Miracle in Madison: The fall of a serial rapist
By Kirk Noonan
The surveillance tape shows James D. Perry striding confidently into a Madison, Wis., hotel. He must have been pleased when he saw that the lobby and an adjoining conference room were brimming with guests. But even more pleasing — maybe even thrilling for Perry — was the sight of Cassie Chivers, a petite, blonde 13-year-old girl who had just stepped into an empty elevator.
“The hotel was filled with our people, so we felt safe,” says Debbie Chivers, Cassie’s mother. “No one thinks that when you’re completely surrounded by people you know and trust, something bad is going to happen.”
Charlie and Debbie Chivers, Assemblies of God missionaries and founders of Special Touch Ministry — an organization that helps people with disabilities — had gathered at the hotel for an STM winter retreat. Cassie, the Chivers’ second-oldest daughter, had been asked to retrieve something from a room on the second floor. Responsible, well-spoken and mature beyond her years, no one gave a second thought to her going to a room alone. After all, the hotel was full of family and friends.
But just as the elevator’s doors were closing, Perry slid into it. His face was thick with whiskers; he wore gloves, a big jacket and a hat. When the doors had closed, Perry looked Cassie in the eyes and asked her what she thought about the weather.
Cassie, smiling easily as she often does, said, “It sure is cold outside.”
He replied, “Yeah, but it’s about to get warmer.”
On the second floor the doors opened and Perry motioned for Cassie to go first. She thought that was polite as she stepped out. But in mid-stride she felt Perry’s gloved hand grip her over the mouth and her body being yanked back to his. He waved a pistol in front of her and said, “If you scream, I’ll blow your brains out.”
A simple prayer
Months before her encounter with Perry, Cassie had been praying she would be a part of a miracle. On many occasions, she says, she had seen God touch people’s lives and work in impossible situations. Her desire to be a part of a miracle, she says, was not motivated by a desire for proof that God existed or for evidence that He cared; instead it was more of a yearning to be a part of something bigger than herself.
The miracle Cassie would be a part of would eventually stop a serial rapist. But doing so would require her to be in harm’s way. The miracle began with an impromptu family meeting less than 24 hours before Perry pressed a gun to her temple.
“There are evil men in this world who want to hurt you,” Charlie Chivers told his daughters after hearing on the news about a Florida girl who was abducted and killed. “If a man tries to take you, do whatever you can to escape.”
“But what if the man puts a gun to my head?” asked Cassie.
“Kick, scream and fight,” said Charlie. “Whatever you do, don’t go with him.”
A timely prayer
As Perry dragged Cassie toward an emergency exit she looked down the hallway for help. Seeing no one, she suddenly remembered her dad’s instruction the night before. She squirmed and tried to break free, but it was no use. Perry was much bigger and stronger than she, and he had her in a position where she couldn’t defend herself.
Not one to give up, Cassie pried his fingers from her mouth, gasped for air then gently prayed, “Jesus, Jesus I love You. You’re awesome.”
Immediately a wave of peace swept through her even as Perry tightened his grip and yelled, “Shut up and get your hands off my hand. Don’t talk again.”
When they reached the ground floor they came to a side door that led to a dark alley. Perry pulled Cassie closer; she could feel his rage, strength and power. It made her feel sick. He popped the door open with his hip and surveyed the alley.
“I’m not a stupid girl,” says Cassie. “I knew if I left with him I would be raped and maybe even killed.”
During the moments Perry and Cassie stood at the door, Cassie heard the voices of her family and friends emanating from the lobby. Five minutes earlier she had been with them and now she didn’t know if she would see them again. The thought caused her to want to cry, but she felt God say: “It’s OK. I am going to take care of you.”
Perry pulled her violently into the alley. “If you scream now I’m going to blow your head off,” he growled, reinforcing his demand by pressing the gun (which authorities later learned was a pellet gun) even harder into her temple.
As they started down the alley Cassie spotted family friends. Perry seemed to see them too as he loosened his grip. Knowing this was probably her only chance to escape, Cassie broke from him, screamed and sprinted toward her friends.
“I don’t remember taking those steps away from him, I just remember being out of his arms,” she says now. “I was afraid he was going to shoot me so I looked back and all I saw was the back of his head as he ran the other way.”
Her adult friends rushed her into the hotel’s lobby where police were called. Cassie gave police a detailed description of her abductor.
“We asked God to shine a light on this man so his actions would be revealed,” says Debbie Chivers. “God answered our prayers.”
Days after Cassie’s abduction the FBI arrested Perry for his involvement in an Internet pornography ring. When they searched Perry’s house they found videotapes and CD-ROMs containing depictions of Perry sexually assaulting two 8-year-old girls. Federal charges were filed against Perry and he was found guilty and sentenced to 180 years in federal prison.
Sharp investigators began to suspect that Perry was the “Mall Rapist,” a man who had sexually assaulted and raped women and children in local shopping malls and at department stores since 1999. Investigators studied the hotel’s surveillance videos from the night Cassie was kidnapped. Soon after, Perry, a husband and father of two, was charged with 51 counts including sexual assault and kidnapping.
Perry pleaded guilty to numerous counts and was sentenced to an additional 195-year term in prison. At his sentencing hearing in Dane County Court, Cassie addressed him.
“I forgive you,” said Cassie to Perry as he buried his head in his shackled hands and cried. “When you were bringing me down the stairs of the hotel and I said, ‘Jesus, Jesus, I love you,’ He heard me! He heard every single word and He wasn’t going to let you win.”
Though she never wants to relive a single second of her ordeal, Cassie says she believes God used her to stop Perry. And for that opportunity she is grateful.
“This was the miracle [I had been praying for],” says Cassie, now 15 years old. “God never left me. He gave me the determination to break away. It’s amazing what God can bring out of the worst situations.”
For countless women and children who will be spared Perry’s wicked ways, Cassie’s abduction and escape are nothing short of a miracle.
Kirk Noonan is associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
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