Marcie Gerald was your average Midwest teenager. She was a member of the Rainbow Girls, a Masonic youth organization that teaches leadership training through community service. She took dance classes, modeled, acted in her school play, was loved for her humor and was “an amazing little girl.” But all of that changed after she was sexually assault.
At the time Marcie was 14; her rapist somewhere between 28 and 30. Recently released from the Illinois Department of Corrections, he saw the young teen walking down the street one day and her life would never be the same.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Marcie’s mother, Elizabeth Gerald said. “Before [Marcie] was raped she was beautiful. She was an honor roll student, she was interested in going to Harvard Law. After the rape, she was very depressed; she spiraled down, she would sit in the tub and scrub herself raw. She would have anxiety attacks. It was like night and day. He took her soul the day he assaulted her.”
The day of the brutal attack Marcie sent a text to her mother saying she had been assaulted. “I thought maybe she got into a fight or something,” Gerald recalled. “She told me where she was and when I got there she was crying and she told me what happened.” Gerald called 911 and officers transported the teen to the hospital; her uterus and ovaries were so inflamed she couldn’t walk. When doctors administered the rape kit, they immediately knew who Marcie’s rapist was because he was already in the system. But catching the man who sexually assaulted her didn’t stop Marcie from feeling raped over and over again in the court room when she had to face her attacker during his trial. In order to take his plea deal, the repeat offender had to confess every detail of his crime and, according to Gerald, that’s what made things worse.
“[Marcie] became suicidal after that. [Her rapist] had to tell everything he did and the bad thing about it is to this day, as far as I know, he’s never really showed any remorse. I don’t know if he knows she’s deceased or not but never once did he apologize. He would look at her and wink. He just kept saying, ‘Look at how pretty she is.’ He basically told her that if she wouldn’t have been so pretty he wouldn’t have been so attracted to her and that was why he attacked her and that made her feel worse, to know you’ve been raped because you have a pretty face. He never took any responsibility.”
It was the court room experience that actually convinced Gerald to push for her daughter’s rapist to take a plea deal. During the trial, Marcie would come home and cut herself after hearing her attacker’s testimony. “I said we can’t keep doing this; we have to take the plea and get it over with.”
Marcie’s first suicide attempt took place in April 2014. Her older brother, Hermari, found her lying on the floor of her bedroom foaming at the mouth after drinking bleach. EMTs took her to a pediatric hospital where her stomach was pumped and she spent time in a mental health hospital for a couple of weeks after the incident. The second time Marcie attempted suicide by cutting herself. The third time, Gerald said, was after her daughter’s rapist took the plea and confessed to sexually assaulting her. “She had to relive it all over again and she never got over that.”
Because Marcie’s rapist threatened to have members of the Chicago gang Gangster Disciples harm her and her family, she began homeschooling following the attack. Freshman year she was placed in a therapeutic school and still maintained honor roll standing while getting treatment from the Laynie Foundation, a non-profit mental health agency in Matteson, IL.
“She would have her ups and downs,” Gerald said, “but the last year, 2015, was just a bad year for us because my sister died of cancer in January, then my brother called me crying saying his son had been murdered, one of my best friend’s died. It was just death after death after death and I think it was just too much and it pushed her over the edge.”
July 19, 2015 would prove to be the day Marcie could no longer put up the fight, though by all accounts the day was like any other Gerald said. “That Sunday she had a regular day; we had Sunday dinner, we went to church. Marcie was into healthy hair and her weight so we would go to the health food store and she would get natural soaps and products and I asked her did she need me to do anything for her before I laid down and she said no.
“She did ask me to make her a bath — she liked lavender oil and almond milk bath beads — so I did that and she took a bath and relaxed and I laid down. After midnight she came downstairs and said ‘I love you mommy’ and I said ‘I love you too baby’ and gave me a hug and kiss and she just laid down with me like she always did.”
Around 6 am Monday, July 20, Gerald attempted to wake her daughter and couldn’t. “I said ‘Marcie, get up” and nothing happened and I said it again and shook her and when I still couldn’t wake her up, I grabbed her from the front and said ‘Marcie, Marcie’ and she wouldn’t wake up.”
Hermari told his mom to call 911 and paramedics arrived on the scene within a few minutes and transported Marcie to the emergency room. Gerald threw on a robe and slippers and rode with her daughter in the ambulance. While in the waiting room a nurse told Gerald the doctor wanted her to start calling family members and she didn’t understand why. A few minutes later, the nurse, doctor, and a third person asked Gerald if they could speak with her in a private room and asked her to take a seat.
“At that time the third person informed me he was a chaplain and it still didn’t dawn on me what was going on. The doctor said ‘Miss Gerald, this is one of the hardest parts of my job’ and I said ‘Oh my God, what’s wrong? Does she need to be switched to another hospital?’ and he told me she was expired. He said there’s nothing else they could do. She’s gone. It’s like I could hear it but I started going into a twilight zone.”
At 15, Marcie had overdosed on Tramadol, the narcotic she had been prescribed to deal with the pain and inflammation she’d suffered as a result of her rape.
Though it has yet been a year since Marcie passed, her mother wasted no time turning her pain into action to prevent other people from having to experience the loss she did. “One thing I learned is that when people don’t stay active they sit in the house and they break down. I decided not to let her death be in vain and I started going around spreading suicide awareness and I speak on mental illness issues and rape. That’s what helps me.”
Gerald said it was hearing people repeatedly say “Black people don’t kill themselves” that made her share Marcie’s story with the world.
“The thing is, suicide is the third leading cause of death and I’ve had people say they have lost children, husbands, wives, all types of best friends to suicide but a lot of people don’t want to come out and say it was suicide. They’d rather say it was a natural cause or accidental death because of the stigma in the African American community… We brush it under the rug; it’s a secret.
“Since I’ve been going around talking on sexual assault and bullying I’ve had women and, believe it or not, men tell me they were molested as children and their mothers would say ‘What goes on in this house stays in this house’ and they never got treated.”
It’s those stories that keep Gerald motivated, and though suicide and sexual assault are personal to her, she has a message for the Black community at large.
“One of the things we have to learn to do as African Americans is we have to learn how to love and be kind to one another. We’ve got to unite. We’re the most religious race, but were also the most dysfunctional; we’re the most separated. Men call women hos, thots, B’s; women think it’s cute to be a bad B. We’ve got to come together. We’re the only race that doesn’t come together and the stuff that happens to us we don’t hear about, and the stuff that does make the news is the homicides and gang shootings but it’s just as many suicides as it is homicides. I’ve lost three nephews to gun violence and I lost my step-son. I tell people, the pain is the same whether it’s a homicide or a suicide because they’re not coming back. We’ve got to come together to save our youth and our adults because mental illness is real in the Black community.”
Gerald is also doing work on the legislative front to get a bill passed that would impart severe consequences for individuals whose actions tangentially lead to another’s suicide.
“I feel like if a person causes a person to take their life, whether it’s assault, bulling, taunting, domestic violence, sexual assault you should be charged for that person’s death.”
Such a law would certainly affect Marcie’s rapist who was only sentenced to eight years behind bars after coping his plea deal. He will spend the rest of his life on parole.
“Marcie just had a sweet 16; her birthday was January 3 and because of this man I had to take flowers and balloons to a cemetery,” Gerald said. “She should have been here, but she’s in peace; her pain is over.”