WARNING - GRAPHIC CONTENT: A mother who survived a horrific attack at Faleula where her “stalker” savagely deformed her face is a woman living in fear. Maria Tupuola, 41, says she is only alive thanks to her son, Willie, who saved her during an attack in front of the gates of the Faleula Catholic Church in October last year that changed her life forever.
The scars tell a story and her deformed face is a reminder about what happened that day. She continues to have nightmares about it, saying this has robbed her of her courage, trust and freedom to live without fear.
Her attacker is a convict who escaped from prison and stalked her through phone calls and text messages.
But it’s not just her who suffered. Her son is equally traumatised by the experience. “Not one day since it happened that he has not woken up from his sleep crying,” Ms. Tupuola says. “He no longer sleeps with me.
He sleeps between my brothers because he feels safe there…when he wakes up crying he would say this over and over again, ‘I saw him and he was chopping woods on the back of my mother. (o la e tata fafie ile tua o lou tina).”
In 2014 Ms. Tupuola received a random phone call that changed her life forever.
To the widow and mother of two teenage boys, the caller had dialed the wrong number.
“He was the monster that did this to my face,” she recalled.
“I don’t know who he was and how he got my phone number. After that first phone call he then continued to call me and sent me text messages.
“He told me he was an engineer that comes to Samoa for business and leaves the country after those jobs. He identified himself as Ray…I only knew him through the phone and the things he’s telling me. He said to me that if he doesn’t call me for a while then it means that he’s overseas for business.”
According to the mother, Ray was “sweet” and had contacted her from time to time.
“At one time he asked me (on the phone) why I wasn’t in another relationship,” she said.
“I never told him about my husband and personal things about my life. It was strange that he knew some things about me yet I had never met him. So I told him that I made a promise to my husband and mother that I would not marry again.”
Ms. Tupuola recalled that Ray then asked if they could be just friends and keep in contact on the phone.
“He was kind of like a blind date. I didn’t know him and he doesn’t know me, well that’s what I thought.”
It wasn’t until one day when she was out shopping for things to care for her elderly father at the S.N.P.F. Plaza that she got a text message from Ray to call her.
“I called his number and I was quite surprised when a man that was standing across from me answered the phone,” she said. “Then I asked him if he was the one that’s been calling and texting me name Ray and he replied yes. After that I told him I had to go home to take our shopping and we went our separate ways.”
Ms. Tupuola said as she was heading home, it dawned on her that the man she had just seen looked familiar.
“I thought to myself I’m sure this man is from the other side of our village,” she said. “When I went home, I asked my brother about the man I had seen and he told me his name wasn’t Ray.
“My brother also told me that man has been in and out of prison and is still serving his time…it all made sense to me that that phone call wasn’t random and he could not have dialed my number by accident.”
It was then that Ms. Tupuola figured out that her attacker has been stalking her all along.
“That’s why he lied about his name and where he was from,” she said. “It made sense that when he told me that he might not keep in contact in other times because he was overseas for business but really he was in prison serving his time.
“I suddenly felt like I was fooled by a convict.”
The mother said when she found out the truth, she confronted him.
“When he called me that night I told him he had lied all along and he had been fooling me,” she said. “He admitted that he lied about everything and it was true he was doing time but he wanted to know me a little more. I didn’t want to and from that day I began to ignore his calls and messages.”
Ms. Tupuola said from then on Ray began to be aggressive. She reported him to the Police.
“He started sending me messages threatening me,” she recalled. “He calls me from different numbers so I would not know that it would be him. He continued to threaten me and eventually he made his first attempt to finish me when I was sleeping inside my family house at Faleula.
“I was fast asleep but something just woke me up. I looked around I felt like something was wrong and there he was inside our house.”
Ms. Tupuola said if she hadn’t woke up on that night she would have been dead.
“He had used a knife to cut through the curtains and our mosquito net,” she recalled.
“He was ready to finish me on that night but luckily I woke up before he did and called out to my family who came and chased him away.”
The mother said she feared for her life and went as far as making an application for a protection order. Her daily routine was suddenly disrupted where she could no longer walk home after work.
“I had to wait for my brother to pick me up from work,” she said. “I felt trapped and afraid of what he would do to me. If he was able to get in my house without us knowing I might not know what he could do next.”
The mother said when the matter was reported to police, Ray was in custody. He was later released on bail. She still insists that if police had listened to her and kept her stalker behind bars she would not have suffered such pain.
“When I was told he was released on bail, I kept asking the police about my safety and my children,” she pointed out.
“They told me I would be okay no harm will come to me but they should have listened to me…look at me now.”
Two weeks after the first attack Ms. Tupuola went through what she had feared. It was around 5.45am on a Thursday when she started walking from home with her niece and her son to go to church.
“I do the Bible reading every Thursday. It was like every other morning that we walk to church. My son Willie was singing the Psalm and walking a little faster than me and my niece.
“We were right in front of our church’s gate when it all happened.”
Ms. Tupuola said she saw him and knew he got her for good this time.
“He pushed my niece out of the way and then punched me,” she recalled. “I didn’t fall but I started to run. I didn’t get any far until I felt the first slash on the side of my head. I lost a finger and I would’ve lost more if I hadn’t had my hands on my head…it was then that I cried out to my son to get help.
“The second slash was my back and that was when I fell on my knees and the third hit I slipped on the pool of blood. That is all I remember from that day and I only woke up being in the hospital.”
Willie, 14 years old still remembers that day like it was yesterday.
“He chased after me,” said the teenager. “I cried and ran to the church where a man came running from inside the church. I turned around and he (Ray) had ran off so we went and carried my mother.”
Willie said the police were called for help but had only showed up hours later.
“They took very long to come,” he said.
“They came too late.”
Ms. Tupuola continued by saying that the incident has changed her life forever.
“I have a lot to be thankful to God for his grace and giving me a second chance,” said the mother.
“What happened has changed who I am and how I live my life. It has affected me physically and mentally…as you can see I can’t say certain words because of what he did to me. My other eye blinks all the time. It has transformed me.”
According to the mother the incidents has affected her ability to assist her family financially.
She can no longer go to work because of fear that her attacker and stalker might strike again.
“My doctor had also advice that I don’t do much labour work,” she said.
“As you can see my right arm looks shorter than the other one because of my injuries. I live in fear and days are the same as night time. Our fight begins at sunset…at that time we watch the doors and stay inside the house fearing for my lives. Everything we do like shower it has to be done before sunset.”
The mother added that since the incident, her son Willie’s effort in school has dropped.
“He’s no longer excited about school,” she said.
“Sometimes his mind wonders off and I know he’s thinking of what happened that day. I feel sad about it and how his grades have fallen compared to previous terms.”
Ms. Tupuola reiterated that she blames the police for not keeping her attacker behind bars when they had the chance.
She said the attack could have been avoided if they had not allowed his bail.
Attempt to get a comment from Police was unsuccessful yesterday.