COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Kerri Riccardi Strausbaugh’s first class at Ohio State University didn’t start until 10:20, and it was a “dark day” — one without practice — at the studio where she is a ballet dancer.
So on Nov. 28, the same as every other Monday, she parked her car and headed on her 20-minute walk to her math class in Caldwell Laboratory. She hung a left, took a right onto 19th Avenue and it was there that she noticed people milling about, saw the firetrucks on the corner.
“There was no tension in the air,” she said.
She kept walking. Then she heard the screams.
She stopped, turned, looked behind her: “I see people running in all directions.”
That’s when he attacked.
A man whom Columbus police would later identify as Abdul Razak Ali Artan confronted Strausbaugh as he ran down 19th Avenue. He sliced her left bicep with a butcher knife.
The 27-year-old knew she was hurt, but there was no time to wonder what was happening, no time to check the wound. No time to do anything but run.
“Your body kind of takes over,” she said, recalling the incident with her husband, Victor, squeezing her hand in both of his as the two sat together on the stage at Columbus Dance Theatre, Strausbaugh’s professional home. “I don’t think I’ve ever run that fast in my life.”
Strausbaugh ran into a nearby building — she doesn’t know which one — and someone unlocked a computer-lab door. Once inside, terrified students and Ohio State employees turned off the lights and huddled under desks and in corners.
No one knew what was happening; they could only imagine the worst. Everyone tried to stay silent, Strausbaugh said, in case someone stormed into the building to hunt them down.
That’s when she turned to the others. “I’m hit,” she remembered telling them. “He got me.”
But that’s about all she wants you to know about the moment that a stranger stabbed her. Because, as Strausbaugh tells the story through tears that she swipes away and apologizes for, she says she would rather you never think of that moment again. She would rather you know instead about all the good that came after.
She has not once asked, “Why me?” about the day that Artan jumped a curb in his Honda Civic and plowed into a crowd of students and Ohio State employees in the courtyard next to Watts Hall on 19th Avenue, then charged at people with his knife.
Thirteen people were hurt before the rampage ended less than two minutes after it began, when OSU Police Officer Alan Horujko shot and killed Artan, an 18-year-old student in the College of Business. Authorities said they think that Artan, a Somali immigrant, was inspired to violence by the radical Islamic movement.
Strausbaugh and her husband haven’t watched much news since the attack, haven’t read any reports. They have instead been focused on healing, on prayers for the others affected and on praise for the first responders who rushed in as others fled.
Neither is angry. Strausbaugh said she harbors no hate in her heart.
“One second of trauma was over-washed by every moment of goodness,” she said. “Every moment after … leaves me in complete awe of how good humans can be when they see another person in need.”
Once inside the building, a woman Strausbaugh didn’t know eased the plaid scarf from Strausbaugh’s neck and fashioned a tourniquet as the two slid their backs down a wall to sit side by side on the floor until help could be summoned.
“She was so calm,” Strausbaugh said of the woman. “And so kind.”
A young student knelt in front of her and clutched Strausbaugh’s hand: “He just kept saying, ‘It’s going to be OK. You’re going to be OK.'”
Jammed phone lines made it difficult to immediately get out calls for help, Strausbaugh said. Yet in what seemed like a matter of minutes, a paramedic arrived to walk her to a waiting ambulance. She asked then, for the first time, if she could call her husband.
“I led off with, ‘I’m OK .'” she said.
Victor picked up the story .”But I could tell she wasn’t.”
He left his job as and made it to OhioHealth Grant Medical Center before his wife’s ambulance did.
The blessings, they said, continued. The police officers who stood guard in her room were funny and compassionate and tried so hard to put them at ease. And the doctors told Strausbaugh that she was lucky because the wound wasn’t severe: about a 5-inch slice straight across the bicep. The knife nicked the muscle, but there would be no lasting damage. Twelve stitches, and she was on her way home.
The emotional scars aren’t as easily dismissed.
But the Strausbaughs said what happened will only strengthen them.
“There’s short-term pain where you feel betrayed by humanity. It stings,” said Victor, 31. “But either everything is a miracle, or nothing is a miracle. We would rather focus on the compassion, the goodness and the love.”
Strausbaugh, a New York native, is a sophomore studying to be an elementary-school teacher. She carries a 3.7 GPA, dances full time with Columbus Dance Theatre and teaches at the theater’s school. She got her stitches out and had a doctor’s appointment between her final exams and presentations. But much of the rest of the time was spent rehearsing for the company’s annual production of “Matchgirl,” a ballet that director Tim Veach wrote and choreographed based on a Hans Christian Andersen short story.
Strausbaugh took her first ballet class before she was 3, and she studied at the School of American Ballet in New York City. Before joining Columbus Dance Theatre three seasons ago, she danced with BalletMet. That she was able to return to rehearsals just days after the attack was not insignificant for her.
“Dancing is a way for me to express my emotions,” she said. “My art is not in words, but in movement. It’s a point of release for me.”
The roles she dances are especially meaningful now.
In “Matchgirl,” a young girl’s abusive father banishes her to the streets, where the flame of a match allows her to see joyful visions and offers her momentary solace. That flame also brings her warmth and light in moments of darkness.
And among the central themes of “Matchgirl” are compassion, redemption, forgiveness and hope.
The symbolism is not lost on Veach.
“The whole crux of the ballet is that people can be terrible to each other, truly terrible, but in the end they are people. And underneath all of that terribleness is a kernel of humanity. If only we could reach in and find it,” he said. “And that’s how Kerri has always seen her role — to reach underneath the terribleness. Now she has another voice to do it with.”
Ballet, she knows, will help heal her spirit. She said she will never make sense of what happened, but she hopes she can help others overcome trauma and find a path out of pain.
“To be the light in the dark,” she said, crying again. “Then this will have all been worth it.”
As for the residue left by the attack? Her external scar will fade; she’s still working on the invisible ones. But she has kept that red-and-blue plaid scarf that a stranger used to stem her bleeding that day, tucked it away.
It is, she said, not a symbol of pain but instead a reminder that life can be beautiful and kind.
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