ELKHART — Natalie Garrett’s alarm clock went off at 4:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 2.
She got out of bed, opened the door to the balcony of her second-floor apartment in the North Lake apartment complex off C.R. 4 and went about getting ready for work.
The 50-year-old nurse was almost ready to leave — she only needed to put her shoes on — and went back into the bedroom to check herself in the mirror before heading out the door.
“I was standing in front of the mirror and I heard the screen door slide open,” she said.
She turned around and found herself face-to-face with a 6-foot-tall black man wearing jeans and a dark sweatshirt.
She asked him what he wanted. The man stuck his head out of the bedroom door, looking around to see if there was anyone else in the apartment. He asked if she lived alone.
Garrett lied and told him she did not. She asked him again what he wanted.
“You,” he said.
“The only thing I saw when I looked at him was the faces of my three children,” Garrett said. “I have three grown boys and six grandchildren and I thought I was never going to see them again.”
The man sexually assaulted her, and when it was over, he ordered her into the bathroom and told her to get in the shower and turn it on. He told her not come out until he was finished.
“He shut the door and I could hear him going through my drawers and stuff,” Garrett said. “I yelled, ‘Are you done? Can I come out? I have $20 in my wallet. Just take it please.’”
When he said she could come out of the bathroom, the man was standing near the stairs leading down to the front door of the apartment holding Garrett’s cell phone.
“I didn’t realize he took my car keys until he was gone,” she said. Several days later she realized he had also taken her wallet.
After he left, she was afraid to go outside. It was dark, and she didn’t know if the man was still hanging around somewhere.
“I sat in my living room looking out the window and praying for it to get daylight,” Garrett said. “At one point it just hit me that I wasn’t safe in here either because he has my keys.”
After what seemed like forever, she saw three teenagers walking to the bus stop.
“I’ve never run so fast in my life,” she said.
She sprinted down the stairs, out the door and over to the teens. They let her borrow a cell phone and she called her aunt, the only number she knew without her phone.
She hadn’t cried throughout her entire ordeal, but broke down when she heard her aunt’s voice on the other end of the line.
Garrett waited for her aunt huddled in a corner at a neighbor’s apartment. She saw some maintenance workers from the apartment complex and flagged them down. They called the police.
Since the attack, Garrett said she has experienced “an absolute outpouring of support” from family, friends and coworkers.
One of her sons and his friends packed up her entire apartment for her. Her possessions are waiting in the middle of her old apartment until she finds a new place.
Her daughter-in-law and some friends are plastering Elkhart with fliers of the sketch of the suspect drawn by an Indiana State Police sketch artist.
Garrett has made it her mission to get the sketch out to the public and track down her attacker.
“Someone out there knows him and knows what he’s done,” she said.
The man is in his late 20s or early 30s and is 6 feet tall with a thin build and a scraggly goatee, she told police.
Garrett said her attacker took her sense of security along with her possessions.
“I had never faced fear or danger such as that in my life,” Garrett said. “I had cancer and went through chemo in 2010 and that was a cakewalk compared to when someone came into my home.”
“I thought the second floor was safer,” she said. “I’m 10 feet off the ground. I leave my patio door open a lot and never think about it.”
She said she thinks the man climbed up to her balcony on the electrical boxes on the side of the building.
“I worked my ass off to get what I had,” she said. “It’s not your choice that I move. He took that away.”
Garrett said women, especially those who live alone, should take precautions to protect themselves.
“I had nothing in my home to use as self defense other than a kitchen knife and I couldn’t get to those,” she said. “Carry Mace, a knife, get a gun permit, whatever you have to do, and keep the doors locked when you’re at home.”
Women should also keep a list of important phone numbers with them.
“I knew one number and that’s because she’s had it for 40 years,” Garrett said. “Don’t rely on your phone.”
She hopes the community will be a little safer when her rapist is off the streets.
“He didn’t take my family, my friends or my self-respect,” she said. “I will find him.”
Anyone with information on the incident is asked to contact the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department at (574) 891-2100.