The two most frequent questions I am asked are WHY did I decide to go over the patio rail and exactly HOW did I climb down to safety. The WHY is easy: I liked my chances better away from Marco. The hand-to-hand combat I had with him actually went on for a while out on the patio. He was getting in some good shots on me and in turn, I knocked him over into his potted plants on one end of the patio, and twice, I sent him backwards into his own apartment. But I was becoming exhausted and knew that the longer we battled, the worse it would be for me. Plus, I just felt I had to figure something out that did not involve remaining locked onto the 6th floor of his building. Having said that, I definitely did not think past the next floor down.
Once I managed to fall to the ledge below, it was a few seconds before I figured out the next path. Running along the ledge to the next building seemed the best option. As long as I kept moving, I was that much closer to my hotel and that much farther from harm (relatively speaking, of course).
Now, some visuals for you to help you understand my path to safety. I returned to Rome in June 2009 for an interview with the Public Prosecutor. The morning of my interview, I returned to the street where Marco lived. I had a bodyguard with me. Together, we were able to gain access to the building across the street from Marco’s and climb to the top/fourth floor to take pictures.
Keep in mind that when I was escaping, it was nighttime and all I saw was a few feet in front of me and the street lights below. Once I landed on the ledge about six feet down, with my back to the wall, I turned and ran to my right (so, to the left of the caged potted plants in the photo you are looking at) until I encountered a spiky, rusty metal gate. The gate in the picture below is kind of hard to see because it is straight on, but it separates the one ledge from the other.
Below is a view of the gate from the side and a few stories beneath it. I remember the feeling of weightlessness as I swung my body around it, over the street, to the narrow ledge on the next building.
I ran along the ledge of the second bldg until I had to jump to the next rooftop. That was about a four-foot drop and then I pulled myself up to the next Spanish-tiled roof. But I didn’t realize how mossy the tiles were and damp from the nighttime air. I instantly started slipping backwards. I almost went right off the roof. I would have fallen five stories.
I scrambled to the apex of the 4th rooftop and looked over the other side of it – the backside facing away from the street – and I saw an absolute maze of patios, porches and balconies all at different heights and distances. I had to stop myself from making another hasty jump as I realized it would have injured my legs to attempt to land it. I slapped myself hard and said, “Come on, Keri! Don’t mess this up! Don’t be stupid! You’ve been doing so well!” And then I looked at the sky and asked God to help me. I remember that moment clearly. And then, more calmly, I began to hop and jump my way down until I landed on a balcony I was unable to exit or climb out of. Jumping down is easier than climbing back up and my right shoulder was shot at this point (already injured from years of volleyball).
I realized I had two choices: jump or knock on the window and hope someone doesn’t call the police. I really didn’t want to knock on the window shutters, but the view off of the balcony shows why I could go no further. It was about a 25-foot drop to a concrete courtyard. Truth be told, I contemplated making the jump for awhile. I just did not want to involve anyone in my predicament. I was disappointed I had trapped myself.
(NOTE: I took this batch of nighttime images when I returned to the scene of the escape with the police, some 18 hours after the attack back in November 2008. I was at about 35 hours without sleep at this point, but I had to take pictures so I had proof of everything I had done.)
Little did I know at the time, how fortunate I was to land there. It turns out the family was from FLORIDA. That’s right folks, I landed on the apartment balcony of a visiting American family staying in a residential neighborhood!
I took this next photo to capture the distance I had climbed down (about three stories) and how far back from the street (about 40 feet). The American couple’s building was SEVEN buildings away from Marco’s and three stories down.
I was in awe taking the view in. And so was the police detective standing with me. He called me “Wonder Woman” but I told him I just didn’t want to be raped.
