Former Counselor Describes Beating
The Journal News, May 14, 2002
Victim’s lawyer blames Cottage School for attack
WHITE PLAINS – Edith Toro’s cheeks were coated with red burn marks, and tears poured from her eyes yesterday as she described the night she said eight girls tortured her at Pleasantville Cottage School and threatened, “You’re going to die tonight.”
The former counselor, giving her most detailed account of the Feb. 7 attack, said the girls tore off her clothes, poured rubbing alcohol on her face and set it afire, then refused her cries for water. She even lied that she was pregnant in hopes that the girls would back off, but they just started laughing, she said.
“They didn’t want to kill me right away,” she said. “They kept saying how much I was going to suffer.”
She described the ordeal during a news conference in the office of David Worby, her attorney, who said he was preparing a lawsuit seeking “tens of millions of dollars.” Last week, he served notices of claim, the prerequisite to a lawsuit, against three governmental agencies that provide oversight and funding for children at the treatment center. He said he also wanted to sue the Mount Pleasant school and its parent agency, the Jewish Child Care Association.
“This was not an accident waiting to happen,” Worby said, sitting beside Toro and surrounded by television cameras. “This was an intentional assault that was destined by their failure in every way, shape and form.”
Toro had been keeping a low profile since the attack, and yesterday refused to be photographed.
There were no obvious scars, just red patches on her face and ears that resemble a rash. Her hair was in a ponytail, after having been cut short by the girls. She is said to have burns on her upper body, but she was covered yesterday by a gray pantsuit.
“I don’t want nobody to feel sorry for me,” said Toro, 32, a native of Chile who recently returned to work for a business in Greenwich, Conn., and as a student at Pace University. “I just want to go back to my normal life.”
The attack began shortly after 11 p.m., when Toro started her overnight shift in a cottage housing 12 girls. Another counselor who was supposed to be sleeping there that night had left early.
Toro said the girls became aggressive after she ordered them to go to sleep.
When they refused, she called a supervisor several times, but no one answered, she said. She then called 911 but couldn’t get an outside line, she said.
All eight girls took turns smashing her with a telephone, punching and kicking her, and dragging her to the basement, where they beat her some more, she said. At one point, she said, they placed barrettes in her hair and told her she would look good in a coffin. Later, they threatened to place her body in the trunk of her car and set fire to her house, she said.
Toro pleaded for her life, offering the girls cash when they demanded it and even promising not to press charges.
“ ‘You know what, Edith?’ ” Toro quoted one of the girls as saying, “ ‘We made a decision. You’re going to die tonight.’”
The girls continued the attack for well over an hour, finally scrambling after another worker happened to drive by the cottage. Toro, striped to her bra and with her eyes swollen shut, emerged from the building screaming “Help me! Help me!”
“I couldn’t even touch my face or open my eyes,” she said. “I don’t know how I got out. It was a miracle.”
Toro also spoke about the time last year when, she said, she was assaulted by two of the same girls. She disputed a claim by school officials that she voluntarily returned to the cottage after that incident. “After four months, they told me I had to go back to my cottage or I’d lose my job,” she said.
The eight girls have been charged with attempted murder.
JCCA spokeswoman Jane Barowitz yesterday would not comment on specifics of the attack, citing the threatened litigation.