The victim of an alleged hate crime in Lincoln spoke publicly for the first time yesterday, hours before thousands gathered in Omaha for a vigil in her name.
The victim is Charlie Rogers, a 33-year-old Lincoln woman, University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate and former Husker basketball star. Early Sunday, Rogers, who is gay, says she was attacked by three masked men who broke into her home, tied her up and carved homophobic slurs into her body before attempting to set her home on fire. The incident has drawn national attention, and Lincoln police are investigating it as a hate crime.
In an interview with Omaha television station KETV, Rogers said she is coming forward because she doesn't want to hide from it anymore. "My world has been changed forever," she said. KETV says Rogers went public with her story in response to rumors that have been circulating - mainly online and repeated in newspaper stories - that the attack was a hoax. There has been no evidence to suggest that. Rogers said the doubters are making her a victim all over again. "For people to think this doesn't happen here -- it does. It did," she said. "That people think it's a lie is so hurtful."
Rogers added she is thankful for the outpouring of support from the community that she has received since the attack, particularly in Lincoln and Omaha where multiple vigils have been held in her honor. Thursday night, about two thousand people gathered in Omaha's Memorial Park holding rainbow flags and placards that read "Charlie we are proud of you."
The crowd cheered, cried and prayed as speaker after speaker stood before them. For some, the event was personal. Heather Wilhelm said news of the assault prompted her to step forward and be counted as a gay woman who had never come out. "Out of this horrible and senseless act I will garner the strength and courage to say those three words to the world that defines me. Today, I stand before you, my friends, my family and my community, to say those three words that I have never uttered out loud before. I am gay," Wilhelm declared.
Lincoln police say there are still no suspects in the attack. The investigation is ongoing.