Counselor Attacks Girlfriend With Hammer: Her Whole Face is Rebuilt
Paragraphs 12 through 16 read: "Berkheimer, a counselor who worked with the mentally ill at Transitional Living in Hamilton, was being treated with an anti-depressant for depression and anxiety, but he felt extremely anxious in the week leading up to the attack."
"He was trying to get help from his doctor but couldn't. He told Belty he didn't feel like himself."
"He texted a friend that he felt unstable."
" 'I want people to know this is a mental health issue. It's not a domestic violence issue. That's not what happened,' Belty said.
"The attack was out of character, she said. Berkheimer always treated her with respect. He was never violent, although Belty knew he was jealous about her male friendships. They talked about it, she said."
The tattoo of a hammer on Jamie Belty's left forearm says it all: "Tougher than nails."
That's how the 24-year-old Cincinnati videographer sees herself after surviving a near-fatal hammer attack that shattered her face in April.
The pounding by boyfriend Joshua Berkheimer fractured her skull in two places, fractured both eye sockets and left her left jaw broken in two places. Her left ear was nearly ripped off.
"It's just a reminder to me," Belty said of the ink-stained token of her April 25 survival. "It's meant to be positive. I survived something, a traumatic experience."
Since then, she's undergone extensive facial reconstruction and rehabilitation to regain her balance.
Like the tattoo, the 13 titanium plates and two screws that rebuilt her face will stay with her forever.
Belty is still healing emotionally, although the telltale physical signs of her injuries are nearly invisible. The left corner of her mouth droops a bit from nerve damage. Her doctors say that may right itself within a year. She lost some hearing and some of her sense of smell.
She's back to work at Norwood Community Television.
Belty - who returned to Cincinnati in late August after five months of recovery and facial reconstruction - doesn't remember anything of the attack which Hamilton police stopped when they shot and killed Berkheimer.
Still, she's convinced his mental illness pushed him over the edge.
Berkheimer, a counselor who worked with the mentally ill at Transitional Living in Hamilton, was being treated with an anti-depressant for depression and anxiety, but he felt extremely anxious in the week leading up to the attack.
He was trying to get help from his doctor but couldn't. He told Belty he didn't feel like himself.
He texted a friend that he felt unstable.
"I want people to know this is a mental health issue. It's not a domestic violence issue. That's not what happened," Belty said.
The attack was out of character, she said. Berkheimer always treated her with respect. He was never violent, although Belty knew he was jealous about her male friendships. They talked about it, she said.
"Even before I knew the whole story, I wasn't angry with him," Belty said. "I think jealousy was part of it. But, I honestly don't think he even knew what he was doing."
A jealous outburst
Belty and Berkheimer went their separate ways April 24.
They had texted throughout the day, Berkheimer's family said, things like "I love you" or "See you later."
Belty was out with a group of female friends at a Dayton bar, where she had a few drinks and danced with a male friend. They kissed.
For his part, Berkheimer was out with the husband of one of the friends Belty was with that night.
The two groups met back at a home in Trenton early the next morning.
Just before 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 25, Belty's former roommate drove the couple back to the Hamilton apartment Berkheimer rented just days earlier.
The roommate told Berkheimer that Belty flirted with another guy, according to Hamilton police.
Trouble started the moment an upstairs neighbor, Brittany Swain, heard the door to apartment No. 5 slam about 3:30 a.m. Within minutes, she called 911 to report what sounded like an escalating domestic dispute downstairs.
"I heard these loud noises all through the apartment. ... I heard a female screaming and crying. She was hysterical and was yelling 'Get off,' and then I heard another loud noise against the wall," Swain later wrote in a statement for investigators.
Swain stood by the door to her apartment and waited for police.
"I heard a male voice say, 'Throw it at me ...' Then I heard another loud noise. Then she screamed," Swain wrote.
Hamilton Police Officers Casey Johnson and Aaron Hucke arrived about the same time at Princeton Square Apartments on Princeton Road.
It was 3:51 a.m. They listened outside door to apartment No. 5, Johnson to the right, Hucke on the left.
City officials would not permit interviews with either officer.
The police file, obtained under Ohio's Public Records Act, detailed what happened next.
