Donna Ongsiako, left for dead, survived a violent home invasion: “There’s no earthly reason why I’m alive. None.”
Tiny Colts Neck, New Jersey, sits just 50 miles from New York City. But it might as well be a world away. In July 2013, this quiet community was rocked by news of a violent home invasion where the victim was stabbed repeatedly. The only thing more shocking: the victim survived.
Donna Ongsiako: My name is Donna Ongsiako. … I lost in total, close to three quarters of the blood in my body. There’s no earthly reason why I’m alive. None.
Jim Axelrod: If I had asked you at the time to give me a list of 100 things you’re worried about, where would have home invasion been?
Donna Ongsiako: Oh, no. Never.
Donna worked for a company that brokered fuel for ships on the nearby Jersey shore. She and her daughter Kiersten lived in a farmhouse on the edge of flower fields.
Kiersten Ongsiako: She was 20 when she had me. So, we’re only 20 years and one day apart.
Friend Sharon Sharpe hired Donna decades ago.
Jim Axelrod: Kiersten had just been born?
Sharon Sharpe: Yeah, Kiersten was a baby. … I thought she was really brave … being a single mom … very young.
Kiersten Ongsiako: I was by her side all the time.
Kiersten, who now works as a welder, recalls what life was like just prior to her mother’s attack.
Kiersten Ongsiako: We were going to the gym multiple times a week. … Not only was she, like, mentally strong, but she was physically strong.
Sharon Sharpe: She was so fit. She did Tough Mudders with Kiersten.
Donna Ongsiako: I like that competition … I like to show strength, physical strength …
Donna Ongsiako: Things couldn’t have been any better at that time.
That’s when Saturday of July Fourth weekend rolled around. Monmouth County Detective Andrea Tozzi says they were having a heatwave.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: It was … humid. … But we had no … rain or anything like that. … I mean it was a dry night.
Jim Axelrod: So, Donna — had her windows open.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Yes. … She had her windows open … just to obviously to circulate air.
Donna Ongsiako: Kiersten was out at a party. … So, I was home doing laundry. … I’d say about 11:00, 11:30. I decide … I’m going to get ready for bed. … I let the cat out. I went and brushed my teeth.
But just as she was drifting off to sleep —
Donna Ongsiako: I heard what I thought was the cat. I heard something, and I remembered, oh, I forgot to let the cat in.
Without turning on any lights, Donna headed downstairs to open the front door for her cat.
Donna Ongsiako: But instead, when I opened the door, I saw someone standing there. … In the split second … after seeing this person on my porch, I saw the knife. … He was trying to cut into the screen of the window that was right next to the front door.
She says she didn’t recognize the young white male standing right in front of her, holding a large knife.
Donna Ongsiako: I tried to slam and shut the door. … My fingers were protruding out. He stuck the knife through the opening and … cut my finger so that I immediately let go of the door. And then he pushed his way in.[…]
Donna Ongsiako: I’m backing into my kitchen. We’re face to face. … It didn’t register to me that he was actually going to stab me.
But without a word, that’s exactly what the stranger did.
Donna Ongsiako: He slashed my cheek. And you can see that here. And actually, it starts back here (points to the right side of her face and ear). … There was no way to process that that happened.
Donna’s attacker came at her with the knife again.
Donna Ongsiako: He then slashed three times on this side of my neck.
She tried grabbing the knife but only cut her own hand in the process.
Jim Axelrod: Did you feel like you were dealing with somebody who was really strong?
Donna Ongsiako: No. But I felt like he was very sure, like he was very in control of himself.
Donna was starting to weaken from the injuries.
Donna Ongsiako: I felt like … my legs were going to give out. … So, I braced myself against the corner of my bathroom … right next to the front door.
Sure enough, she slid down to the floor.
Donna Ongsiako: I was in fetal position … and I’m bleeding. And he came over and … it was kind of like he was playing, you know, with the knife and just started jabbing at me. So, that’s when he caught me here (points to a scar near the left side of her mouth). Um, and he got me in the back of my neck here (point to the back left side of her neck).
