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Crime: Victim of savage attack is rebuilding her life

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Michele Messer said she and Chris Campbell hit it off immediately when they met at the Island Bar in Pawleys Island last summer.

“Normally,” she said, “I don’t talk to anybody at a bar, but we just clicked and ended up talking for 10 hours. It was insane.”

Though Messer, 35, was from New York and Campbell, 39, from Virginia, they could hardly believe their connections: the likes, the dislikes, past relationships and plans for the future. They sat talking until 3 a.m. “It was like two peas in a pod,” Messer said. “It was incredible how much we had in common, or so I thought any way.”

Messer told her story of a love gone wrong after having had two of three surgeries to replace her nose. Her former boyfriend is in jail, accused of biting it off.

Though apprehensive at first, Messer said their summer romance became like a whirlwind within weeks. By September Campbell was living with her and her children, ages 3 and 9, in Myrtle Beach. They had started a business together, C&M Painting. “Everything was really good with us,” she said.

Messer said there were signs in Campbell’s background that she ignored. She learned that he was awaiting trial in the death of a patron at Lumpy’s, a Pawleys Island bar, and he had been accused of other assaults in what she calls “a menacing and violent past.” One night in January they had an argument that changed everything. “He threatened to take my last breath and pointed to my kids’ rooms and said they are next,” Messer said. “That was it for me. You can’t involve my kids. I threw him out of the house.”

Messer said she called the Horry County Police after Campbell left, fearing he would come back, but police couldn’t do anything. Campbell had left quietly. Even so, Messer didn’t think their relationship was permanently damaged. “I really thought it was an empty threat,” she said. “I didn’t see him doing anything to hurt us, but that was before we knew all about his past.”

Ten days later they ran into each other at a birthday party at the Sandy Monkey, a bar on Business 17 in Garden City. Campbell sent her a text: “Of all the gin joints in all the world you walked into mine twice,” knowing one of her favorite movies was “Casablanca.” Messer said Campbell asked if he could move back in with her. “I told him no,” she said. “Maybe in six months, a year down the road we would talk about living together again, but he couldn’t be around my kids.”

She said Campbell seemed to accept her refusal. “He even cried for a few seconds,” she said. The music and crowd noise made it hard for the couple to talk, and Campbell suggested they go out to Messer’s van. She agreed. “As soon as the door shut, he locked it and started beating me like I was a grown man: the face, arms, stomach. I was in shock. He had never put a finger on me.” Messer said Campbell is a big man, 230 pounds, and she instinctively turned toward the door for protection from his fists. All she remembers is feeling his teeth on her face.

“I passed out,” she said. “I woke up and asked what happened. He said, ‘I bit your nose off.’ He was very cool about it, like it was a normal thing, like I slapped you. I looked around and saw blood everywhere. It looked like a scene out of a movie. I touched and felt. Oh, my gosh.” Messer told police that Campbell said he was going to kill her before he put his hands around her throat and began squeezing. “I couldn’t breathe and was choking on the blood,” she said. “I started seeing white. I knew I had seconds to get out of that van or I was going to die.”

Messer doesn’t know how she managed to unlock the door and lift the handle, just that she woke up in the bar’s parking lot as Campbell came around the vehicle and kicked her. An off-duty emergency medical technician — Messer has never learned his name — drove up and told Campbell he was calling the police. “He saved my life,” Messer said.

According to the Horry County Police report, Campbell was talking on a cellphone with blood on his hands when an officer ordered him to the ground. When he refused, he was shot with a Taser and handcuffed. Campbell was asked if he was carrying a gun. He told the officer he would have put a bullet in his forehead if he had been armed, according to the police report.

Messer passed in and out of consciousness as an ambulance arrived and took her to Grand Strand Regional Hospital. She said she waited alone in the emergency room for seven hours. “I didn’t know where I was,” she said. “I’m freaking out dealing with all this by myself.”

Emergency workers found the piece of Messer’s nose on the van’s floorboard, but by the time she was transferred to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston it wasn’t viable for reattachment. Having half a nose was the least of her problems, she said. Horry Police had charged Campbell with criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature, and she feared he would post bond and come after her. “I freaked out,” she said.

Messer decided to go public, posting pictures of herself on Facebook to show what happened. “I hadn’t even looked at my nose yet,” she said. “I took pictures of myself, a horror selfie. I knew that was going to be the only way to get it out there. I didn’t expect it to spread as much as it did. It went viral so quickly. Within a week and a half, they added attempted murder to the charges. They knew exactly what he tried to do.”

Campbell remains in jail awaiting trial. “I check every day just to make sure he’s still there,” Messer said.

Disfigured and unable to work, Messer took a chance and wrote “The Doctors,” a medical show on CBS. They accepted her and sent word: She had two days to get to Hollywood for the first taping. It had been just over two weeks since her nose had been bitten off. She did the interview with her disfigured face exposed for all to see. “She was incredibly brave,” said friend Shari Smith, owner of Barefoot Barista in Pawleys Island.

One of the show’s hosts, Dr. Andrew Ordon, did the first of three surgeries to begin the repairs, taking cartilage from her septum and ear. In a second surgery two weeks ago, Ordon cut a flap of skin from her forehead that contained an artery and vein, twisted it and sewed it to Messer’s nose. “I’m growing a new nose,” Messer said. “It’s amazing.” The third surgery later this month will shape the nose and either reattach the flap to her forehead or cut it away. She will go back to Hollywood in July for the final taping of the television show.

Messer said Ordon has promised a cute, button nose. “I hated my nose. I said if I ever got plastic surgery the nose would be the first thing to go,” she said.

With her physical recovery in sight, Messer wants to help other battered women. “Now,” she said, “it’s a bigger mission.” She said abused women have contacted her asking for advice and help. She wants to start a safe house for them in Horry County.

“God kept me alive for a reason,” Messer said. “I should be dead. My life has a new direction. I can’t sit around knowing there are so many other people that are hurting out there and being abused.”

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