Content warning: This story contains descriptions of violence and references to sexual assault.

More alert and aware, April Hurley starts her days earlier since she was attacked. She finds herself waking up before the sun — trying to get ahead of the day — realizing now more than ever just how precious life is.

“I’ve been feeling an immense amount of gratefulness that I’m still alive and that I’m able to speak out about what happened to me,” Hurley said.

Last September, the 25-year old was sexually assaulted; her neck was sliced open and she was set on fire while living in a rented room in a rowhouse on Edmondson Avenue in West Baltimore. The man charged in the attack was Jason Billingsley, a convicted sex offender who was released early from his prison sentence in October 2022.

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Initial Baltimore Police statements say Billingsley became a suspect after investigators reviewed security camera footage from dates prior to the incident. On Sept. 18, he was seen on video wearing a black-and-gray Adidas sweatshirt and face mask, items later found by investigators near the crime scene.

Billingsley has since been indicted in four cases on multiple counts in different counties throughout Maryland, including the sexual assault and arson that hospitalized Hurley and Jonte Gilmore, a friend with her who was also assaulted, as well as the killing of Baltimore tech entrepreneur Pava LaPere.

LaPere’s death grabbed headlines nationwide, but the public was largely unaware of the attack on Hurley, despite both incidents occurring within days of one another by the same alleged perpetrator. Police did not initially disclose the sexual assault that occurred at the time of the fire, while Billingsley remained on the loose.

Hurley says there’s no returning to the young woman she was before the attack. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Hurley fought for her life and managed to survive the brutal attack and escape the fire, along with Gilmore. Five months later, the mother, singer and survivor is speaking out, wanting to remind other young women to remain cautious, and she’s also taking steps to advocate for victims of sexual assault, she said.

Hurley said she was stripped from the part of her inner self that she could once retreat to for a sense of peace, amity and solace. The fire destroyed her and her 3-year-old daughter’s birth certificates and Social Security cards. They also lost their beds, clothes and shoes, along with keepsakes.

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But what she did not lose was her voice. She’s begun the process of working every day — for the rest of her life — to not let the attack define her or let it be all that others see when they look at her, despite the inch-thick scars across her neck where nearly 50 stitches used to be.

“Right now, I have to take it one day at a time. And when when I feel sad or low, I tell myself that it’s OK to feel those things. But I try to work through them.”

Day to day, the 25-year-old still feels broken on the inside, she said, but her heart remains big. She did not deserve for something like this to happen to her — no one does, Hurley said.

A living nightmare

Hurley still bears physical and emotional scars from the attack. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Hurley’s life was pretty normal before the Sept. 19 attack. She’d get up nearly every day and head to work as a retail associate at a shoe store. She was working toward getting a bigger place so her daughter could get her own room, Hurley said.

Hurley and her mother, Dinah Colon, spoke with The Baltimore Banner in multiple interviews over the past month, describing some details of the attack and Hurley’s path to recovery. Last month, Hurley also recounted the attack for Breakbeat Media’s “Trappin Anonymous,” a show on YouTube.

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Hurley said she was lured out of the basement room she rented by a person already in the house. A man, later identified as Billingsley, knocked on her door yelling “maintenance,” and later said there was a flood in the kitchen.

When she went upstairs, she was grabbed by a man and held at gunpoint. “Don’t say anything or I’m gonna fucking kill you,” Hurley said the man told her.

He demanded money and eventually took her back down to her room, where Gilmore was sleeping. He bound them both, wrapping duct tape around Hurley’s ankles and head, covering both their eyes and mouths. Hurley was also handcuffed behind her back.

Over the next several hours, Hurley said she was sexually assaulted, strangled and — when she tried to fight back — had her throat slashed multiple times.

“I knew it was critical to try and save my life. So, I played dead,” Hurley said.

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Her attacker eventually removed the handcuffs and tape from her body. Hurley believes he wanted to keep them as his souvenirs.

The man then poured gasoline around the room, including on Hurley and Gilmore, before leaving. In the next instant, Hurley said she was completely covered in flames.

Using what little strength she had left, Hurley managed to escape by knocking out a boarded-up window, and yelling and screaming for help. Hurley said she heard Gilmore, who remained tied up in the room, and went back to the window to help pull him out as well.

Hurley said moments from the assault will replay in her mind over and over, sometimes making her too anxious to fall asleep. “I have really vivid nightmares about what happened,” Hurley said. “Sometimes, I wake up out of my sleep crying and can’t go to sleep.” Hurley said exhaustion has forced her to begin taking sleeping medication.

“I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night looking around to make sure that no one is in the house that’s not supposed to be there. Sometimes, I even wake up thinking I hear someone knocking on the door and there’s no one there,” Hurley added.

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Frustration and fear

Police arrested Billingsley on Sept. 30, eight days after LaPere was killed and 11 days after Hurley was attacked.

