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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Ride to Victory

By John W. Kennedy
Aug. 5, 2012

For the better part of two decades, Diana Oakley spent every April 28 alone, brooding over what happened on that date in 1991. She thought the incident prevented her from ever fully enjoying life again.

Every April 28, Oakley vowed to muster the courage to get back on a bicycle. She hadn’t been for a ride since the day when at age 17 she had been kidnapped, sexually assaulted and nearly murdered by a pickup truck driver who ran her off the road.

Each April, Oakley intended to conquer her terror of biking, but she never got very far; she didn’t own a bike. Until this year.

On April 28, Oakley rode her bicycle 17 miles in an Orlando, Fla., fundraising event to commemorate how she has overcome the trauma of the attack 21 years ago. In conjunction with the Victim Service Center of Central Florida, around 200 riders participated in the sexual violence awareness cause.

Oakley spoke to the crowd about how God healed her from the experience and its aftermath.

The ride held special significance for Oakley because the ex-wife and daughter of her assailant joined her. The occasion brought them together face-to-face for the first time.

Youth interrupted

On that spring day in 1991, the attractive teen with the long blonde hair and beautiful smile took off for a long bike ride on a rarely traveled road in Broome County, N.Y.

As Diana Barry rode her bike, a pickup truck came up behind her and the passenger side mirror clipped her from behind, sending her skidding 30 feet across the pavement. The apologetic and concerned pickup driver, an overweight 28-year-old man, offered to take the stunned youth to a hospital. The naïve girl, her head bleeding from the collision, allowed the stranger to put her bike in the back of the pickup while she climbed in the cab.

En route, the consoling man told Diana he realized he didn’t have his driver’s license with him, so he needed to go by his house to pick it up. He assured Diana that his wife, a nurse, could examine the head wound there.

Diana didn’t feel too concerned at first. After all, the man had a photo of his wife and 2-year-old daughter affixed to the passenger visor. But she became confused as the man kept making turns in the country and drove for miles.

The man abruptly stopped the truck and brandished a hatchet. He then tied Diana’s hands behind her with rope, holding another weapon against her rib cage as he drove into a heavily wooded area.

“See this?” the suddenly menacing driver asked. “This is an ice pick. Do you know what would happen if I stabbed you in the chest with this?”

The dangerous situation became crystal clear to the disoriented girl when he stripped off her cutoff jeans and tank top.

“I knew he had brought me there to rape me,” Diana writes in her book, Intended Harm, published earlier this year. “I could only hope that he would not kill me as well.”

The man sexually assaulted Diana repeatedly for the next two hours. Leaving her naked, with her hands still tied behind her back, the assailant returned to the truck.

Diana could hear the clinking of shotgun shells — cartridges she had heard rolling around on the floor during the ride. Now Diana understood the grim reality: She had seen the attacker’s face, and he planned to murder her.

In that moment, Diana determined that escaping, even naked and barefoot, would be her only way to survive. Diana had made a profession of faith at age 8, but she turned her back on God at 13. However, the endangered girl distinctly sensed the Lord telling her to run. She took off.

Trees and bushes lashed at Diana’s face and body, breaking open her bare skin. Her attacker yelled for her to stop. Diana reached an open field and saw a house 200 yards away. Her pursuer stopped.

A woman at the home covered Diana with a blanket and phoned for help. Police and paramedics soon arrived. Diana provided as much of a description as possible to authorities.

The following day, the local newspaper reported the rape, complete with information about the suspect’s identifying tattoos.

Dawn Runyon didn’t conceive that her occasionally oppressive husband of three years could be involved — even though he had similar tattoos and he said he planned to leave the region immediately to look for carpentry work elsewhere.

“When you marry, you never suspect the person you intend ?to spend your whole life with is capable of such behavior,” Dawn says.

Three days later, police arrested Timothy Rupert. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping, rape, and intent to murder, and received the harshest penalty possible, 15 to 20 years.

Journey to healing

Despite the relatively quick resolution to the crime, Diana dealt with the emotional fallout for years. She tried to pretend everything would be fine. But deep down she wondered why God didn’t stop the rape. She wondered if God existed.

