A Delaware woman was expecting her most recent vacation to be filled with relaxation and fun, but it soon turned into a nightmare when she was brutally attacked and left to die in the resort’s basement.
Months after the traumatic incident, Tammy Lawrence-Daley finally feels comfortable to share her story and come to terms with what happened during her trip to the Dominican Republic.
“I had to take some time to heal before I could put it out there,” Lawrence-Daley, 51, tells PEOPLE. “I’m in a place in my healing that I felt strong enough to be able to share it without breaking down and without worrying [about] what others are going to judge me.”
“I’m at the point where I feel strong enough that I want to get this information out there because women need to understand they can’t walk around by themselves,” she adds. “I hate to say that, but it’s the truth. What I went through, I would never wish on anyone.”
As well as speaking to PEOPLE, Lawrence-Daley also told her story to friends in a powerful Facebook post she shared Wednesday entitled “My Story.”
“How do you explain to your kids you were almost killed by some random stranger and that ‘Mommy is coming home, but I don’t look like myself’? How do you look into your parents eyes as they gaze upon your battered face telling them, ‘I’m okay, I’ll be okay’. Seeing friends break down in tears as they look at you. Everyone asking, ‘why?’, ‘how?’ You tell them a story. You recount every detail very matter of fact so that you don’t break down, that you stay strong… so they don’t see how you are crumbling inside with fear, disappointment, and weakness.”
Lawrence-Daley’s story began back in January when she went on vacation with her husband and their best friends Diane and James Doering.
The couples, who had arrived on a Monday, were staying at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana called Majestic Elegance and looked forward to their week-long trip of “sunshine and beach-time.”
On the second day of their vacation, the friends spent the day at the beach before meeting up later on for a theater show and dancing. Around 10:30 p.m., Lawrence-Daley said they headed back to their rooms but she started to get hungry.
After attempting to get room service and learning that the resort was allegedly no longer delivering food, Lawrence-Daley said she decided to go downstairs to their resort’s lounge and grab a snack. “I told my husband… I’d be back in 5 minutes,” she wrote.
As it would turn out, Lawrence-Daley never returned. Instead, the mom of two, who had gone to the beach-side lounge in the building over, was suddenly attacked while walking back to her room alone in the rotunda between buildings.
“That’s when I heard it. Heavy footsteps… one, two, three, four, then they sped up, and then before I could react I was plowed into from behind and immediately immobilized,” she continued. “His arms wrapped around me and he started pulling me immediately into an unlocked maintenance room.”
WARNING: Photo below may be distressing to some readers.
According to Lawrence-Daley, she was then dragged down concrete stairs, around a corner, and into the crawlspace of an underground piped area filled with 2 to 4 inches of wastewater — an area Daley referred to as a “hole” — where she lay in horrific pain for the next eight hours.
“I call it a hole because that’s what it felt like when I was in it,” she explains to PEOPLE. “I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t stand up and I couldn’t find my way out… I had no clue where I was. All I knew was I was in this hole basically buried alive.”
It was in this hole that the attacker, who she says was wearing a resort uniform, strangled her multiple times, kicked her in the head, and beat her with a club.
It is possible he also sexually assaulted due to “damage down there”, but she is not entirely sure, as the beating was so vicious her eyes were swollen shut and she was going in and out of consciousness from a concussion. An external rape kit was administered days after the incident which was too late to determine anything definitively.
“I couldn’t sit up without dry heaves because my face was battered so badly,” Lawrence-Daley recalls. “When I finally could sit up, all I could think of was, ‘I’m never going to get out of here, I’m going to die here, they will never find me.'”
Her husband and friends, meanwhile, spent the evening searching for Lawrence-Daley. The resort staff allegedly insisted to them that Lawrence-Daley was just drunk and likely passed out somewhere — something that her husband knew was uncharacteristic of his wife.
