THE elderly Filipina immigrant who was assaulted in New York earlier this year has revealed that she forgives her attacker and “prays” for him.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News’ “Nightline” on Thursday, May 20, Vilma Kari said: “My attacker, I prayed for him because I felt he needed prayers.”
“That’s part of our belief. You know, we pray for those who persecute us or those who have harmed us, and show them love. You know, that’s the only thing, because love is the most powerful thing in the world,” the 65-year-old Filipina added.
Kari was walking to church around 1 p.m. on March 29 when the suspect, later identified as Brandon Elliot, assaulted her and knocked her to the ground.
The unprovoked attack was captured by a CCTV camera, showing Elliot kicking Kari several times in the head before walking away. He reportedly told her, “You don’t belong here.”
Kari suffered serious injuries, including a fractured pelvis and forehead contusions, according to the police.
“I’ve been asking those questions… Why me? Did I do something wrong? What did I do to provoke that? And all [my friends] could say to me is maybe there is a plan for you because you were spared and you’re a strong woman,” Kari told “Nightline” about the brutal, caught-on-camera attack that shocked the country.
“Maybe God is telling you to do something. So, with the help of my daughter… she kept telling me, ‘Your story can be an awareness for what’s going on with the community, with Asian Americans,’” she added.
Kari admitted that she still feels fearful, but stressed the need to “rise above” it.
“I feel I just have to accept and be open … even though that fear is in my heart,” she said.
“But if we let fear overcome all these things, then nothing will happen. We have to rise above fear and be stronger than that — be stronger than fear,” she added.
The Filipina senior also expressed gratitude for the outpour of support she’s receiving, but said that she still hasn’t completely recovered from the incident.
“I’ve received prayers and support and love from the people all over the world that I don’t even know them. I would like to tell all of them thank you from my heart because it has helped me and it’s still helping me in my recovery,” Kari said.
She added, “Physically, I’m healing well, but mentally [and] emotionally, I’m not there yet.”
Kari came to the United States decades ago to pursue a master’s degree in business administration and major in economics, according to an ABC News feature written by Allie Yang.
While in the U.S., she fell in love, got married, and had a daughter named Elizabeth.
Widowed after her husband passed away eight years ago, Kari visited Elizabeth in New York during the pandemic.
“All I have is my mom. I don’t have any others. I’m an only child… I’ve had moments where I thought about what if it played out in a different way,” Elizabeth said about the attack.
“I have no idea how the situation would have turned out otherwise and I would have been totally by myself. I don’t know what the next step would have been at all,” she added.
Elizabeth also said she’s amazed that her mother was able to forgive her attacker.
“I don’t know if I could have said the same things myself. I’ve been watching her over the last couple of weeks. Just the emotional growth of her getting to that point. I actually hadn’t heard her say that,” she told Nightline.
Following the incident, Elizabeth started a GoFundMe page for her mother that has since raised over $270,000.
The love and support that the family received through the GoFundMe page led to Elizabeth starting a project called AAP(I Belong) to encourage Asian Americans to share their personal stories of racism and belonging in the U.S., as previously reported by the Asian Journal.
“AAP(I belong) is a place to share stories and words of encouragement from those who have encountered anti-Asian hatred,” Elizabeth wrote on the website.
AAP(I belong) encourages the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community to “share any personal stories, sentiments, or words of encouragement,” some of which will be published on the website or displayed in a pop-up gallery space in New York City in honor of AAPI Heritage Awareness month.
Vilma said she was “full of pride” for what Elizabeth is doing.
She also declared that she belongs in the U.S., contrary to what her attacker told her.
“That’s what I heard mention to me, that I do not belong here and I, I say I belong and I want to insist I belong,” said Kari.
“I have contributed to the success of this country in my own way, no matter how small is that, you know. So I think that. I just belong,” she added.