On an early August morning in 1990, 8-year-old Jennifer Schuett was abducted from the bedroom of her ground-floor Texas apartment, sexually assaulted, and with her throat cut from ear to ear—unable to cry out or even speak because her vocal chords were damaged—left to die in a an overgrown field.
Miraculously, Jennifer survived. And although doctors at the time said she would never speak again, she regained her voice. Today it came through loud and clear as she thanked police and the FBI for never giving up on bringing her attacker to justice.
^ Jennifer Schuett speaks at the October 13, 2009 press conference in Houston that announced
the arrest of a man suspected of attacking her 19 years ago when she was eight years old.
<<— Jennifer Schuett
The arrest this morning of Dennis Earl Bradford in North Little Rock, Arkansas—the result of dedicated law enforcement officers and advanced techniques in DNA testing—marks the end of a long odyssey for Jennifer, who has made it her life’s mission to speak out on behalf of victims.
“This event in my life was a tragic one,” Jennifer said during a press conference in Texas, “but today, 19 years later, I stand here and want you all to know that I am OK. I am not a victim, but instead, victorious.”
She thanked all those who worked on her case over the years, especially Detective Tim Cromie of the Dickinson Police Department in Texas, and Special Agent Richard Rennison, who works out of FBI Houston office. “They promised me that they were not going to stop until they solved the case,” Jennifer said, “and they kept their promise.”
<<<— Jennifer’s Schuett’s description to a sketch artist of her attacker in 1990 turned out to be similar to Dennis Earl Bradford’s driver’s license picture from the time.
Jennifer’s case was pursued vigorously, but with few leads, little progress was made. In March 2008, Detective Cromie asked Rennison to take a fresh look at the case, and Rennison, in turn, asked for help from FBI Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team (CARD). Eventually, evidence was sent to the FBI Laboratory for advanced DNA testing—testing that was unavailable in 1990. A DNA profile was extracted from the evidence and later matched to Bradford through FBI Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). His DNA was in CODIS because of a previous arrest and conviction for a similar crime in 1996.
“Every bit of our success is owed to the Lab for providing us with the DNA match,” Rennison said.
After her attack, Jennifer lay in a field for 12 hours before she was discovered, near death. A few days later from her hospital bed, she was scribbling notes to the police—she wrote that her attacker said his name was Dennis—and even working with a sketch artist whose drawing turned out to be amazingly similar to Bradford’s driver’s license picture from the time.
<<<— Jennifer Schuett’s second-grade photo
“What she did, what she went through, and to be as strong as she is today,” Rennison said, “is truly incredible.”
“I hope that I can be an example to others—you can have the strength to fight back,” said Jennifer, who still lives near where her attack occurred. “You can get justice, no matter how long it takes.”
Bradford, 40, has been charged with attempted capital murder, which can carry a life sentence. Jennifer looks forward to facing her attacker in court. “It’s something I want to do,” she said, “and something I have to do.”