I’ve stopped hating the person that threw acid in my face but how can she sleep at night?
Victim Naomi Oni on attack that left her scarred for life
A WOMAN left scarred for life by acid last night bravely pleaded for her attacker to come forward.
Naomi Oni, 20, suffered full thickness burns to her face, arm, hand and leg in the terrible incident.
She was also left blind for two days and lost her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes after a person in a niqab threw the liquid over her as she walked home from work.
Speaking exclusively to The Sun, the Victoria’s Secret shop assistant from Dagenham, east London, said: “This could have happened to anyone and I just want this person to come forward. How can they sleep at night knowing they have done this?
“I have stopped hating them. I just feel sorry for them and I wonder what’s going on in their life to want to make someone else suffer like that.
“But I would like to see them caught, for everybody’s sake.”
Describing the moment her life changed forever in the early hours of December 30, Naomi said: “I left work at Westfied in Stratford, took the Tube, then got off the bus about five minutes from home.
“It wasand I was on the phone to my boyfriend, Ato Owede.
“I felt a presence behind me a few minutes away from home so I turned around, not really expecting to see anybody. But I saw a person wearing a niqab, a little taller than me. They were just staring coldly at me.
“I was startled so I turned away. Suddenly, from nowhere, I felt a splash on my right side and I just ran. I thought to myself, ‘Someone is trying to kill me’.
“Before I even realised, it was burning, I somehow knew it was acid.
“I didn’t look back, I didn’t risk it. I didn’t know if they knew me, or my name, if they had been sent. It was all so fast. I just thought to myself, ‘This person will not kill me, they will not take my life’.
“I ran for my life, screaming, down the road. I was still on the phone to Ato so I told him to call 999.
“I banged on my front door screaming, ‘Acid, acid, acid’.
“My mum opened the door and my family’s faces were completely shocked. She said as soon as I came into the house she could feel the heat off my skin and smell my hair and skin burning.
“My godmother Nelly, who’s a pharmacist, kept me calm, pouring water over me in the bath and from the shower to try to wash off the acid.
“It was burning through my leggings, my top and my cardigan and patches of my skin on my leg had turned black where the clothes had stuck to the skin.
“I was shaking and shivering when the police arrived and they were stunned. They had never seen anything like it.
“I was panicking — just asking, ‘Who would do this to me?’ I work so hard, what have I done to deserve this? I kept asking my family, ‘Am I ugly? Am I a bad person?’
“They were saying, ‘Of course not’ but I couldn’t understand. I don’t argue with people, I keep myself to myself and I’m a private person.”
Naomi was taken to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London, then transferred to a specialist burns unit at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, Essex.
By the time she got there she had nearly lost her sight in both eyes.
She said: “The doctors were washing my eyes out for about 45 minutes and afterwards I looked in the mirror. My head was about ten times its normal size and my face was so swollen. What shocked me the most is that it was so black. I’m light skinned and I looked like burnt toast.
“I started crying. If Ato hadn’t been with me I would have tried to take my own life. I thought, ‘My life is never going to be the same again’. I wanted to train as a theatrical and media make-up artist but I thought, ‘Who will hire me looking like this?’
It sounds silly but I was still in shock. I was so angry because I had just had my hair permed and extensions put in and I was so annoyed they were ruined. I just hadn’t taken in what had happened to me.”
Naomi’s sight failed, leaving her blind for two days. She added: “I had different doctors and nurses around me but I couldn’t see them until two days later.
“Ato and my uncle Paddy came to see me and they just held my hands, telling me everything was going to be OK. Ato was so calm. He has been so positive.
“I was in two minds because I wanted to see him but I didn’t want him to see me like that. But when I was saying, ‘Why me?’, he made me realise it could have been worse.”
Naomi, who is sole carer to visually impaired mum Marian, 52, added: “The doctors had told my mum I might never see again, which was hard for her, because she relies on me being able to see for her. My sight began to come back gradually so I was lucky. Even so, I kept waking up and thinking it was all a dream.”
A fortnight into her hospital stay, Naomi had an operation to remove the damaged tissue from her face and head and was given an allograft — in which doctors use a synthetic skin to cover wounds.
She then had another op to graft skin from her right thigh on her face, forehead and left thigh. The graft has pulled down her right eyelid, meaning she cannot close her eye properly.
Medics have told her she will have to wear a plastic mask in future to help her skin heal. She joked: “When I first saw it I thought, ‘This is awkward, my thigh is on my face’.”
Naomi, who was discharged on January 25, spent three nights staying in a bed and breakfast with mum Marian because they were too afraid to go back to their council house.
They are currently sleeping on a friend’s sofa while they wait for alternative accommodation.
Naomi said: “I’m afraid to go back to Dagenham because my attacker is still out there. How can I go back if I might bump into them again?”
Police have found no CCTV footage of the attacker, who Naomi says was about 5ft 6in tall. She added: “The silhouette looked like a woman but it could have been a man and they had the same complexion as me. The police haven’t been able to find anyone — they even asked my aunt if I had done it to myself, which really upset me. Why would anyone do this to themselves?
“Anyone who knows anything about this, please come forward. I just don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”
Naomi said she had been encouraged by the story of model Katie Piper, who was severely burned in a deliberate acid attack in 2008.
She said: “I remember reading about Katie and really relating to her because she was into fashion and the same things as me.
“I remember thinking, ‘If someone did that to me I would die’. She’s so brave. She’s given me hope that I won’t always look like this and things will get better.”
In hospital, Naomi watched a Channel 4 documentary, Saving Face, about the lives of Pakistani women who had been attacked with acid.
She said: “People over there are in a far worse state than me. They know their attackers and still haven’t got justice. If they can be so strong, then I have no excuse.”
Naomi, who had planned to go to college this autumn, now hopes to help other facial injury victims. She said: “This has taught me that life is too short to not follow your dreams — I have to go for it. Maybe I can be a make-up artist working with people who have had a similar experience or who have skin problems.”
And despite her ordeal Naomi insisted it had made her stronger.
She added: “This has made me realise so much about myself.
“Before, I was a fashionable girl and I loved make-up. I loved my hair extensions and long hair — at work they called me Beyonce.
“The person who did this couldn’t have chosen a better target if they wanted to get someone who liked to look good. I felt they were laughing, as if to say, ‘You like to look pretty, how are you going to do that now?’ ”
She added: “It doesn’t bother me now to look at myself in the mirror. I used to spend three hours getting ready to go out but that’s not important to me now because I know looks don’t define a person.
“The person I was before lacked confidence. I’m proud to be who I am. Girls worry about stupid things, saying, ‘I don’t have this’ or, ‘I don’t look like that celebrity’ and they don’t have any love for themselves.
“I have it now — it took something awful to make me realise it.
“They may have burned my skin, but they can’t burn my soul.”