Wendy Birdsall has survived so much.
Homelessness. Crack addiction. Run-ins with the law. Being raped 11 years go.
“They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger,” says Birdsall, 43.
Clean now for seven years and attending Southern Methodist University, Birdsall hadn't thought of that rape in years. Last month, she came home to find a card on her door telling her to call an investigator. She thought at first perhaps something from her past had come back to haunt her.
When she finally met with the investigator, she learned that police had a suspect in her rape. His name is Roy Gutierrez, a suspect in a series of attacks dating back more than a decade.
“I was really shocked that they found the guy,” she says.
When she saw his picture, she says knew it was the man who attacked her – the same man accused of raping a young woman behind a building on the edge of Deep Ellum in June.
“All these years, I had no idea what his name was,” she says.
Seeing his picture took her back to a dark traumatic place in her life. What really upsets her is to find that his DNA had been matched to her case nearly two years after her attack. She did not know about the DNA match until last month.
It's not clear why the case wasn't filed against him at the time.
“Part of me is angry, really angry,” she says.
The only explanation she’s received so far is that there are cracks in the criminal justice system. That is hardly a comfort to victims.
“Every single girl after that that was a victim, did not have to be a victim,” she says.
A recent search of police records revealed that Gutierrez had been suspected in seven rapes between 2004 and 2007, according to court documents.
Gutierrez is currently in the Dallas County jail. He is charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault – one for the Deep Ellum case and the other for Birdsall’s case.
On that night in November 2006, Birdsall and her boyfriend got into an argument outside. A white car pulled up. The man inside asked, “Hey are you alright? You need me to take you somewhere.”
Birdsdall says she was so mad at her boyfriend that she got in the car. Before she knew it, the man was driving to a place way out of the area.
“I knew in the pit of my stomach something was wrong,” she says. “At that time, I was not a Christian. I started praying to God, ‘If you’re real, help me.'”
The man pulled into a wooded area. He raped her at gunpoint in the car. He ordered her out of the vehicle and raped her again. When he turned his back to retrieve his gun, she ran as fast as she could. He fired his gun at her at least twice.
“I kept running,” Birdsall said. “I was so terrified.”
She ran to several houses, but no one would answer. She heard a car and knew it had to be her attacker, so she jumped a 10-foot fence. The homeowner came out and called the police.
The next year, in 2007, Gutierrez was identified as a potential suspect in a series of attacks that had occurred over a two-year period, according to 2007 police report.
There had been several rapes involving a Hispanic male in a small silver car. In each case, the rapist had picked up the victims and taken them to same wooded area.
On Sept. 21, 2007, an officer drove to that area in the early morning hours, looking for possible victims. When he got there, he saw a vehicle matching the suspect’s vehicle description.
The officer saw Gutierrez getting out of the car. The officer saw an undressed woman in the back seat.
She told police that she had gotten into an argument with her boyfriend in East Dallas and that she had packed her clothing when he drove up and offered her a ride.
She told police that he drove her to a wooded area and tried to rip her dress off, saying, “It goes off like this.”
She told police that he threatened to stab her and raped her, saying, “You like this, don’t you.”
Gutierrez was arrested at the scene. He was charged with aggravated sexual assault. He pleaded guilty in a plea deal to aggravated assault.
He violated probation and served five years in prison. Gutierrez was released in 2014.
Birdsall says it took years for her to understand that the rape was not her fault. She says she plans to testify against him to make sure he can’t do it to anyone else. She says she forgave him for what he did, not for him, but for herself.
“I am a survivor,” she says. “I’m not a victim. I’m an overcomer.”
A one-time high school dropout, she graduated from El Centro with honors. She celebrated seven years drug-free last week.
She’s scheduled to graduate next year with degrees in applied psychology and health management.
“My life is a walking testimony,” she says. “I know for a fact that somebody upstairs loves me.”