A victim no more

Looking at Tonya Cioffi today, you wouldn't recognize the young woman with the black eyes and battered face of five months ago.

But the 26-year-old never wants to forget the night an ex-boyfriend battered her so severely that the judge who sentenced him called the crime "a murder waiting to happen."

And Cioffi never wants to forget the family members and friends who supported her through the ordeal that began Feb. 18 and ended June 10 when Jeremiah Gottas was sentenced to five years probation with a six-year prison sentence hanging over his head if he violates.

"I feel a lot better now that it's over," Cioffi said. "I feel like more good came out of it than bad. What I am taking away from this is how wonderful the people in this town are, and how supportive. I have the best family ever."

Cioffi's two-hour ordeal began about 10 p.m. Feb. 18. It was her father Pasquale Cioffi's birthday and she returned to her apartment after closing up the family restaurant, Two Guys From Italy.

When she got home, Gottas told her his cell phone was broken and the microwave wouldn't work.

"He just freaked out. I told him to calm down and he said, 'Don't tell me what I need to do,'" she recalled. "He just snapped."

Cioffi said she tried to get away, but was trapped in the kitchen.

"He grabbed me around the throat and told me I couldn't leave," she said. "The whole time I was thinking, 'I am boxed in. There's no way out of the back yard.'"

Cioffi opened the sliding door to the back, hoping a neighbor would hear the commotion.

"It was like a rollercoaster. I could talk to him and calm him to a point, then he'd start yelling until he exploded all over again," she said.

The neighbor called police.

"She could hear us 20 feet away. I will never be so grateful for somebody in my life," she said.

Gottas had Cioffi pinned to the floor.

"He told me to open my eyes and look in his eyes. I didn't want to. When I wouldn't, he punched me in the face. I had to open my eyes. There was so much blood. He was still yelling at me. He went and got me a towel and he was screaming. I thought he was going to kill me by accident," she said.

"He says he doesn't remember. I don't know how he can't remember. It was two hours by the time it was completely over and the deputies had arrested him. By the time it was all over, it was midnight."

Cioffi's mother Mary was one of the first family members to arrive.

"I was floored," Mary Cioffi said. "I got the call about 11:30 p.m. I heard, 'Mom. I need you to come over right away. My face is all smashed in.'"

Mary Cioffi arrived shortly after emergency personnel. It is a sight she will never forget.

"I panicked. I saw all those police cars and I saw Tonya. She had an ice bag on her cheek and there was a puddle of blood on the floor," she said.

Mary Cioffi took a picture of her daughter a couple of days after the attack.

"I wanted to be able to show her later in case she ever gets in a weird relationship again," she said.

But Tonya Cioffi said her relationship with Gottas seemed normal for the 13 months they were together.

She overlooked an e-mail from a previous girlfriend who accused Gottas of battery.

The Friday before the attack she said he punched a hole in the door.

"I told him I was done," she said. "He came back and bought me a dozen roses and was really apologetic. I said, 'you can stay if whoever the hell punched the door is gone.'"

Gottas claimed he couldn't remember what happened because he was drunk. Cioffi said he didn't drink that much, maybe once or twice a month.

Gottas is forbidden to have contact with Cioffi and could be sent to prison he does.

"Sometimes I look for his truck," she said. "But I have an alarm system installed and I feel safe."

The morning after the attack, Cioffi's family arrived and began refurbishing the apartment.

They cleaned up the blood, patched holes in the walls, painted, fixed the doors, bought new towels and bed sheets, got rid of his belongings, and made sure Cioffi would have no physical reminders of the beating once she returned home.

"It was like they purged him out of my life in one day," she said.

Cioffi attended every court proceeding involving the battery.

The first court date was a few days after the attack.

"I thought it would just be me and my mom there," she said. "When I came up the stairs (at the courthouse), I couldn't believe it. There must have been 20 people there for me, my family, my friends, ex-boyfriends."

Cioffi counted on that support to carry her through the next few months.

"It was definitely embarrassing," she said. "But I didn't do anything wrong. I was just a really bad judge of character. I just picked the wrong guy."

Cioffi also benefited from Douglas County's new special victims unit, designed to support domestic violence victims through disposition of the case and beyond.

She qualified for financial assistance from the state-run Victims of Crime fund for medical expenses.

Cioffi is making plans to attend nursing school and get on with her life.

"It would be hard to get through this without all these people," Cioffi said. "They brought me back to the confident me I was before. How do you begin to thank the entire community?"


Family Support Council of Douglas County


The Family Support Council provides a 24-hour crisis line, safe housing, support groups, limited legal assistance, crisis intervention, court and hospital advocacy and other services. Information, 782-8692.

Douglas County Sheriff's Office Domestic Violence Prevention Coordinator, 782-9937

Douglas County District Attorney's Office Special Victims Response Team, 782-9800

Douglas County Sheriff's Office, 782-9935; emergency, 911


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