BIG RAPIDS — The crime was abhorrent, unspeakably violent. The sort of thing that happens to somebody else, is written up in the papers and splashed across network news feeds, and is then promptly forgotten by most in favor of the “next big story.”
For the victim, however, forgetting is not an option.
Kelly Quinn has not forgotten May 17, 1998, the night she was held captive at knifepoint by Ruben Hernandez Martinez and Luis Castanon in her Nashville, Tenn. home, as the two men took turns raping and sodomizing her. And worse. Yes, there were worse things, but they have no place in a community newspaper. Most would say they have no place in civilized society.
Suffice it to say, the sheer brutality Kelly endured that night defies imagining.
The two men entered Kelly’s home while she was out on a date; they were waiting for her when she walked in the front door. Even after all these years, Kelly remembers the evening in detail more vivid than one would ever wish for.
“At knife point, they proceeded to hold me prisoner, raping, abusing and taunting me for several hours,” Kelly relates. “I was taunted with a toy shotgun while they held me down, laughed and spoke in Spanish.
“They held me up to the sliding glass doors that led to the back patio and the woods beyond, where they said they had friends waiting and watching me. They said if I didn’t continue to do what they told me, I would have to… All the while, they kept flipping open and closed the knife and holding it to my throat saying, ‘Don’t see’ and ‘Don’t move or I’ll cut you.’”
Hours crept by as the abuse continued. Martinez and Castanon knew what they were doing. Kelly was not their first victim, but, as it turned out, she would be their last. The men were serial rapists who had committed a string of similar brutal attacks in southern Nashville during the previous two years.
When they were at last finished, Martinez pushed Kelly into the shower in an attempt to wash away the physical evidence.
“(At this point) I became angry and suddenly, armed with God’s courage, I opened my eyes and said, ‘I’m going to pray for you,’” Kelly says. “He put his hands in front of his face as if my words somehow stung him and he backed away from me, sort of crouching. And for a tiny second, I saw his eyes. They were remorseful, as if he’d just found himself in a dream and realized he was the villain.”
The moment didn’t last. Martinez recovered and again admonished Kelly to “don’t see, don’t see.” His message, delivered in broken English, was plain enough: Forget what happened here.
But she could not.
For years afterward, Kelly — previously an ebullient, happy young woman — trudged through a gray, empty existence, haunted by the events of that night. Afraid, yet determined to live on her own, she moved from Nashville to Las Vegas, where she stayed for nine years to be near her sister who resided there.
It took nearly a decade before her rapists stood before a judge and were tried and sentenced, Castanon for 60 years in prison, Martinez was given 88.
During the trials, pleas and sentencing hearings, Kelly returned home to her family in Big Rapids, where she was raised, seeking the support she needed from loved ones there.
Still, she could not forget. But somewhere along the way and against all odds, she learned to forgive. While reading a children’s book entitled “The Little Soul & the Sun,” by Neale Donald Walsh, a book rife with the message of forgiveness, she began to weep, then sob.
“I realized I needed to forgive them,” Kelly says. “I was on my knees that night praying hard, begging God not to make me do that.
I didn’t want to forgive them. I was so desperately asking Him not to ask me to do that. So after begging every night on my knees,
I started to simply ask, ‘God, can you please do the forgiving for me because I can’t bring myself to do it right now.’
“And I believe He did. Eventually, that prayer turned to, ‘Dear God, help me heal myself by trying to forgive them…’ Then I would feel repulsed again. But eventually I was saying, ‘I forgive you,’ and I was beginning to feel lighter each time I did so.”
The road back was a long once, Kelly admits, often twisting and doubling back on itself, with plenty of false starts and dead ends.
But perseverance and faith won out in the end; one by one, the clouds began to part and small rays of sunshine found their way through.
Writing daily about her experiences — before, during and after the assault — was a key part of her healing. Those writings, published in her book “Captured, Sentenced, Forgiven,” provide details of the attack that may simply be too much for some readers to handle. The book’s overall message, however, is one of hope, redemption and the human spirit’s indomitable ability to abide most any tribulation.
“I learned many lessons and profound conclusions about my ‘self’ along my journey to healing,” Kelly says. “I wrote ‘Captured, Sentenced, Forgiven’ to share the cavernous ability to extend mercy to even those who commit the most vile and loathsome behaviors against another human being.”
Though not a professional speaker, Kelly has spoken publicly a few times regarding her experiences, once at a Ferris State University “Take Back the Night” event and to a few private groups.
On Oct. 25, she will speak in Reed City, north of Big Rapids, during a Women’s Night Out event. A talented singer, songwriter and musician, Kelly also will be performing some of her music at the event.
Kelly’s book, which will be available at Robbins Book List in Greenville in early October, also is available in Kindle format from Amazon.com and as a paperback at the Old Pioneer Store & Emporium in Big Rapids.
Amazon reviewer Linda Bell described “Captured, Sentenced, Forgiven” both frightening and uplifting.
“I sobbed in anguish as I read, in horrific detail, what those monsters did to her that fateful night,” Bell wrote. “I cheered out loud when I learned they were caught, and I learned a valuable lesson from her about the healing power of forgiveness. I honestly don’t know how Kelly had the strength and courage to relive that terrifying night in order to put it down on paper. ‘Captured, Sentenced, Forgiven’ is destined to become a New York Times bestseller.”
For her part, Kelly is simply happy to have moved beyond the daily anguish that for so long ruled her life. The book helped heal her. Her hope is that it may help others, as well.
Her advice to women who share similar emotional and spiritual scars? “Remember who you are,” she says. “These traumatic events will never define you. You can be whole again if you want to continue quality living. It takes diligence, but you had the courage to survive; you have the courage to live.”