FORT WORTH — A young mother remains paralyzed in a Fort Worth hospital after a stranger severed her spine in an apparently random attack.
It happened Sunday afternoon at Stephenville City Park, where 28-year-old Brandi Todd was playing her kids.
The victim's son and daughter saw their mom attacked.
Doctors now say she will never walk again.
On Tuesday afternoon, a very strong young woman was preparing to to break that news to her children.
Todd had noticed a man acting strangely. As she turned to check on her kids, she felt the knife between her shoulder blades — like getting hit from behind.
"She started to get up, and fell to the ground," said Todd's mother, Denise DeForest. "And he just walked away... calmly walked away."
The blade of the knife severed 90 percent of Todd's spinal cord. Her four-year-old son could only watch; her eight-year-old daughter called her grandma.
"Before the ambulance was there, before the police were there, she said, 'Nini, my mom's been stabbed.' I said, 'What?' She said, 'My mom's been stabbed.'"
Police arrested 42-year-old Michael Howard nearby. From jail, he told a reporter with the Stephenvile Empire Tribune he was a long-time mental health patient, and that he was trying to get help because something was controlling him.
"Did not even know her name. That's what is so devastating, is that a person can just decide to alter her life, her children's lives... in just seconds," Denise DeForest said. "A random act. Why did he pick her?"
Brandi Todd's parents say their 28-year-old daughter is showing extraordinary courage. Her father, Jim DeForest — a veteran of three wars — knows something of courage.
"Everyone is around the bed, kind of gloomy because of all this, and she says, "Hey gang, I'm not dead.'"
"She's got a great sense of humor," her mother added. "She was going, 'Look doc, I can move my hips.' He said, 'Honey, those are your shoulders, those aren't your hips.'"
Denise DeForest laughs to keep from crying, but she knows there are a lot of tears to come when Brandi Todd has to explain to her children their lives will go on, but they will never be the same.
Mental health authorities in Stephenville don't confirm that Michael Howard was a patient. Brandi Todd's parents want to know if he somehow fell through the cracks.
The Todd family has no insurance. Brandi's husband lost that when he was laid off from his job. A fund to help cover medical expenses has been set up at the Town & Country Bank in Stephenville.