Marrying the Man Who Saved My Life: “Breakup Violence”

Women between the ages of 18 and 24 experience the highest rate of relationship violence of any age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control… and it becomes even more dangerous when they try to leave. This disturbing trend is called “breakup violence.”

Melissa Dohme / Melissa Dohme and Camron Hill / Robert Burton.

Source: Facebook

When Melissa Dohme was just 20 years old, she was viciously stabbed 32 times outside her Clearwater, Florida home. Why? Simply because she ended her turbulent relationship. Although her story is hard to hear, Melissa wants the world to know. With violence toward women dominating the headlines, she couldn’t stay quiet.

This is her story.

High School Sweethearts

Florida native Melissa Dohme was just 20 years old when her ex-boyfriend stabbed her over 30 times and left her for dead. Against all odds, Melissa miraculously survived. However, she was understandably traumatized by the relationship and never thought she would have another one. But she found love where she least expected it.

A selfie of Robert Burton and Melissa Dohme while driving.

Source: Facebook

Melissa was a student in college while also balancing a full-time job in a hospital. She had big dreams of becoming a nurse. She was dating her high school sweetheart, Robert Burton. She described him as funny, charming, and a “gentle giant.”

Red Flags

They were young and in love. The pair was happy for a long time, but Melissa noticed their relationship started to change when she was applying to colleges. He got extremely jealous. He would put her down and belittle her like he didn’t want to see her succeed. He started to lie to her, and whenever she confronted him, his violent temper would show its ugly head.

Melissa Dohme is posing for a photo with her arms around Robert Burton.

Source: Twitter

When Melissa tried to break up with him and get away from the toxicity, he would manipulate her. Robert said that as his girlfriend, she should be there for him in his time of need, not abandoning him. He whipped out the classic guilt trip: He would kill himself if she left him.

Breaking Up for Good

It didn’t take a lot for the psychological abuse to turn physical. In October 2011, she drove the two of them home since he had been drinking. He accused her of shutting the door before he was done speaking, and that set him off. He started hitting and punching her.

A mug shot of Robert Burton.

Source: Reddit

She somehow managed to run away and call the cops, who arrested him as soon as they arrived. He was charged with domestic battery and sentenced to 10 hours behind bars. She thought she was free of their toxic relationship, and he left her alone for a couple of months. She saw he had a new girlfriend on social media, so Melissa thought he was really over her.

I Just Need a Hug

Then, on January 24, 2012, Melissa got a phone call at 2 a.m. As you guessed, it was Robert on the other end of the line. He had gone to court that morning for the battery charge and told his ex-girlfriend that he needed closure from the horrible relationship, and all he wanted was a hug.

A photo of Dohme and Burton smiling.

Source: Facebook

He told her if she saw him one more time, he would leave her alone forever. She regrets not listening to her intuition, which told her to stay away. It ended up being the biggest mistake of her life. She brought her phone and pepper spray, thinking that would be enough to protect herself.

That Fateful Night

Melissa went outside on that eerie night; she said there wasn’t a sound in the neighborhood. She walked out to meet Robert with the hopes of never seeing him again: “He said that he just… wanted a hug. It’s all he wanted… a final goodbye, all he wanted was closure. And I, basically, you know, walked outside to my murder.”

The switchblade used by Burton.

Source: Clearwater Police Dept.

As soon as he saw Melissa, he opened his arms for a hug but had a switchblade in his hand. He flipped it open and continuously stabbed her over and over again. She said she felt the pain of the first few stabs, but then she went into fight or flight mode.

Witnesses Call the Cops

Despite the shock, she tried to fight back and bite his hand. She was punching and screaming, but she couldn’t get away. She kept falling to the ground because she was losing so much blood. Luckily, a young boy and girl nearby heard the screaming and ran over. The girl immediately called 911.

A Sheriff police car at the scene of a crime.

Photo by youngvet/Getty Images

After seeing the witnesses, Robert went into his truck and got a bigger knife with a serrated blade. He proceeded to attack Melissa with that. He had every intention of killing her. He knew police were on their way, and he wanted to get the job done.

Left for Dead

Robert viciously left Melissa on the side of the road, and she knew she was going to die. She just prayed for God to give her a miracle. Melissa explained, “I knew my face was completely covered in blood, and my hair felt soaking wet. I mean, it was seriously, like, dripping wet, like I just got out of the shower.”

A police officer is flashing light while on a search of the area.

