The idea of young love can be more accurately described as naive love. Before truly getting to know someone, it’s nearly impossible to predict what that person is capable of.
When a young nursing student started noticing patterns of physical and verbal abuse from her boyfriend of two years, she may have given him the benefit of the doubt. But on a dangerous night, her naive optimism would offer him a chance for a brutal attack that she’ll remember for the rest of her life.
When Carleigh Hager met Ryan Cameron, she thought that she had found her very own Prince Charming. He was tall, handsome, and treated her with respect. They were inseparable and their love for each other showed through in all their interactions and on social media. As far as anyone could see, Hager and Cameron were meant for one another.
That all changed on the night that they returned home from a wedding. Without warning, he launched into a furious tirade against her. Even though their friends were visiting, it was clear from Cameron’s verbal abuse that he didn’t care who heard him. He even invited his friends to “fornicate” with his girlfriend if they wanted.
Head to Bed
In an effort to cut off the beginnings of what would no doubt be a nasty fight, Hager decided to go to bed. But that only made things worse. After she’d fallen asleep, Cameron charged into their bedroom and locked the door. He throttled her in her sleep before their friends busted into the room, tore him off her, and pulled him out.
Reached and Ripped
Hager ran to the bathroom, choking and coughing up blood. Before she could clear her head, Cameron was on her again. He had broken free from his friends and locked them out of the house. She screamed and was met by his hands pushing into her face, reaching for her tongue.
Hager felt something tear and tasted blood in her mouth. She coughed and sputtered, trying to scream when suddenly, Cameron plugged up her nose. He tried to suffocate her and no one was there to save her.
Meanwhile, their friends had already called the police. They recognized that this was no mere lovers’ quarrel. Hager was going lightheaded. She didn’t know what was going to happen or why Cameron lost control. She thought about their relationship and all the things she’d taken for granted, then passed out.
When she came to, she felt herself being carried out of the house on a stretcher. The officers asked her if she remembered what happened to her. She couldn’t remember much, but it would come back to her later. She was taken to Eskenazi Hospital to recover.
According to Hager, Cameron had become increasingly violent in the months leading up to the attack. She had bruises and bite marks all over her body from him, which indicated a history of physical abuse.
They had been together for two years before the abuse began. The incident after the wedding wasn’t the first time he yelled at her or hit her. In fact, there were times that she recalled him calling her names or talking down to her until she cried.
Her mother and sister didn’t know that anything was wrong. Neither did any of the couple’s friends. As far as anyone outside the relationship knew, the two were happy as could be. Their Facebook and Instagram accounts both reflected a loving couple without any problems. But they didn’t see the evidence hiding beneath the surface.
A Pattern Emerges
Hager recalled physical and verbal abuse. She knew that she should leave, but she was afraid to go. Oftentimes when she tried to break up with him, he would threaten her dog’s life. She was too embarrassed to tell her family the truth.
She’ll be Fine
Hager’s mother Amy Ballard spoke to Fox News about her daughter’s condition after the incident. “Because she’s such a beautiful person inside and out. Her strength and beauty are inside and the scars will heal and in time so will her heart and I’m incredibly proud of you,” she said. Nevertheless, life would not be easy for the abuse victim.
Three Months of Terror
There was also the pain of wrongfully believing that the two would spend the rest of their lives together. Obviously, that was no longer the case, but in the three months since the attack, Hager was no closer to returning to normal life. She still had a scar over her left eyebrow and no sense of taste after reconstructive surgery on her tongue.
Living in Fear
Her physical scars were bad enough, but her mental scars were just beginning to take their toll. Even three months after the event, Hager had not returned to work. She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the grocery store. She was so scared of running into Cameron that she didn’t want to go out at all.
Help Her Heal
Hager’s brutal injuries and mounting medical bills eventually caught the attention of a sympathetic spirit. Teka Abner, the co-founder and director of children’s hospital outreach at Miracle Fundraising LLC heard her story and wanted to organize a benefit in her honor. All of the money they raised would go towards Hager’s medical expenses.
Abner spoke to USA Today and told them that, “I wanted to help, and there was nothing to do but this. You can’t say anything right. But to throw a party in her honor … she’s been smiling ever since she stepped out of the limo.” It was that smile that gave Hager and her family the hope they needed to push through. That, and word of Cameron’s fate.
When he was first taken by the police, Cameron had been jailed for multiple felonies but made bail and was released. He was charged with aggravated battery and strangulation and eventually plead guilty to the crime. He received six years in a federal penitentiary, three years home detention, and two years probation.
Today, the nursing student has opted to tell this story as a sign to others. She wants people to be mindful of when an abuser is lying. “You have to tell somebody,” she said. “You can’t be embarrassed. You can’t be ashamed. You have to tell somebody because I almost died and it can happen.”
Hager’s sister weighed in on the topic of domestic violence. In 2016, she spoke to USA Today saying, “People don’t want to talk about domestic violence, but it’s happening everywhere. We don’t want this to be swept under the rug, we want to expose this for the sickly taboo subject that it is … Carleigh’s case was particularly horrific, and I think that’s what grabs people.”
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that more than 10 million women and men are abused by an intimate partner each year. Many of these people don’t report their abuse, for whatever reasons. But if Hager’s story is any indication, then you need to tell someone, don’t be afraid, there are people willing to help.