It was 2 a.m. Melissa Dohme got a call from her ex-boyfriend, Robert Lee Burton Jr.
“All I want is a hug,” he said over the phone. It was late and she was wary—the breakup had not been a good one.
“It’ll take two minutes of your time and I’ll never bother you again.”
Dohme and Burton started going out in high school. Back then, “he was funny and very sweet,” Dohme said. Over six feet tall, he was a “gentle giant” she felt safe with.
But after high school, things took a turn for the worse. When Dohme told him she wanted to go to college—his personality changed completely. He became jealous and belittled her, trying to put her down and prevent her from pursuing her dreams. Then he started lying about inconsequential things, and yelling at her.
Dohme tried to break up with him, and he “put his hands around my throat three times,” she told Inside Edition.
“If I broke up with him, he told me, he would kill me and kill himself.”
He scared her silent.
But his erratic and abusive behavior did not stop, it only escalated. There came a day where Dohme and Burton got into the car—she in the driver’s seat because he had been drinking—and he suddenly got angry because she “shut the door before he had finished speaking.”
“He started hitting and punching me,” Dohme later wrote. She was able to get free and call the police—and Burton was then arrested and jailed for 10 hours.
He pretty much left Dohme alone after that, and it even seemed like he had moved on and started dating again. But a few months after that incident in October 2011, Dohme got a 2 a.m. phone call. He plead for closure, and although Dohme had a bad feeling about it, she decided she would try to be accomodating.
“That was the biggest mistake I ever made.”
She remembered that she brought pepper spray with her thinking it would help her protect herself, but when she stepped out of her mother’s house that night, Burton was waiting there with a switchblade. When Dohme approached, he flipped it open and stabbed her in her left shoulder. Then he stabbed her in the back of her neck.
Then he stabbed her 30 more times.
At some point, Burton had switched to a larger knife he had stashed in his car, and Dohme was in bad condition. She made it to a neighbor’s house, bleeding and barely upright, leaving bloodied handprints on the house wall. The ruckus caused a young boy and girl to come running over and call 911.
“This man stabbed this woman to death in the street,” said a frantic woman on the line with a 911 operator. “Just now—I watched him kill her.”
“Oh my God,” she said, in shock.” Oh—my God.”
When the police arrived, Dohme was bleeding out, crying, and she told them, “don’t let my mom walk out here, to my murder.”
And then she just “prayed to be saved.”
The horrific situation was getting worse by the second. Her mother stood by, and she just kept saying “please don’t take my girl, please don’t take my girl.”
Even the paramedic trying to stop her bleeding said at one point, “I don’t think she’s going to make it.”
But another first responder had gut feeling. Firefighter and EMT Cameron Hill was the only one who believed she would pull through.
He heard her say, “Don’t let me die, don’t let me die.”
“I had that sense in my head that I would see her again,” Hill said.
By now, Dohme had lost nearly all of her blood, was in critical condition, and had flatlined four times.
The fact that she lived through the night was a miracle not lost on anyone.
“She was seconds away from dying,” said Bayfront Health St. Petersburg trauma surgeon Dr. Jeffery Johnson.
What seemed like one, long endless day to Dohme was actually several days in intensive care while medical staff worked to keep her alive and her family was besides themselves wondering whether she would make it. As she came to, there was a pressing question still in her mind. She motioned for a pen, then wrote:
“Dead, alive or jail?”
Her family told her not to worry—Burton had been locked away and couldn’t hurt her anymore. She had a long way to go in her recovery journey, but this at least gave her peace of mind.
In the wake of her horrific attack, Dohme felt she was “damaged and had all this baggage.” A stab wound severed a nerve in her face. The complete right side of her face is now unresponsive—her attacker literally stole half her smile.
“I used to have a huge smile,” Dohme said, sounding regretful.
But she wanted to push through this and “still use my experience to help others.” She would do speaking events to raise awareness about abusive relationships, and let other victims and survivors know “they deserved to be loved and respected and valued.”
By October 2012, one year after Dohme initially broke up with Burton, she decided to meet her first responders again so she could thank them.
And there, she met Cameron Hill—the firefighter who had believed in her.
Immediately, she was filled with flutters and couldn’t stop thinking about him.
And “the more we talked the more we realized we had in common,” Dohme wrote. He gave her his number and said “You know we’re here for you,” and at first she thought he was just being nice. But a quick thank you visit turned into hours of conversation, and it immediately had become clear that they felt like they could talk to each other forever.
“She continued to amaze me more and more everyday,” Hill said.
They started dating, and Dohme had found in him what she never thought would be possible again. ” I never thought anyone would want to date me because I was damaged and had all this baggage,” she wrote. But Hill—“it became clear there was something special there.”
One year later, Dohme faced down her attacker in court, and Hill was right there by her side.
Burton pleaded guilty to an attempted first-degree murder charge and was looking at anywhere from eight years in prison to a life sentence. In October 2013, Circuit Judge Keith Meyer gave him a life sentence.
“Both of their lives will never be the same,” the judge said of Burton and Dohme.
It was an incredible moment of closure for Dohme. She felt like she walked out of the courtroom and had her life back.
“I am not a victim of domestic violence. I am a survivor of domestic violence,” Dohme said. “I can finally move on. This book is closed.”
And things continued to improve for Dohme. She had been a nursing student when she got attacked, but afterwards, she wanted to keep speaking out against domestic violence, and decided to pursue studies in leadership and management.
Her work raising awareness led to a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game, where she was invited to throw the first pitch.
But when she walked out onto the field, there was something off about the setup. She got up on the mound, but there was no baseball.
Then, Hill walked out to hand her a baseball, and got down on one knee.
One the ball were the words: Will you marry me?
Absolutely speechless, Dohme was over the moon.
“Of course I said yes.”
The two were married earlier this year, and everyone involved in saving her was invited to the wedding.
“Today I just feel very blessed to be here. I know that the attack was just one day in my life and it will never define me.”