Attacked in his own home: an Indianapolis man who was tortured by home invaders because he is gay talks about how he survived to bring his attackers to justice. (Behind the Headlines).
Runnels's nightmare began October 28, 1999, when Jamie Carson, Bryant Clark, and Joshua Powell, all then 18 and on a robbery spree, broke into the Indianapolis apartment Runnels, then 24, shared with Eric Heyob, who was also 24. When the robbers discovered the roommates were gay, they forced them to strip and have sex. They were then tied up, beaten, and tortured with a steam iron. In addition, Runnels was forced to drink a mixture of urine and bleach.
Although Indiana does not have a hate-crimes law, prosecutor Richard Plath emphasized homophobia as a motivation for the attack to secure a more severe sentence for Carson. Clark and Powell, who were also found guilty, still face sentencing.
What happened that night in your apartment?
I awoke to the covers being ripped off me and a gun pointed at my face. Due to gay magazines and posters of nude men in the apartment, they asked me if I was gay. I have no problem with who I am, and if I was going to die, I would die knowing I was proud to say I was a gay man. But this escalated the abuse. Throughout the attack, I wasn't scared. I have been through other miserable times during my life, and I knew if I didn't die then, there was a purpose to my life. Due to my not being enraged or scared of these cowards, there was no fear, and I believe they sensed that. Maybe it was the will of a higher power--whatever; they eventually got scared and left. My leg was so badly beaten, I couldn't walk. My roommate and I had to chew ourselves out of the ties that bound us together, and my roommate called 911.
Did you consider staying quiet about the attack?
Going through this itself was enough. Anybody would not want to talk about it. But there are so many people like me who happen to be gay or lesbian, who live in towns with small-minded people, and things like this get swept under the rug. And that's wrong.
How did the Indianapolis media cover the story?
[Certain media outlets] gave wrong dates, wrong times, wrong places. So a lot of it was misconstrued, and a lot of it was inaccurate information to begin with. Going public has nothing to do with getting my name in the paper. This has to do with getting my movement in the paper. It seems that lately people have been cooling off on this topic [of anti-gay hate crimes]. It has to be heated up big-time because something has to be done.
Who helped you the most?
My best ally was the prosecutor. He was hired by the state. He was the one who kept me informed. He really wanted to get this guy. I would get support from the gay community around here, but it was minuscule because the case dragged out so long. People didn't know what was going on.
How are you and Eric dealing with things today?
I am a pretty strong person to begin with. I would walk around and see an iron at first and freak out, but that has been overcome. I have not had any therapy. I've basically worked it out myself. Eric is doing quite well as well. I see him on occasion. He had a lot of emotional problems due to this as well, more severe than in my case. But he was in court throughout the whole thing.
Did you consider yourself an activist before the assault?
As I walked out of that courtroom during the sentencing, an activist was born.