The department withheld information about the Edmondson Avenue attack until after Billingsley was implicated in killing LaPere on Sept. 22. Police initially reported the Sept. 19 incident as an “arson investigation” in which two victims were found suffering from “multiple injuries.”

Hurley has tattoos across her arms, including of praying hands and her mother’s name. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Both Hurley and her mother were bothered that law enforcement officials, in the early stages of their investigation, alluded to her knowing Billingsley.

During a Sept. 28 press conference following LaPere’s death, police were also questioned about the Edmondson Avenue attack. Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley said, “I’m not going to say too much more, because I don’t want to talk badly about victims, but he was there for a reason.” Worley later walked that statement back, apologizing for comments he said were victim-blaming.

“I felt offended because I don’t know what gave him [Worley] an impression that I could have personally known him in any way, shape or form, outside of him being the maintenance man,” Hurley said. “I just felt offended and I was kind of confused and felt like where did this come from?”

Both Hurley and Gilmore were hospitalized after the attack. Colon said her daughter was in an induced coma for two days as she recovered from her injuries.

When Hurley woke up, Colon reassured her daughter of her presence and told her that she didn’t need to talk. Of the few words Hurley would sporadically say, “it was the maintenance man” kept coming up, Colon said. She believes her daughter was targeted.

“He had been watching her to see her habits. … She did not know him. He was the maintenance guy. And he preyed on her because she was a single female,” Colon said.

She was also frustrated that police didn’t release Billingsley’s name and information as a suspect sooner.

“I was in the hospital, scared to death, thinking I don’t know what this guy looks like. He could show up here at the hospital — not that I left April’s bedside — or anywhere after she’s released, to finish the job,” Colon said. “He wanted my baby dead.”

In a Feb. 6 statement to the Banner, Baltimore Police spokesperson Lindsey Eldridge said the department “established oversight and renewed protocols into when and how suspect information is released publicly” following these incidents.

Police have previously said that Billingsley became a suspect in Hurley’s case after they reviewed video footage from dates prior to the incident. They also found a backpack “with fruits of the crime” — including a serrated knife, silver handcuffs and several pieces of used duct tape with hair stuck to them — in an alley near the crime scene, according to charging documents.

“Through the investigatory process we were able to quickly identify Billingsley as the suspect in this incident,” the statement said. “From the time that the warrant was approved, we were actively following leads to attempt to capture Billingsley.”

Billingsley is due in court on April 23, according to his public defender, who declined to comment further.

In the months since the attack on Hurley and LaPere’s death, Maryland lawmakers have introduced legislation that would put restrictions on the ability of some sexual offenders to earn time off of their sentences, under the the Pava Marie LaPere Act.

Elected officials, including Gov. Wes Moore, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates and state delegates all support the proposed legislation for the limits.

Kurt Wolfgang, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, believes the bill should be passed.

“It’s a sickening failure of the system to not protect future victims,” Wolfgang said. “In theory, there are ways, even in April’s instance, where there would have been ways to prevent that. But those holes in the barrel made this impossible.”

A road to recovery

These days, Hurley finds happiness in the smallest of undertakings. It can be as simple as stepping outside for a cool breeze because she’s always warm or harmonizing a hook while recording songs with other artists. She’s thankful the knife missed her vocal cords.

“Things like that or a nice meal, are just moments that I find myself appreciating like never before on a daily basis. Like I’ve never been so happy to go to work,” she chuckled emotionally.

But she believes there’s no returning back to the young woman she once was.

“My faith in God is the only conceivable way that I can understand how I’m getting through this. That, spending time with family, my daughter and going to therapy every week, is also helping me,” Hurley said.

Hurley says she's grateful to still be alive and able to speak out about what happened to her. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

She’s learning how to be present again amid the shock, she said. There’s nobody who helps her better with that than her daughter.

“Like, I got off work last night and I was just not having a good night. And my daughter ran over to me, and she was so happy to see me that it made me so happy,” Hurley said, as her eyes welled with tears. “She comforted me.”

Family members, like her parents, her child’s father, siblings and cousins, are also an aid as well.

“I taught her how to persevere and that things are always going to get better. So she’s really strong because she’s herself, but also because I’m her mother,” Colon said, adding that Hurley goes out of her way to be up under family right now.

Hurley said she’s been overwhelmed by the kind outreach from friends and others who have learned what she has experienced. But for them and everyone else reading her story, she wants them to know that she’s internalizing a lot of trauma.

“I just don’t think people just know how easy it is to mentally go back to something like that. And that’s what is hard to hold in. Like, even when stuff does bother me, I just hold it like it’s fine and it’s not. Like, I’m screaming and shaking on the inside,” Hurley said.

“I’m rattled, but I just know that this isn’t the end. If it was, I would have been gone that day,” she added.

Penelope Blackwell is a Breaking News reporter with The Banner. Previously, she covered local government in Durham, NC, for The News & Observer. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Morgan State University and her master’s in journalism from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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