Johnson said he heard a man inside say something about "bashing her (expletive) skull in." He said it sounded like the man was on the phone.
Johnson also heard someone moaning.
Both officers drew their pistols. Johnson checked the doorknob and found it unlocked. He cracked open the door.
A woman lay on the floor bleeding badly from her head. A man knelt next to her, a hammer in his right hand.
Johnson said he told the man to drop the hammer. Hucke said he thought Johnson told him twice.
The man looked at Johnson and hit the woman's head three or four more times.
Johnson fired a shot, hitting the man in the chest.
Hucke moved in and handcuffed the man, who died in a pool of blood surrounded by memorabilia and movie props from the bloody horror films that had fascinated him for years.
Hucke searched the apartment and then he called for medics and a police supervisor. He told his boss he knelt next to the woman and checked to see if she was breathing.
Afraid she might drown in her own blood, he lifted her by the shoulders to elevate her head.
He held her hand until paramedics arrived. "I told her that it would be OK," Hucke wrote.
An ambulance took Belty to Butler County Regional Airport. From there, a helicopter flew her to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton.
A coroner's van took 25-year-old Berkheimer to the morgue.
'What happened to me?'
The next month or more was a blur for Belty, who was heavily sedated and suffered a brain injury.
"I think I don't realize how close to death I was," she said.
Belty was in the intensive care unit on a respirator when her parents, Tammy and Dale Fox, arrived at the hospital from their home in Brewster, Ohio, about mid-afternoon on April 25.
Her eyes were swollen shut. Her face was cut, bruised and bloody.
"Her brain was swollen. She had two skull fractures. Her face was just a mess," Tammy Fox recalled.
The Foxes didn't know what to expect.
A nurse told them the ICU's job was to keep their daughter alive.
Another nurse offered a glimmer of hope. She told them that all medical choppers were grounded that night - because of gusty winds and pouring rain - until they got the call for their daughter's flight.
"The rain stopped. Once they got her in (the hospital), the rain started again. That was the only flight that flew in that 24-hour period," Tammy Fox said. "If there is somebody who does not believe in God, how can you not after hearing that?"
Belty spent about a week in intensive care before a plastic surgeon worked eight hours to rebuild her face nine days after the attack.
Belty's jaw was wired shut. Food came through a tube.
Straps and wrist restraints kept her from getting out of bed. She suffered double-vision. Unable to talk, she wrote on a dry-erase board.
She still wasn't sure what happened. Belty knew she was assaulted. Her mother told her that.
Doctors and nurses advised the Foxes not to provide many details because it might hurt her recovery.
"Her memory was virtually non-existent," Tammy Fox said. "We knew if we told her, it would upset her really bad at that moment and then she was going to ask it again later anyhow."
Friends visited and Belty pumped them for information. She asked if they had seen Berkheimer and if he was seeing someone else because he had not visited her.
Friends referred her questions to her mother.
By mid-May, after being transferred to a rehab hospital near Akron, Belty was ready for answers.
She wrote on her dry-erase board, "I think I want to know what happened to me."
Belty's psychologist helped Tammy Fox break the news.
"I cried. I had no idea," Belty said. "I don't want to remember that part of him because I know that's not who he was."
'He did the right thing'
Hamilton police wrapped up their investigation in July, when they interviewed Belty at her parents' home.
What she told them didn't impact the case because Belty doesn't remember any details.
The investigation was aimed at determining whether Johnson followed proper police procedure when he shot Berkheimer.
Police officials and Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper decided the shooting was justified because Berkheimer was killing Belty.
Johnson and Hucke had visited Belty at Miami Valley Hospital but she said she was "too incoherent" to recall it.
Tammy Fox does. She hugged them both and told Johnson he did the right thing.
"He just kind of nodded. I know he was having a hard time with it," Tammy Fox said. "They are trained to do that. But still - they're human. They have emotions and feelings and compassion."
Belty wants to meet the officers because it might help her to remember more about that night.
"Not remembering that night or being in the hospital, it's almost not realistic to me," Belty said. "I almost feel like Josh and I just broke up and don't talk now or something. And that's not what happened. I need to make it real to myself to heal from it."
She also wants Johnson and Hucke to know something else.
"I'm fine and that they did something good," Belty said. "There are positives in this."