Finally, Donna’s attacker spoke to her.
Donna Ongsiako: This was when he decided … to ask me for my car keys and if I had a lighter …
Jim Axelrod: A lighter?
Donna Ongsiako: I just answered him. There’s a lighter in my purse. And my purse was on the table back in the kitchen. … So, he went over and was rummaging through my purse and got the keys, got the lighter.
Donna’s assailant ended up taking her entire purse with him, but not before returning one last time to Donna, still bleeding on the floor.
Donna Ongsiako: He said … “you dead bitch” and plunged the knife into my chest.
Jim Axelrod: Once he plunges the knife in and then removes it? What does he do then?
Donna Ongsiako: He just walked out the door.
With no neighbors in ear shot, Donna knew she must get help — somehow.
Jim Axelrod: Your phone isn’t in reach?
Donna Ongsiako: No, my phone was upstairs in my bedroom charging.
Donna had no landline in the house. But even as the blood was draining rapidly from her body, she had one pressing concern above her own survival.
Donna Ongsiako: Kiersten could come home and find me. … I just didn’t want her to have to experience … any level of the horror that I had just gone through or any other levels in finding me there dead.
Jim Axelrod: So, this is a mother’s instinct as pure as it gets.
Donna Ongsiako: Yes, absolutely. Yeah.
Jim Axelrod: You know you have to get upstairs if you’re going to be able to make a call for help.
Donna Ongsiako: Right.
Jim Axelrod: How do you get up those stairs?
Donna Ongsiako: That I don’t know. … There was divine intervention that helped me up those stairs. No doubt. No doubt in my mind.
AN INSPIRED CLIMB
Laurie Gerhardt: She’s a tiny little woman. … You have to imagine … that many stab wounds. And she just willed it. She was not going to die there.
Former Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Laurie Gerhardt says Donna Ongsiako was determined her daughter, Kiersten, would not come home to find her dead. She knew she had to get to her cellphone upstairs.
Donna Ongsiako: I don’t remember … my feet or my hands actually touching the stairs. … The energy that it took for me to get up off the ground and up those stairs. … I was definitely guided.
Kiersten Ongsiako: The amount of strength that goes into that is just unimaginable.
Jim Axelrod: But the motivation was you.
Kiersten Ongsiako: Yeah, yeah. Maybe I was there guiding her in spirit.
Once Donna made it upstairs, she faced a new challenge after peering out her bedroom window.
Jim Axelrod (outside Donna’s house): She had a car sitting right here?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: She had a car sitting right in this area.
Donna Ongsiako: I could still see the car was there and I could see the car was on and he was in it. … If I take my phone off the charger, it’s going to light up. … He’s going to see the light.
Afraid her attacker would come back for her, Donna did her best to hide the light of the phone. Then, just getting it to work became the next hurdle.
Donna Ongsiako: My hands are covered in blood. My touch screen … I was trying to swipe and swipe. … I ended up having to … wipe my hands off, wipe the phone off, wipe it down … on the bed. … And then I was able to do the touch screen and get through to 911.
DONNA ONGSIAKO TO 911: Uh, my name is Donna Ongsiako. I just got stabbed really bad. … Some kid just came in and stabbed me. He stole my car.
911 OPERATOR: OK, OK, OK. Just stay on the phone with me, OK? Where did you get stabbed?
DONNA ONGSIAKO: In the neck. Blood is gushing out. And in the chest.
Detective Andrea Tozzi says Donna’s ability to place that call despite her injuries was amazing, but then Donna did something even more extraordinary. She gave a detailed description of her attacker.
911 OPERATOR: OK. Do you know what he looked like?
DONNA ONGSIAKO: Yeah, he was probably about 17. White, real skinny, curly hair. Blonde, dirty blonde hair. … Backpack.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: It was pretty chilling to … listen to Donna and be able to hear her accurately … talk about “this is what happened. This is what he looks like.”
DONNA ONGSIAKO TO 911: I’m losing consciousness.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: And then hear her fade out.