The best part of being on that balcony with the police (once the American woman found me in the street battling the officers and brought us to her apartment) is that it left no doubt for the officers about my story. They literally saw for themselves the only way onto the balcony, in a normal scenario, would have been entry through the apartment. The woman gave witness that she and her husband thought they had heard a “large bird” on their roof moments before I had knocked on their windows the previous night. So, the police knew then that my story checked out. And that in order to have accomplished the climb down without killing myself I had to have been sober, desperate and determined. So, I wouldn’t change a thing about my decision to go over the railing at Marco’s. But I understand, of course, that decision is not for everyone.
EXTRA THOUGHT: A few weeks after the assault, the new 007 film Quantum of Solace starring Daniel Craig came out. The film begins with a scene of him chasing a bad guy up and down a bunch of rooftops in Sienna, Italy. My friends had seen it and were worried that I would wind up seeing the film and get upset because it had upset them to see it. But I was fine when I did see the film, mostly because Daniel Craig’s got nothing on me when it comes to roof jumping. I mean, I was in knee-high riding boots and skinny jeans. So there. 😉
EXTRA THOUGHT 2: I learned a little over a year ago, months after writing this post, that the drop from the balcony was closer to 40 feet, not 25 feet. Even better reason that I didn’t try to make it. That would have been a terrible ending.
I just stumbled upon your blog…I’m reading every thing. what an incredible human being you are and spirit you have. I survived a brutal assault feb1 2002 and have struggled with PTSD etc since. Thank you for this incredible supportive educational and inspiring blog. stay blessed xo Renee Crawford
Thank you, Renee. Glad you found me and reached out. I am so sorry such an awful thing was forced upon you. Your survival is all that matters but I hope you are managing to live a good life still. God bless you. You deserve the best. Please take care. Keri
I read this article in Marie Claire this morning at the gym and was completely mesmerized. I’m a college freshman at a large state university, blonde, and petite, and I would be completely defenseless in this situation. Being at college has taught me to always be aware of my surroundings at all times, but now I know that is not the only thing that will help. Keri, your judgment, courage, gut instincts, and faith in yourself are an inspiration to me, and I now know that even when you may be in danger externally, it is important to stay strong internally, for it can make all the difference. And although I had already planned to study history and criminal justice, this article has reminded me how important it remains in the real world, and I am determined to continue my studies to help female victims everywhere. I am so proud of you and incredibly thankful for your story. Stay strong, and thank you for inspiring us all.
i was so excited to read your story.
i kicked my rapist’s ass, too.
the experience definitely wasn’t as dramatic as yours, for sure. it wasn’t the first time i was sexually assaulted, and i kept thinking the whole time it was going on about how my past had cost me ten years of my life in a therapist’s office. so there was no way i was going to let this asshole bring all that back up, damaging all the wonderful progress i’d made. i made a split-second decision to kick his ass. fortunately i am a lot bigger and stronger than him, and he was fairly surprised.
there’s a lot more to it, but i always wondered if other women fought back and won. i’ve honestly never heard of another woman doing it until you. thank you SO much for your story, and for empowering other women.
there’s something about defending yourself that allows you to spend so much more of your life unafraid. and for that reason, i’m glad it all happened. sending good energy to you, and thanks for sharing your wonderful story.
Amber, that’s great. Good for you. I know not everyone gets the chance and I don’t want anyone to think that I wrote this piece to brag about the physical altercation. Rather, I’d like to make the suggestion that choosing to prosecute can be therapeutic. It healed me by allowing me to take control back; going after him made me feel purposeful. This blog hopefully makes women more familiar with the process and more comfortable with the thought of it. K
Marva forwarded the article in Marie Claire and also sent me the link to your blog. I was amazed at your courage and after seeing the photos on your blog, I am speechless. OMG! I too am surprised you didn’t break anything. Truly inspiring.
Thank you for sharing your story. Hopefully your words will encourage more women to fight back and pursue justice.
Watching that scene in the movie was a hard thing. A and I sat there in tears watching it – seeing a visual that I played out in my head so many times on a huge screen in front of us was unreal. I had serious chills and a new visual of your escape and am further convinced that you are superwoman . . .