Joel Christie, Daily Mail, May 12, 2015
An Indianapolis family who survived a shocking home invasion by six armed thugs have bravely shared their story as the people responsible are being sent to prison–and have explained why they refuse to let the ordeal define them.
Parents Carl and Eileen Portenza, along with 26-year-old daughter Alli, were asleep in their house in a quiet Washington township subdivision on October 29, 2013, when six armed men burst in around 5am.
Carl, who needs braces to walk due to a neurological condition, was told to stay in bed and held at gunpoint, as Eileen was twice shot and forced to drive to an ATM to withdraw cash.
Both Portenza and her daughter were brutally sexually assaulted.
But the family, who admit to being incredibly close, say there were determined to triumph over evil with the help of each other and their faith.
‘Things like this don’t have to define you,’ Eileen told WTHR, in the family’s first interview about the horrifying incident.
‘And they won’t. Those are almost fighting words for me. We will get through this and we will make something better out of it and I think that’s how you triumph over tragedy.’
Eileen recalled her brave but unsuccessful attempts to try and stop the intruders.
‘As Mama Bear, I was thinking ”I’ve got to do something to save our family”,’ she said.
She tried to sprint from her bedroom to the phone at the end of the hall, but one of the men shot her in the upper leg as she ran.
The commotion woke Alli, who quickly realized what was happening and grabbed her wallet, which she offered to the attackers.
Meanwhile Carl is still being held in bed, helpless to do anything.
‘I kept thinking, ”This is going to be over any minute. Just hang in there”,’ Carl recalls.
‘But it just kept going and going and going.’
The men went through the house, smashing things and ransacking cupboards.
When they came up with little, one ordered Eileen to drive him to a cash machine.
As the robber turned his back, Eileen tried to seize another moment and run for the neighbors house.
However the man tackled her down and shot her a second time in the foot.
‘At that point I was on the ground, another guy kicking me in the head and I said ”Alright, I’m going to do whatever it takes. I’m not going to fight anymore”,’ Eileen told WTHR.
Eileen was raped, and then, with two bullet wounds, got behind the wheel of her car and drove to an ATM, as one of the men sat in the passenger seat holding her at gunpoint.
‘It felt like I had a little boy with me,’ she said.
‘He had a gun and didn’t know what he was doing. I teach little kids and I thought ”This is just a very troubled, unhappy kid”.’
Eileen decided to try and reason with him.
She asked about his life and his family, and he said his father had been shot and his mother abandoned him.
Eileen expressed her sadness, said that she was sorry that had happened and that she wanted to help him, offering him not just her money but anything else he needed.
‘I think it just floored him,’ she recalled. ‘He didn’t know how to react.’
Throughout the ordeal, the family had been told to keep their heads down, but in a bizarre moment, the attacker in the car said to Eileen: ‘Look at me.’
‘We looked at each other for several seconds, it was quite uncomfortable, and then afterwards I said ”Why do you ask me to do that?” . . . and he didn’t say anything,’ Eileen told WTHR.
At the house, Alli had endured a violent gang-style rape.
Eileen returned and said she could hear her daughter crying, however she managed to get her laughing by making a silly joke about how much cleaning up they are going to have to do.
‘I knew then, when I heard her regular Alli giggle, that she was going to be OK,’ Eileen said.
The men had their money and fled, stealing the family’s three cars, and the Portenza’s were finally able to call 911.
Despite their trauma, the family all remember a certain peace come over them at the hospital, and that soon became happiness.
Happiness that they were alive and together and safe.
Friends and family quickly rushed to their side to make sure they were all okay, and Eileen, who friends say is known for her indefatigable spirit, started making jokes.
‘It was fun,’ Alli remembers of the hospital stay.
‘I know that sounds crazy, but I was surrounded by the people I love.’
Meanwhile, police were able to find the men responsible thanks to the stolen cars, two of which had been dumped.
All six were soon arrested and held in custody.
In March, four of the men–Adrian Anthony, Michael Pugh, Alexander Dupree and Demetre Brown–were found guilty on multiple charges, including rape , robbery, burglary, carjacking, criminal confinement and battery, Fox 59 reported.
They will likely be sentenced to life in prison.
A fifth man is still awaiting trial, while the sixth, Trae Spells, accepted a plea deal and is testifying against the others as the prosecution’s ‘star witness’.
Spells has pleaded guilty to rape, criminal deviate conduct, robbery and burglary and will be sentenced in April, how attorneys for the other men say he was the most violent in the attack and should not be treated with leniency.
The Portenza’s say their recovery has hinged heavily on words they were told from a victim’s advocate from the Indianapolis Police Department: ‘Don’t let them win.’
They say that sentiment allowed them to return to their house, and not let it be haunted by memories of that awful morning.
Ironically, it is perhaps the youngest of the family, Rachel, 23, who went through the most struggle, needing therapy for survivor’s guilt as she was at college when the attack happened.
She felt terrible that the ones she cares about most had to go through something so shocking, but says she feels better every time she sees them and how they have been able to pick themselves back up.
‘We had two hours of hell, but after that, it has been months and months of kindness,’ Carl said.