Ten years ago today, Becky Slabaugh was in a grim fight for her life. Her then-husband, Bill Slabaugh, ambushed her, grabbing her by the hair and pulling her to the floor in the basement of their Lake Township home. And then, taking a spray bottle filled with the nitric acid he had ordered a few days earlier on the Internet, he drenched her from head to toe. The solution ate the beautiful woman’s skin.
The couple was in the middle of a divorce and Bill was angry.
“If I can’t have you, no one can,” he said, as Becky begged him to stop. “I’ll make sure no one ever wants you.”
What he couldn’t have predicted on that cool Saturday morning was that his wicked plot would eventually land Becky smack in the arms of another man.
The mother of three, and now grandmother of six, endured excruciating treatments, surgery, infections and horrific pain.
With the help of Becky, police reports, and interviews with others, her story was told on the front page of the Beacon Journal in a six-day series on the first anniversary of the attack. (You can read the original series on Ohio.com.) During the reporting process, Becky and I spent hours together. There were many tears — and a few laughs.
With dignity and elegance, she told her story. And though she was at the time sleeping in a tight hood with holes cut out for her eyes, nostrils, ears and mouth, and enduring a grueling regime to aid in the healing of her delicate skin, she hinted at forgiveness.
When I think back, I realize that her grace touched me to my soul. And, apparently, many of you feel the same, as few months go by without someone asking me for an update on Becky.
It is my honor to do so today.
Life after the attack
After the series was published, hundreds of people emailed Becky. And because she wore a clear mask during the day, strangers at places like yard sales and department stores recognized her and asked if they could shake her hand. One of those was Stark County’s Bob Waltz.
During the week that the stories were published, someone at work had dropped a newspaper on a file cabinet outside of Bob’s office at EER in Orrville.
“Thank the stars that I stopped to read it rather than just pass it by like I did on so many other mornings,” Bob said. “I truly believe we were destined to meet and I am so thankful and grateful every day to everything and everyone involved in the chain of events that allowed that to happen.”
While shopping at Kohl’s in Jackson Township, Bob saw Becky and introduced himself as one of her email buddies. As if they were old friends, the two hugged, and the email exchanges continued.
In his messages, Bob told her that when it came to painful issues in his own life, he found that “forgiveness is the only way to true release.” And he explained that she had become part of his daily consciousness.
Becky felt an immediate connection, but had no idea where the man lived until that unexpected meeting at the store.
On Oct. 30, 2010, Bob and Becky exchanged wedding vows at Sippo Lake in Perry Township.
Love of her life
Bill Slabaugh remains in prison, serving a 12-year sentence for kidnapping and assault.
“There is a verse in the Bible that says, ‘You meant it for harm, but God meant it for good,’ ” Becky said softly during a recent interview. “Bill’s intention was destruction, but he opened up the doors of my life and tons of love flooded in from so many people who read my story. One of those was Bob. Now, my life is absolutely everything I could have dreamed or wanted it to be.”
For Becky, Bob is the love of her life, the kindest, gentlest man she has ever known. Bob says he is the luckiest person alive.
Six of Becky’s many joys are her grandchildren, who range in age from 2 to 8. “It’s a little bit like bedlam when we get together,” she said, laughing.
Sadly, her son and daughter-in-law, Jeremy and Carey Bear of California, lost triplets about three years ago. Born at 22 weeks, they were unable to survive. Jeremy, who is remarkably creative and has his mother’s way with words, prepared a touching, albeit sometimes difficult-to-watch video about his three boys (www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTqZepFj_JM) that has been shown around the world.
“They’ve helped a lot of other people through the process of grief,” Becky explained, struggling with her emotions.
For Bob, Becky’s children and grandchildren are a blessing to him. With no biological children, the 60-year-old engineer who now works at Combi Packaging has warmly embraced being a stepdad and grandfather.
“Jeremy, Erin [Burtoft] and Lauren [Martin] are three of the finest people I have ever met,” Bob said. “The way they graciously accepted me into their family, especially after everything Becky had gone through, was both surprising and heartwarming … The grandchildren? Well, they were a bonus I never expected to experience in my life. Becky has brought more than perfect love into my life, she has brought a family.”
The 58-year-old Becky, who is now a staff nurse at IBH Addiction Recovery Center, will tell you that her feelings about July 10, 2004, have evolved.
“I have a bracelet that has a small angel and a small disc engraved with 7-10-04 and ‘Reborn’ that I wear in reverence on that day each year. It is a reminder to myself that our lives can change in a moment. But it is mostly a reminder that great beauty can be born out of tragedy,” she explained. “My life was forever changed and … it has brought me to this place and what I have found is that it really is a beautiful life.”