heart

In addition to some upset donors, social media, which rallied to Storro’s cause in the days after she falsely reported her attack, has turned against her in a big way.

Who will pay Storro's medical bills? Read here.

The Facebook page “Send Bethany Storro to Jail” — an acerbic response to the earlier “Send Bethany Storro a hug” page — had gathered 1,266 “like” ratings from Facebook users as of Tuesday evening. The “hug” page had been taken down after police said Storro confessed to the hoax. As of Tuesday night, “Send Bethany Storro to Jail” had apparently also been taken off Facebook.

The man tasked with prosecuting Storro, Golik, appeared on the “Today Show” Tuesday morning, telling Matt Lauer that Storro’s actions — the press conference, accepting donations and spending the money — in the weeks after the fictitious attack guided his decision to file charges.

“It seemed like a straightforward decision that felony charges should be filed,” said Golik, who appeared via satellite from his office in the Clark County Courthouse. “The decision on charging is based not really on what she did to herself but based on her actions in the two weeks afterwards, when she was holding press conferences and taking money from members of the community.”

It’s unclear what happens next in the prosecution of Storro, and when. She is said to be in an unspecified hospital, for unknown reasons. It is not known when she will be arrested and make her first appearance in court.

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The images of Bethany Storro that once hung in the windows of Anytime Fitness have been replaced with ones touting Heartbeat — Serving Wounded Warriors, an organization that provides a collection of services for Washington’s servicemen and women and their families.

Pax said members at his gym contributed 300 stockings to Heartbeat’s “Christmas Wish List.”

“There are many other organizations that need our help,” he said. “We don’t want to stop that. That’s why we need to move forward.”

As for Storro, he said, “We are going to communicate with Bethany’s mom to clarify some answers.”

Pax said he has exchanged text messages with Nancy Neuwelt, who spoke along with her husband, Joe Neuwelt, to media gathered outside Anytime Fitness the day of the self-defense fundraiser.

Said Pax: “We’re still in disbelief, and saddened. It’s numbing.

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