Johanna Orozco was shot in the face by her ex-boyfriend in 2007, and today travels the country talking to teens about dating violence.
During an appearance at Rossford High School last week, she told her story to a rapt audience of juniors and seniors in the school auditorium, explaining how the former boyfriend, also a teen at the time, became progressively more controlling and abusive, hitting her, throwing her against walls, and disparaging her looks.
“He would put me in front of a mirror and tell me what was wrong with me,” she explained of her ex from high school in Cleveland.
When she finally told him they were through, he broke into her home and raped her at knifepoint, saying he he would kill her if she told anyone. She did confide in close friends, who told a teacher at school, who went to the principal, and the ex-boyfriend, Juan Ruiz, was arrested. He spent four days in jail, then was put in home detention with electronic monitoring that permitted him to go to his job.
“He was released under house arrest, and I wasn’t even notified,” she said, using a PowerPoint presentation that included photographs taken before and after the shotgun attack. “He stalked and harassed me. I called police and they did nothing about it.” She was told that Ohio law did not permit her to obtain a protection order against a minor.
Events reached their horrific climax when Ruiz, “dressed in black and wearing a mask” came after her with a sawed-off shotgun. The blast removed half of her lower jaw, which surgeons painstakingly reconstructed with grafts from a fibula. A high school senior, she finished the year with home schooling and graduated after she was released from the hospital.
Ruiz pleaded guilty to several felonies, including attempted aggravated murder and rape, and was sentenced to 27 years in prison with no parole eligibility.
James Snider, the prevention specialist at the Rossford schools, said he hoped Ms. Orozco’s presentation showed the students what an abusive relationship can lead to. “We want kids to know you don’t have to live like that,” he said. “We want them to recognize that abuse is not normal.”
A survey of Wood County students, he said, showed that 8.5 percent of those in grades seven to 12 reported being hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend, he said.
The audience included Wood County Sheriff's Deputy Anthony Thompson, who is the school resource officer at the Elmwood schools.
Ms. Orozco was scheduled to speak at the high school Sept. 12, but had to cancel when her infant son became ill. Maggie Leahy, a junior, said there was a lot of disappointment at the cancellation and students were delighted when she was rescheduled. “We’ve really looked forward to this,” the 16-year old said before the presentation.
Senior Courtney Morris said she found Ms. Orozco’s story to be “inspiring.”
That’s because it has a happy ending. Ms. Orozco, 24, still bears scars from her attack but has mostly recovered. She is happily married, and her well-publicized case helped change Ohio law, she said. A teen in her situation in 2007 now would be able to get a protection order against another teen, and school health classes must include instruction on teen violence.