Source: Tumblr

She went on to say, “I was drifting away when a police officer shone his light on me. I felt a rush of life come back to me, and I was able to state my name and who attacked me. My speech was very slurred because I had had a stroke from the loss of blood.”

Saving Melissa

Officer Melissa Harris from the Clearwater Police Department was dispatched to the 911 call that Tuesday morning at about 3:18 a.m. of a female who had been stabbed. The girl who called the police cried, “she’s lying in the street dead. I watched him kill her. Oh my God…”

Malissa is posing for a photo with officer Melissa Harris.

Source: Facebook

She continued, “As I came around the west side of the park, I saw something moving on the side of the road in the grass. And as I got closer, I realized that it was… a female, and she was screaming for help… And she was reaching up to me begging me to help her.” She said she has never seen anyone injured that badly.

Who Did This?!

When she asked Melissa who did this to her, the girl thought she said “Robbie Murton.” So, when she repeated the name back to her, Melissa clarified that it was “B. Burton.” When she spelled it back to her, Melissa said yes. She was relieved to get the words out.

Melissa is posing for a photo with Robert Burton.

Source: Facebook

She said Robert Burton was her ex-boyfriend. Officer Harris said, “It was my intention for the officers… to hopefully be able to locate him, but also to let them know that he’s definitely armed, he’s definitely dangerous – he has the ability to kill.”

An Unforgettable Look

When Vincent Supernor of Clearwater Fire & Rescue got to the scene, Melissa grabbed his arm and said, “Help me, I’m dying.” He described her look of pure terror and said he would never forget it. He noted that she had several teeth knocked out and that she had lacerations to the left side of her face.

A photo of Malissa and Vincent Supernor at the firehouse.

Source: Facebook

He explained how her long blonde hair was covered in blood, which made it difficult to see the actual injuries. He got a little more hands-on, and when he touched her head, he could feel where the knife had penetrated her skull. He explained that your fingertips could actually slide into where she was stabbed.

Airlifted to the Hospital

Melissa noted that her last few memories were in the ambulance. It was blurry, but she recalled people yelling and trying to stabilize her. They put the ventilator in to help her breathe, and she knew that it wasn’t a good sign. She thought, “OK, they think I’m about to die.”

A medical helicopter prepared for an emergency airlift.

Source: Pinterest

Then, they called for the helicopter, saying they needed to airlift her. Melissa died on the table several times and was resuscitated over and over again. She had severe injuries, including a broken skull, broken jaw, head fracture, and nose fracture. She had paralysis on the right side of her face since Robert severed her facial nerve.

Fighting for Her Life

But the biggest immediate concern was her blood loss. They were able to control the blood, but Supernor explained that it is the bleeding they don’t see that can kill. It was clear that she needed to get to a trauma center and fast. That’s when he called the helicopter.

Doctors pushing patient on gurney down hospital corridor.

Photo by Tom Merton/Getty Images

Melissa had a strong will to survive; the defensive wounds on her arms were traumatic. He said both of her arms were pretty much butchered. But she fought for her life. She was fighting as hard as she could, but her loved ones were just as scared.

Melissa’s Devastated Mother

Imagine how shocked and devastated Melissa’s mother was: “I was awakened by the Clearwater Police Department yelling Clearwater Police and banging frantically on my door… The policeman asked me if I was Joanne Dohme, and I said yes. And he said, ‘Your daughter’s been stabbed.’”

Melissa and her mother take a selfie.

Source: Facebook

“He said, ‘Hurry up. I want to take you to her,’ and he hurried me across the yard. Then I realized he wanted me to see her before she died. I saw her slippers. She obviously ran out in them. They were several feet apart. And I said, ‘Oh, she got those for Christmas.’”

It Doesn’t Look Good

As you can imagine, Joanne Dohme kept yelling, “Please, God, don’t take my girl. Don’t take my girl.” When they were inside the ambulance, Officer Melissa Harris stated that Melissa said she felt tired and needed to go to sleep. The officer thought the victim was giving up.

Melissa posing with her dog.

Source: Facebook

Clearwater Fire & Rescue’s Cameron Hill explained that “usually with a person that has been stabbed that many times, you don’t think they are going to make it… but as the helicopter was lifting off that night, I had this crazy little feeling in my head that I would see Melissa again.”

Melissa’s Terrified Sister

Melissa’s sister, Michelle Dohme, recalled getting the phone call: “My brother came on the phone and said, ‘Michelle, Melissa has been stabbed, and it doesn’t look good.’ I literally collapsed. I couldn’t gather myself.”

Malissa is posing for a photo with her sister Michelle.

