She was attacked at 4 p.m. on a Thursday in a downtown Minneapolis parking garage. Her assailant camouflaged himself in a business suit. She was parked just steps from the elevator on her way from work to school.
As he put a knife to her throat and hissed in her ear, “We’re going for a ride,” Angela Champagne-From had one thought: She was not going to get into that car.
Instead, the longtime Anoka County resident and former beauty queen fought back. Remembering moves she learned in a Spring Lake Park High school self-defense course, she stomped his feet, clawed at his face, bit his hand and jabbed at his crotch, kicking and screaming.
She suffered a 10-inch stab wound to her abdomen that cut so deep the tip of the blade reached her back muscles.
As her assailant, a sex offender, fled, he said, “You’re lucky you’re a fighter.”
She lost half her blood as she ran down four levels of the parking garage, but she survived. A year after the attack, she has made it her mission to educate women and girls about the importance of self-defense by sharing the details of her survival.
Champagne-From, 30, has launched the “Fight Like a Girl” campaign. It’s intended to reclaim the negative, mocking views that society has about fighting, hitting, — doing anything — like a girl, Champagne-From said. She hosted her first public event last week at Blaine City Hall. More than 70 people — mostly women and teenage girls — attended, listening as Champagne-From shared her frantic 911 call to police as well as photos of the crime scene and her injuries. She discussed the attack, her recovery, the criminal trial and her campaign to teach other women to fight like a girl.
“I believe if he’d gotten me into that car, I wouldn’t be here today,” Champagne-From said.
“I want to be remembered as an intelligent fighter who survived every woman’s worst nightmare and go on to touch the hearts of as many woman as possible by sharing my survival story and advocating for silent victims.”
Champagne-From grew up in Blaine. She’s a 2001 graduate of Spring Lake Park High School and was crowned Miss Blaine 2002-03.
Her younger brother is a Blaine police officer.
“I one hundred percent support her. You can just see the passion in her,” said Officer Al Champagne. “She’s an amazing woman.”
Several members of her family attended her presentation.
“I fully support her. She was saved for a reason, to spread her message,” said her husband, Adam From.
Champagne-From works as a paralegal in Minneapolis and was pursuing her bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and legal studies when she was attacked on April 19, 2012. She was on her way to class. She doesn’t recall seeing her attacker as she walked to her car in the McGladrey Plaza parking ramp at the corner of 8th Street and Marquette Avenue.
“I work at a law firm. I see white men in business suits every day. It’s completely normal,” Champagne-From said.
When her attacker approached from behind with the knife, she thought it was a joke.
“I grabbed the object at my throat. It was a knife. I sliced my thumb,” Champagne-From said.
The attack lasted about three minutes. During the fight, she tried but was unable to remove the bottle of repellant in her purse.
“It was zipped inside that little pocket,” Champagne-From said.
In the end, her survival instincts and her own hands, feet and voice were her most effective weapons.
After the attack, she called 911. The dispatcher couldn’t locate her, so she started running down to the main floor of the garage. She said she believes that had she stayed in her car, she would have collapsed and bled to death.
“I lost so much blood on the scene, the homicide unit was called in to take the pictures,” she said.
She immediately went into surgery at Hennepin County Medical Center. Her liver and adrenal gland had been lacerated. She spent several days in the hospital.
Minneapolis police arrested a man named Robert John Meyers, a sex offender with rap sheets in several states, including Minnesota and Iowa.
“This guy was a serious predator and a lifelong one,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. “He had a horrible reputation of sexually assaulting all sorts of people and going to great lengths to do it. He once told people he was a doctor. He disguised himself as a student.”
When he was arrested, he still had red marks that investigators believe came from Champagne-From’s fight. Police found the suit and dress shirt he was thought to have worn during the attack. They found Champagne-From’s and Meyers’ DNA on the shirt.
This spring, a jury convicted Meyers of first-degree assault with aggravating factors. A judge sentenced him to the maximum 20 years. In Minnesota, convicts serve two-thirds of their sentence behind bars if they maintain good behavior. At his sentencing, Meyers said he hated women, Freeman said.
“She’s a strong woman and I am glad she is out talking to women about protecting themselves,” Freeman said. “She was strong during that attack and a great witness.”
Initially, the attack left Champagne-From physically weak and shaken, but it strengthened her resolve to speak out in behalf of women.
She’s partnered with Sealed Mindset, a self-defense firm in New Hope.
Anne Yatch, Sealed Mindset’s business development director, discussed self-defense and gave a few pointers. She compared self-defense to driving a car. They’re complex skill sets with life-or-death consequences, but confidence and skill develop with training and practice.
“Every single one of us has this ability,” Yatch told the crowd. “Every person in this room is able to survive a critical incident.”
Since the attack, Champagne-From has also gone back to Spring Lake Park High and worked with the students taking that same self-defense course she took 12 years ago.
Graduating Spring Lake Park senior Miranda Ament was one of these self-defense students who met Champagne-From at school. She persuaded her mother and older sister to attend Champagne-From’s talk.
“I think it’s amazing what she is doing, teaching young girls to protect themselves in bad situations,” said Miranda’s mother, Stephanie Ament.
Champagne-From called the attack “dark, brutal and evil.” But the ensuing year also has been full of good beginnings. She got engaged and married and graduated from Hamline University. She hopes to attend law school and become a prosecutor.
“Being confident is the best thing a woman could do. I can guarantee you he didn’t expect me to fight back,” Champagne-From said.
Her parting words for her attacker now: “You messed with the wrong chick.”