A downward spiral escalated two years after the violence, as Diana drank alcohol in ever-greater amounts. She began taking acid, then cocaine, her days spent strung out on drugs. With low self-esteem, Diana took a job as an exotic dancer, ironically believing it to be empowering when men ogled her.

Diana found a better job working in a restaurant. Her boss, Tom Oakley, befriended her and treated her with respect. Eventually they married.

Her persistent mother-in-law, Arla Jane Oakley, took Tom and Diana’s preschool-age daughter with her to church every Sunday. Although Diana saw the positive influence church had on her daughter, it took her another three years to feel comfortable enough to attend.

Diana believed in God again, but still struggled in how she could relate to Him. Though she recommitted her life to Christ at a church service in 1999, emotional wholeness took much longer. For 16 years, Diana clammed up about what had happened. She thought she would never be “normal” again. She believed the assault had defined all aspects of her life.

But in 2007, Diana felt God instructing her to write down her feelings as a path to healing. After journaling long-repressed emotions online, others began to comment how Diana’s brave and inspirational story helped them to cope with their own painful memories.

Another major component of healing involved Diana connecting with the ex-wife and daughter of her attacker.

As with Diana, Dawn and Laura Runyon went through years of depression, isolation and hopelessness after the harrowing episode.

“I lived in a fog,” Dawn recalls. “I felt like I was at the bottom of a tunnel, and I couldn’t see daylight anywhere.”

Unknowingly, Diana and Dawn lived only four blocks from each other as adults. Diana attended First Assembly of God in Binghamton, N.Y.; Dawn belonged to Calvary’s Love Assembly of God in nearby Johnson City. They had a mutual friend.

But the women never talked until February 2011, after connecting on Facebook. Dawn read a newspaper account of Diana writing the first edition of her book in 2010, but hesitated to contact her.

“I didn’t want to cause her more pain,” says the 51-year-old Dawn, who remarried 16 years ago and now has two adolescent daughters from that marriage. “I always felt responsible for it. Maybe I could have prevented it if I had recognized him for what he was.”

Diana and Dawn, along with Dawn’s daughter from her first marriage, Laura, met for the first time just before the ride in Orlando. Although the Runyons still live in New York, they wanted to be a part of the important healing milestone for Diana.

The trio talked for hours. They shed many tears and exchanged many hugs.

“We wanted to honor her strength through everything my dad put her through,” says Laura, 22. “She needed to know that we care about her, that we support her, and that we want to see her succeed and help other people.”

Diana is back on her bicycle now every week, usually riding on a sidewalk in a heavily populated neighborhood. She loves to ride to somewhere safe to journal.

“I was so afraid to do everything before,” Diana says. “Now I’m not afraid. I’ve been transformed from fear to liberty.”

Diana is grateful for the patience and support of her husband. She credits Tom for staying with her when she tried to push him away numerous times early in the marriage. Tom is now a restaurant manager in Orlando, where the couple attends Faith Assembly of God.

Diana likewise appreciates that her mother-in-law Arla Jane Oakley, an Assemblies of God chaplain (see Pentecostal Evangel, April 29, 2012, p. 8), served as a positive influence in her life.

Diana doesn’t allow her three children to roam freely as she once did.

“My 16-year-old daughter tells me I’m overprotective, but I don’t think so,” she says. “As much as kids try to push parents away and keep to themselves, parents need to be annoying and know what their children are doing and where they are going. I will never allow my 16-year-old to go on a bike ride by herself.”

Her assailant is still locked away, now in a mental institution, after making threats against Diana, Dawn and law enforcement authorities. Under New York’s civil confinement law, sex offenders can be detained beyond their sentence if they are deemed to have a lack of control over their behavior that would make them dangerous in society.

The emotional healing hasn’t just been for Diana.

“I’m doing much better now that I’ve seen that Diana is OK,” Dawn says.

Meanwhile, Diana is venturing out as an inspirational speaker.

In her memoir, Intended Harm, Diana shares a life theme she now wants to communicate as widely as possible: “God can take the things in our lives that have hurt us the most and use them for our, as well as His, benefit.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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