Source: Facebook

She continued, “I had to also think about what am I going to bring? Am I packing for my sister’s funeral? Or am I just bringing clothes for the hospital? I had to sit there with an empty bag in my hand, staring at my clothes, telling myself do not pack anything black.” As someone who has three little sisters, I have tears in my eyes imagining her pain.

Beating All Odds

Several doctors and therapists told Melissa that she would probably never be able to walk by herself again. They told her she might never be able to speak again. She was told that she would never be the student or the person she was before the attack.

Malissa is lying in her hospital bed recovering from surgery.

Source: Facebook

“I couldn’t walk myself. So, they kept a belt around my waist… I just remember thinking, you have to get through this, and you have to show everyone that you can do it. And not only for them, I really had to show myself too.”

A Beautiful Miracle

Melissa needed 12 units of blood, and the body holds about seven. It was truly a miracle that she even survived. She described her stay at the hospital feeling like one long day, but in actuality, she was in intensive care for several days.

Michelle is wheeling her sister Malissa down the hospital hallway.

Source: Facebook

Melissa recalled, “At one point, I remember motioning for a pen from my family. I needed to know what had happened to my attacker. I couldn’t use my right hand because it had been stabbed so many times, so I used my left to write: ‘Dead, alive or jail?’”

Robert Won’t Hurt Her Again

Her family calmed Melissa’s nerves. They told her that Robert had been caught and wouldn’t hurt her again. She was so relieved. He apparently tried to commit suicide by taking sleeping pills and crashing his car into a wall, but he was unsuccessful. He woke up strapped to a hospital bed with police waiting for him to wake up.

Robert Burtons red pickup truck after being smashed into a wall.

Source: Tumblr

Melissa had a long road to recovery. Nineteen of her 32 stab wounds were to her head, neck, and face, so she could barely even recognize herself: “I was missing teeth. My hair was shaved because they had to stitch up wounds on my head. Half of my face was paralyzed.”

A Long Road to Recovery

She walked outside to give her ex-boyfriend some closure; she just wanted to be left alone. Unfortunately, she walked into a life-altering trap. Melissa knew Robert was capable of hurting her but did not believe he could kill her. She never expected things to take such a terrifying turn.

A photo of Dohme ia at a boxing gym before a workout.

Source: Twitter

Melissa couldn’t even look at herself without crying: “When I looked in the mirror for the first time afterward, I just sobbed. I was only 20 years old. It was devastating. However, my faith was strong, and I knew I wasn’t still here on Earth to be mad about what I look like. I just felt blessed that I was alive.”

Getting Back on Her Feet

Melissa had implants in her teeth, and her scars slowly began to fade. She went to Boston to receive nerve and muscle surgery to help revive her face and bring back her beautiful smile. Melissa was mostly excited to get back to school and work as soon as possible.

Melissa poses for a photo with a purple ribbon, for domestic violence awareness, pinned to her chest.

Source: Facebook

After the attack, Melissa assumed she would be single for the rest of her life. She thought nobody would want to date her because of her injuries and emotional baggage. She felt like she was damaged. But still, she thought she could use her experience to help other people.

Cameron the Firefighter

“I want to speak out to let people in abusive relationships know that they deserved to be loved and respected and valued. At one of my speaking events in October 2012, I was delighted to meet the emergency services team who saved my life. One of the firefighters, Cameron, invited my mom and me to go to dinner at the fire department the following week. I was really excited about it,” Melissa said.

A photo of Camron Hill and Malissa at the firehouse.

Source: Facebook

“Afterward, I couldn’t stop thinking about Cameron. I knew that I had feelings for him, but I was trying to ignore them. I wondered, ‘Am I feeling this way because he is one of the firemen who helped me?’ but the more we talked, the more I realized we had stuff in common.”

I’m Here for You

Cameron gave Melissa his number and said, “you know I’m here for you.” She thought maybe he was just being nice, but she really wanted to see him again. One week later, Melissa contacted him and told him she had a thank you card for the rescue team.

A commemorative thank you plaque that Malissa gave the Clearwater Fire and Rescue #47.

Source: Facebook

Cameron said she should stop by the station to stop it off. She gave them the card and planned on leaving right after. But she ended up having a six-hour conversation with Cameron: “It felt like we could talk forever, and that’s when it became clear that there was something special here.”

A New Boyfriend

The two ended up going out: “We had different dates, we had a barbecue – we love barbecue in southern Florida – and we went to a shooting range. Cameron showed me how to improve my shooting, and I now have a concealed carry permit. It makes me feel better that I can protect myself.”

