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updated: 8/15/2011 10:51 AM

Elgin teacher can't forgive teen who stabbed her

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  • Carolyn Gilbert works with two of her students in home economics class.

      Carolyn Gilbert works with two of her students in home economics class.
    CHRISTOPHER HANKINS/Daily Herald file photo

  • Carolyn Gilbert, a teacher at Elgin High School, was stabbed in 2008 while at work.

      Carolyn Gilbert, a teacher at Elgin High School, was stabbed in 2008 while at work.

  • The Daily Herald first profiled the attack, recovery and return to teaching of Elgin High teacher Carolyn Gilbert in a three-day series in April 2009."

      The Daily Herald first profiled the attack, recovery and return to teaching of Elgin High teacher Carolyn Gilbert in a three-day series in April 2009."

  • The Daily Herald first profiled the attack, recovery and return to teaching of Elgin High teacher Carolyn Gilbert in a three-day series in April 2009."

      The Daily Herald first profiled the attack, recovery and return to teaching of Elgin High teacher Carolyn Gilbert in a three-day series in April 2009."

  • The Daily Herald first profiled the attack, recovery and return to teaching of Elgin High teacher Carolyn Gilbert in a three-day series in April 2009."

      The Daily Herald first profiled the attack, recovery and return to teaching of Elgin High teacher Carolyn Gilbert in a three-day series in April 2009."

 
By Kerry Lester

The Christian thing to do, Carolyn Gilbert says she knows, would be to forgive Angel Facio for attacking her with a knife.

In her Elgin classroom, he stabbed her so brutally she could have died, had it not been for the intervention of a colleague.

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Lingering medical issues, a host of new fears and few signs of real remorse from her attacker have made forgiveness difficult.

Now that Facio has discussed the attack from behind prison walls publicly for the first time since it happened, Gilbert says his words don't change much.

"I don't forgive him," she said. "It's too fresh, too soon."

Gilbert, who lost her right eye because of Facio's attack, has worn three different prosthetic eyepieces in as many years' time. The foreign object leaves her eye socket so sensitive to stress and sudden changes in temperature that many of the things she loved -- watching 3-D movies, water skiing, hiking, and teaching sewing -- are difficult.

Some days, her eye is so raw and reddened she must wear a patch to school.

Inside Elgin High School, it's impossible to avoid certain reminders of that cold January day.

She's nervous when she's alone in a hallway with a teenage boy. She won't go near her old classroom, where she taught child development. She can't even look at its windows when she's outside the school building.

"I think about it all the time," Gilbert, 53, said softly of the attack, looking at her hands as she sits in the living room of her Bloomingdale townhouse.

Yet, while Facio has forever changed Gilbert's life, she has refused to let him define it.

In sewing class, threading a needle with one working eye, she rationalizes, isn't as hard for her as for other older teachers.

If students approach her on her right side, she says she simply nudges them to move to the left so she can better see them.

"Last year I did not tell the kids about my eye," she said. "One kid actually knew, (and asked) in class, 'Oh, are you the teacher that got stabbed?'

"What do you say to that?"

It threw her off, momentarily. "I said, 'Oh, yes I am.' And I moved on real quick. And all these other kids were looking around like, what the heck is going on? 'Let's just move on,' I said."

New problems and worries still keep cropping up.

When she heard that longtime Elgin High Principal Dave Smiley was retiring, panic struck Gilbert.

"I emailed him right before and I said, 'I know this is a silly question, but can you find out if any of his (Facio's) brothers will be attending here?'" she said. "They did look into it. I don't want to be dealing with the brothers. I just didn't want them in the school."

Since the attack, Facio's family has moved out of the suburbs. One brother, who just turned 17, attends high school. His other, younger brother -- just 8 -- is years away.

Gilbert considers Smiley as her protector -- one of a number of "guardian angels" she says she has at school. She says she'd "never pick anywhere else to teach."

Still, she misses the security and trust she felt with Smiley because he was there when it all happened, working with his staff to move beyond the attack, together. "Dave knew everything," Gilbert said. "He knew my qualms, he knew when I got nervous about stuff, got fearful about stuff."

She worries, too, that Facio might show up on her doorstep when he's released from prison.

That day doesn't seem so distant.

He tried to kill her, she knows now. She knows, too, she might never know why.

But she has moved on with her life as best she can.

"I'm OK," she said, wiping both eyes. "I'm not going to dwell on it for the next 10 years."

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