Home » A Kentucky college student nearly died of injuries in her dorm room. What happened to her is a mystery.

A Kentucky college student nearly died of injuries in her dorm room. What happened to her is a mystery.

by Marko Florentino
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Isabella Willingham has no recollection of what happened in late November when she lost consciousness in her Asbury University dorm room and woke up with bruises, cuts and deep gashes on her body.

More than three months later, Willingham, 21, has not returned to the campus in Wilmore, Kentucky, her father, Andy Willingham, said Thursday.

The elder Willingham has criticized the Jessamine County Sheriff’s Office for how it initially handled the investigation and said the university has not done enough to alert the campus about what he believes was an assault.

Representatives for Asbury University and the sheriff’s office said the investigation is ongoing, which limits their ability to speak in depth.

Willingham said what happened to his daughter was “purely physical torture.” She is still recovering physically, fears for her safety and is in therapy, he said.

“It has changed her direction. She doesn’t know if she’s going back to school, whether it would be Asbury or anywhere else,” Willingham said. “She’s trying to piece her world back together.”

Isabella Willingham. (Courtesy Andy Willingham)Isabella Willingham. (Courtesy Andy Willingham)

Isabella Willingham. (Courtesy Andy Willingham)

He said his daughter’s memory has also been affected by the incident.

“She has no memory about anything about that day. She does not remember the previous day when I brought her back to campus. She has forgotten several things that have occurred during the semester itself,” he said.

Around 11 pm. Nov. 27, the resident director of Isabella Willingham’s dorm told her family she was being taken to the emergency room because she may have fallen off her loft-style bed, which was about 5 to 5 ½ feet off the ground, her father said. But he added that the possibility of that was remote because she was protected by a rail about 8 inches above her mattress.

After Andy Willingham arrived at University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington, a chaplain told him that his daughter was on a ventilator and had gruesome injuries.

Minutes later, the chaplain returned with two sheriff’s deputies who were called to the hospital because doctors determined his daughter’s injuries were most likely caused by abuse or a beating, Willingham said.

Willingham also learned his daughter stopped breathing on her own for about 23 minutes, almost exactly when emergency medical personnel arrived at her dorm and saved her life. She also stopped breathing for about nine minutes at the hospital, he said.

She was hospitalized for nearly two weeks before she was released, her father said.

Isabella Willingham (Courtesy Andy Willingham)Isabella Willingham (Courtesy Andy Willingham)

Isabella Willingham (Courtesy Andy Willingham)

Willingham, 59, said both Asbury University — where he met his wife and from which he graduated in 1991 — and the Jessamine County Sheriff’s Office have left a lot to be desired in how they have handled the incident and reached out to the public with pertinent information.

“The university is trying to hide this. They are more concerned about protecting their reputation than they are about doing the right thing and protecting the students and finding an answer to this,” Willingham said.

He said Asbury failed to notify the campus about what occurred until early December, after a local media report. He also said the incident was not added to the campus crime report until later that month, after his daughter insisted on it.

A representative for Asbury University said in an email Thursday: “This matter is part of an ongoing investigation by the appropriate authorities and with the University’s full cooperation. We are unable to provide any updates or specific information at this time. Asbury’s priority remains the safety and wellbeing of its students, faculty, and staff. Please refer all additional inquires to the Jessamine County Sheriff’s Office.”

Willingham said he was also upset after a WKYT-TV of Lexington reported in early December that the sheriff’s office said his daughter most likely had a medical episode and called allegations that she was beaten “lies.”

After Christmas break, the sheriff’s office told students in the dormitory by email that it was investigating an incident and to come forward if they had information, Willingham said. NBC News has not seen the email.

Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Purcell said Thursday: “It’s an open investigation at this time, and our rules are not to comment on an open investigation.”

Willingham said that a rape kit determined his daughter was not sexually assaulted and that toxicology reports “found nothing of concern.” NBC News has not reviewed the reports.

His daughter has no history of mental illness or hurting herself, Willingham said.

Willingham said some of her injuries were bizarre: Eight of her acrylic nails either were ripped off or fell off, and she had nearly identical bruises on both sides of her pelvis.

“The tops of her feet looked like she had been [dragged] across concrete or a gravel area,” he said.

Willingham wants to see someone arrested and charged for what happened to his daughter.

“Ideally, we would find who did this and justice would be done,” he said. “Also, the school would be forthright in communicating to the student body about potential threats and risks on campus.”

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