Two Detroit women were soaking in the comforts of their room one last time. One was Facetiming a friend on the balcony; the other was plopped down on her bed listening to music.
For five days, this had been their comfort zone, their safety zone. And then their world changed.
At 11:15 p.m. Thursday, a gunman crawled up their balcony and barged into their second-floor room at the Hotel Riu Reggae. He raped them both, authorities say.
The nightmare lasted for about 15 minutes until one of the women got hold of the gun and shot the attacker twice before he jumped off the balcony and fled.
“At night, it really haunts me. All I see is his eyes,” the victim who shot the suspect said in an exclusive interview with the Free Press on Monday. “I just want to know why.”
But more than that, she wants justice. She wants the attacker to pay for a night of hell that ended with her walking through a hotel half-naked, finding her way to the reception desk and placing a gun on the counter.
“I said, ‘There was a gunman in my room. He raped and robbed me and my friend. And I took the gun and I shot him,” the woman recalled telling the front desk personnel, who summoned police.
According to Montego Bay police, the suspect is a 24-year-old hotel employee named Scott Dowe who had worked at Hotel Riu Reggae just three days before the attack occurred. He is a dancer who worked for an entertainment company that performed at the hotel. He was arrested on Friday after checking himself into a Jamaican hospital, where medical staff alerted the authorities about a shooting victim. He is in custody and charges are expected, police said. He has an initial court appearance on Tuesday morning.
Frank Sondern, the manager at the Hotel Riu Reggae, declined comment, citing the ongoing police investigation.
Lee Bailey, who chairs a police civic committee in St. James, Jamaica, said he is concerned that the hotel did not properly screen the employee suspected in the attack. “We have very strict rules as to who works in hotels,” Bailey said. “Anybody who wants to invest in Jamaica must abide by and respect those regulations.”
Bailey added: “I’ve never heard of this happening before.”
Meanwhile back in Detroit, the victims are reeling and demanding justice, noting they weren’t contacted by the U.S. Embassy until four days after returning home from their vacation.
The victim who shot the suspect is a medical lab operator and mother of a 3-year-old girl from Detroit’s west side who went to Jamaica with a friend last week to celebrate her 33rd birthday. Her friend is a health care employee, though she has remained private so far about the incident. The two had planned this trip for months and each spent $1,200 for the all-inclusive, five-night getaway at the beachfront hotel.
The women’s identities will remain confidential as the Free Press does not disclose the names of sexual assault victims.
The victim who shot the suspect described in detail what happened that night. Here is her account of events:
It was about 10:45 p.m. when the 33-year-old woman started Facetiming with a friend while out on the balcony. At about 11:15, she hung up on the friend and went into her hotel room.
In a matter of seconds, a gunman stormed into their room through the balcony door.
“He said, ‘Where’s the money?'”
The women said they didn’t have money.
The gunman got louder: “What the (expletive) you mean you don’t have any money?”
The women got scared and threw their credit cards on the bed. One offered to go to an ATM.
Then he cocked the gun. The women screamed.
“Oh my God! Please don’t kill us! We’ve got kids.”
Then he ordered them to turn the lights off, and threatened to kill them if they didn’t.
They followed orders.
In the dark, he forced both women on their knees. He ordered one to give him oral while the other watched. Then he did the same to the other. And eventually ordered them on the bed, where he raped them. At one point, he set the gun down on the bed.
One of the victims noticed and while being raped, she fought back.
“I grabbed the gun and started shooting,” she recalled, noting there were only two bullets. She fired them both into his arm. He ran out the door and jumped off the balcony.
Her roommate ran down the hall screaming, wearing only a top. She followed calmly, with the gun at her right side, and went to the front desk for help.
When police arrived, they took the women to the hospital, where they underwent rape tests. They gave their statements to police at another hotel and left for Detroit the next day. The police were kind and helpful, the one victim said. The hotel seemed indifferent, they said. It apologized for the incident and offered to refund the trip.
“They acted as if they had never heard of this before,” said the victim, noting that she’s grateful she was able to get the gun. Had she not, she said: “They would have looked at me like, ‘This story is fake.’”
According to the police report, the suspect allegedly stole the gun from another hotel guest’s room. Police obtained the blood from the scene, presumably the gunman’s, along with a bag they believe belonged to him.
The Detroit woman who shot the suspect is a registered gun holder. However, it was the first time she had to use her shooting skills for self-defense.
The woman said she is coming forward to help other assault victims feel more comfortable about speaking out as well. And she needs healing.
“I feel empty, like something is missing,” she said. “I just want to know why? What targeted me? Did (he) just see me as an opportunity?”
But talking helps, she noted: “It makes me feel better every time I talk about it.”
Ed Zelenak, a Michigan-based attorney who serves as legal counsel to the St. James Police Civic Committee in Jamaica, said he was surprised to learn of the attack.
“It’s odd something like this happened at that hotel. It’s a safe hotel,” Zelenak said. “Whoever did this had to have been familiar with the place.”
Zelenak, who travels to Jamaica frequently, noted the case will take some time to wind its way through the court system.
“Jamaica has a slower judicial system than the U.S.,” Zelenak said, adding he expects the U.S. government to get involved.
“The U.S. and Jamaican courts and governments have a good relationship,” he said. “It’s a sad case, but justice will be served.”
As for the woman who shot the attacker, Zelenak said: “It’s encouraging to see one of the victims engage in self-defense and hold her ground.”