Malissa and Camron are practicing at the shooting range.

Source: Facebook

Melissa was in a healthy relationship. She was with someone who truly cared about her, protected her, and wanted to watch her succeed. He was the complete opposite of Robert, and Melissa was finally feeling safe after such a traumatic experience.

Life in the Slammer

In August 2013, it came time for Melissa to face the man who tried to murder her, and Cameron was right beside her. When she took the stand, Robert was staring her down. “He was trying to intimidate me by staring me down, but I refused to look away.”

Robert Burton is sitting in court.

Source: Tumblr

During the trial, all the evidence was piling up, and Robert finally had to face the consequences for what he did. He realized he had no more power. He got a life sentence with no chance of parole, and Melissa was thankful and relieved. She walked out of the courtroom with her life back in her own hands.

Falling in Love Again

Cameron and Melissa continued to date. She went to St. Petersburg College but changed her major. She didn’t want to study nursing anymore. Instead, she wanted to dedicate her life to speaking out against domestic violence to help others, so she studied Management and Organizational Leadership in business.

Malissa is throwing out the starting pitch at the baseball game.

Source: Facebook

A few years later, Melissa was invited to give the first pitch at a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game in honor of her work discussing violent relationships in schools. Melissa explained, “I was on the mound, and there wasn’t a baseball there, so Cameron came out of the dugout to hand me one. Written on the ball were the words: “Will you marry me?”

Heck, Yes, I Will Marry You

Melissa was so excited and described it as the most surprising moment of her entire life. She was so stunned that she couldn’t even speak. She felt truly loved. Cameron put in so much effort to surprise Melissa and make her feel special. She said yes, of course.

Camron getting down on one knew in front of a shocked Malissa.

Source: Facebook

“He gave me a beautiful diamond ring that he had picked out, and we were going to get married in a few weeks. All the people that saved me, from the police officer on the scene to the trauma surgeon, are coming. Today I just feel very blessed to be here. I know that the attack was just one day in my life and will never define me.”

After the Attack

A few months after the horrific attack, Melissa’s family and friends planned a benefit to raise money for her insane medical bills. Steve and Julie Weintraub donated a piece of jewelry from Gold & Diamond Source, and Melissa went over to thank them after the benefit. It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Julie is the founder of Hands Across the Bay (HATB).

Malissa is standing before a poster advertising the benefit.

Source: Facebook

Julie found out that Melissa was still living at her mom’s house – where the attack happened. Melissa was ready to move out and start a new life. With the help of HATB, Melissa was able to get into a safe, gated apartment, and their partners at Rooms-to-Go donated some gorgeous living room furniture. Julie invited Melissa to share her story with judges, attorneys, law enforcement and to meet other HATB survivors.

Telling Her Story

Discussing her story and meeting other survivors helped Melissa find strength because she knew she wasn’t alone. HATB were the ones who helped Melissa get to Boston to have facial nerve-muscle surgery. Since the attack left her with facial paralysis, they wanted nothing more than to see her smile.

Melissa is sharing a smile at the Facial Nerve Center.

Source: Facebook

Can you imagine not being able to smile? Melissa thought she would have to go through her life that way until she found out about Mass Eye & Ear Facial Nerve Center and their program to donate surgeries to help domestic violence victims. Slowly but surely, her nerves began regenerating.

The New Normal

After such a devastating and traumatic attack, Melissa wanted nothing more than to move on with her life. Once her ex-boyfriend got a life sentence with no chance of parole, she decided to become a full-time advocate against domestic violence.

Malissa is showing off her complete certificate for being an advocate for victims of domestic violence.

Source: Facebook

In December 2013, Julie brought Melissa in to join the Hands Across the Bay Team and help with Prevention & Awareness of Domestic and Teen Dating Violence. Melissa loves getting up and going to work every day. Whenever she speaks to high schoolers about the dangers of toxic relationships, she feels as though she is fulfilling her purpose in this world.

A New Beginning

A few years have passed since Melissa’s heartbreaking attack, but her life is permanently changed. She loves her job as a full-time advocate at Julie Weintraub’s Hands Across the Bay and is extremely passionate about its teen violence prevention and awareness of domestic violence.

Malissa Dohme is giving an interview in her home.

Source: Facebook

Melissa exclaimed, “It’s my purpose. I’m living out my purpose every day that I walk into work. I never want another girl to go through what I went through.” Melissa is still recovering physically but getting stronger every single day.

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