December 26, 2013

Maine woman still fighting back after vicious attack

Kayleigh Ballantyne of Gorham talks about her ordeal in South Boston and her recovery in the months since.

By Steve Solloway ssolloway@pressherald.com
Columnist

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Kayleigh Ballantyne, of Gorham, plays field hockey for Bryant College at a game with UMaine in Orono on Oct. 6, a few months after she was stabbed by an assailant outside her South Boston apartment. “He tried to take my life,” she says.

Michael C. York/Special to the Press Herald

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Kayleigh Ballantyne with her mother, Kim, after a field hockey game with UMaine in Orono on Oct. 6.

Additional Photos Below

When Saucier met Kayleigh, the Gorham High graduate, she didn’t make the family connection at first. When she did, she was stunned.

Saucier rushed to Kayleigh’s bedside soon after she learned of the attack. They held hands, and Kayleigh cried. “Coach, I won’t be able to play for you this year.”

Saucier looked at her captain. Medical personnel were still tending to her wounds. “They didn’t have a chance to clean her up. There was still blood in her hair. But she was going to make it. That’s all that mattered.”

When Saucier met with her shaken players, she told them they weren’t dedicating the season to Kayleigh because she was assaulted so brutally. They would dedicate the season to the example Kayleigh set by fighting back. That resonated with young women who easily saw themselves in their wounded teammate.

WORRIES AND A MESSAGE

Kayleigh was cleared medically for full participation with her field hockey team on Sept. 18, two weeks into the season. The next day, she was on the flight taking the Bryant team to St. Louis for a weekend of games. Kim was there. Seeing her daughter play again so soon after the attack wasn’t so much a surprise as confirmation of Kayleigh’s resiliency.

Kayleigh’s left arm hurt. Her stamina lagged but she played, if not every minute. The high point of her season came at UMaine in early October. She scored a goal and assisted on another, although Bryant lost, 3-2, in overtime. Her family and friends were there that day. It was the best homecoming.

She did have episodes when the pressure of juggling schoolwork, field hockey, pain and memories of the attack were too much. Her teammates’ understanding was their gift to her.

“I get nervous around strangers,” Kayleigh said. “I want to know who’s behind me. I worry about my family, what might happen to them. I have to learn to trust people again.”

Most of all, she didn’t want others to think she was vulnerable. She didn’t want to bother anyone with her problems. “I had to be told, it’s OK to be sad. I had tried to act like this was just a bump in the road. I had to realize I’m really not OK. Someone tried to take my life and not because I did anything wrong.”

Bryant qualified for its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament. The week before the first game was difficult. “I had a lot on my plate,” she said. “I was the team captain. I had no time to sit and relax and take everything in. Right before the tournament I had a presentation to make in one class and an exam in another. I left practice crying. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I called my mom. I said, ‘I can’t do this. I’m coming home.’ ”

Her mother told her she couldn’t. They would work through it like everything else that’s happened in their lives. They did. Kayleigh is on track to graduate in the spring with a major in communications. She thinks about becoming a motivational speaker, telling women, especially, that they can fight back.

‘I NEEDED TO SEE THAT’

On Dec. 11 in a South Boston courtroom, Alemany answered 20 counts of an indictment that included kidnapping, murder and armed assault with intent to murder. He pleaded not guilty. He will go to trial in 2014. He has been held at Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts, undergoing psychological evaluations.

Kayleigh, Keegan and Kim Ballantyne were in the small courtroom, along with Saucier and a couple of Kayleigh’s closest friends. About 30 members of Amy Lord’s family were also there.

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Additional Photos

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Kayleigh Ballantyne, right, of Gorham, hugs her father, Bruce, during the Opening Convocation at Bryant University in Rhode Island on Sept. 4. Kayleigh received the university’s Character Award for her courage in confronting her assailant.

David Silverman photo

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Edwin Alemany, 28, appears in court on Aug. 14. Besides facing charges in the attack on Kayleigh Ballantyne, he is a suspect in the fatal stabbing of Amy Lord of Wilbraham, Mass., and other assaults.

 


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