At some point in time, Lawrence-Daley says a “calmness” eventually came over her and her survival instincts began to kick in. Despite not being able to see from her swollen eyes and fearing she may drown, Lawrence-Daley attempted to use her other senses to escape.
“I thought, ‘I’m gonna get out of here. I just have to figure out how,'” she says, noting that the attacker left everything on her, including her bag with her phone, but she was unable to successfully use Siri to call someone because there was no service.
“There was a point I sat there picking up stones seeing if I could hit something metal like a door, trying to gauge how big the space was [or] if there was a door somewhere nearby I could get out of,” she recalls.
“It’s a crazy thing when you’re in that mindset. It’s the survival mechanism kicks in and says, ‘I’m not going down without a fight,'” Lawrence-Daley adds.
WARNING: Photo below may be distressing to some readers.
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Lawrence-Daley was finally discovered early the next morning, nearly eight hours later, when she heard voices on the floor above her and began to desperately call for help.
After several people arrived to help her, the mom of two was transported to a local medical clinic, where she spent five days being treated for her injuries, which included the inside of her mouth being “ripped apart”, a broken nose, a fractured hand, and a partial loss of hearing in her left ear.
Though most of her injuries were internal and depend on the scar tissue healing with time, Lawrence-Daley says there’s one thing she’s particularly upset about.
“I always said the one thing I loved about myself was my smile,” she shares. “I always have a smile for everybody, I love my sense of humor and that’s the one thing that guy stole from me. He stole my smile and that just kills me.”
In the time since that day, Lawrence-Daley says she has slowly returned to work as a finance manager (she works 2-3 days in the office and the rest from home) but has a daily “hypervigilance” when it comes to anyone approaching her.
“I do have issues today reacting to men and them coming at me, even in a friendly manner… My head is on a swivel. I’m looking out the corner of my eye, I’m turning around,” Lawrence-Daley tells PEOPLE. “I can’t walk down corridors without having panic attacks.”
The anxiety has proven so debilitating that Lawrence-Daley now has a personal office at work so she never has her back to anyone and can see everyone who walks toward her.
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The mom of two also says she has been pressing the matter with local police and Majestic Elegance resort in hopes they will continue their investigation.
However, due to lack of evidence, the different crime procedures in the Dominican Republic, and the fact she may have to return to the Carribean country to testify — something she does not want to do — Lawrence-Daley has been told nothing will likely come of it.
“One lawyer told us the only choice you have is to go home and forget about it,” she explains. “That’s not something that you want to hear… This isn’t how it should happen.”
“Everybody has told us, it doesn’t matter, they’re corrupt. The evidence will get lost, you’re not going to win anything,” she adds. “[I feel] anger. Why can’t they do this? Why don’t they have the proper things to find fingerprints or to find the person who did this?”
According to her Facebook post, Majestic Elegance “claims no responsibility for the attack since I couldn’t identify the attacker (even though he was wearing a uniform WITH the resort logo and hit me directly in front of the unlocked maintenance room and dragged me down concrete stairs to a basement so that no one could hear or find me.)”
Representatives at Majestic Elegance Resort and the Dominican Republic Police Department did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Still, Lawrence-Daley hopes that by sharing this story, it will encourage both men and women to keep their guard up while walking alone.
“This man thought he killed me, but he failed. He is still out there, a predator, waiting for his next victim,” she said in her post.
She also stresses the importance of not blaming oneself for such an awful incident, though she struggles with this at times.
“I internalize this. ‘This is my fault, I got myself into this situation,'” she tells PEOPLE. “I feel horrendous that I put my husband and my friends through this situation. Their lives are changed forever, as well as mine.”
“Because I internalize everything and blame myself for the situation, I want to make sure that others who have gone through similar situations don’t blame themselves,” Lawrence-Daley adds. “That they realize that we didn’t ask for this, we didn’t cause this. This was somebody else deciding to do this and we have to find ourselves blameless in this whole situation.”