911 OPERATOR: Donna? Donna? Hello, Donna? Donna?
DONNA ONGSIAKO: Yes, ma’am. … I think I just passed out for a minute.
Police and paramedics arrived less than eight minutes after Donna dialed 911, but her attacker had already fled. Donna was rushed to Jersey Shore University Medical Center and into trauma surgery. It would be a few more hours before Kiersten arrived home from her party to a house surrounded by flashing lights.
Kiersten Ongsiako: I saw the caution tape and that her car was gone.
Police told Kiersten what happened to her mother.
Jim Axelrod: You were deeply shaken.
Kiersten Ongsiako: Oh, yeah. I remember at one point … my knees buckled … they had the SUV, the undercover cop car. The trunk was open. So, I was like, can I sit here because I feel like I’m going to pass out.
As Kiersten was processing the news, an all-out manhunt had already begun for Donna’s assailant. Detective Tozzi says another 911 call had come in shortly before Donna’s attack from a driver who saw someone walking along the road near Donna’s house.
911 CALLER: I was going to pick up my daughter and there was a kid hitchhiking.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: They saw a young man … with a backpack and khaki pants. … He was walking close to the fog line and kind of stepping into traffic. … She felt that he was kind of a hitchhiker.
911 CALLER: He was on the north bound side, walking south bound, and I’m afraid he’s gonna get hit by a car …
911 OPERATOR: How old about? Caller: I’m gonna say like 18,19, 20. Something like that.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: She was concerned because she just thought that maybe he needed help in some way.
Jim Axelrod: And was a car dispatched?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Yes. Yes. They didn’t find him, though.
Still, the Good Samaritan driver had inadvertently given the investigation its first lead.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: I felt like the hitchhiker was my person. … It was too coincidental … for that time of the night in that area, for somebody to be walking … and then 15 minutes later … Donna’s calling to say that she was stabbed.
And there was about to be another tip — not long after Donna’s 911 call — from a fast-food restaurant five miles from her house.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: They saw a subject walking through their drive-thru, knocking on windows, carrying a knife and it looked like it had blood on it.
Employees from the Taco Bell quickly called police.
OPERATOR: Do you have any description of him?
CALLER: Yeah, he was wearing um, you know, like those Army pants? And he had no shirt. … He’s White. With, like, really, like, bushy hair, but it was, like, long. Like the skater-type hair.
OPERATOR: How old was he?
CALLER: I don’t know. He looked like he was like 18.
Police rushed to the Taco Bell and started canvassing the nearby shopping center. They didn’t find their suspect, but they did find something else.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: So, there had been a BOLO put out on — on Donna’s vehicle.
Jim Axelrod: Be on the lookout.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Right. And … in the process of looking for this person here … they found the car.
Donna’s stolen car had been ditched behind a movie theater.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: It was lights on … and it was running. So, it clearly was an abandoned vehicle.
Tozzi says the car would become crucial.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: There was blood all over it. And so, we were hoping that we would get some kind of DNA evidence of our suspect.
Jim Axelrod: Did you?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: We did.
A SUSPECT EMERGES
Sharon Sharpe will never forget the dread she felt when she arrived at the hospital to see her friend Donna Ongsiako only to be told she wasn’t there.
Jim Axelrod: I’m picturing the color draining from your face and the air, leaving your lungs, like —
Sharon Sharpe: Totally … no, this cannot be. There’s no way, she has to be here.
Jim Axelrod: Did you think maybe she had died?
Sharon Sharpe: Yes. Yes.
It turned out, with her attacker still on the loose, the hospital had admitted Donna under an alias to protect her. Sharon was allowed to see Donna the next day.
Sharon Sharpe: An intensive care room I’ve never seen before. … It looked like an enlarged, massively enlarged cockpit wall because there were tons of machines behind her. And she looked almost like a puppet.
Donna Ongsiako: Surgery was seven hours, I believe.
Despite losing three quarters of the blood in her body, trauma surgeons had saved Donna’s life, but at a tremendous cost.
Donna Ongsiako: I pretty much looked like a living cadaver. … I had 37 stitches on my face and neck, 38 staples in my chest, seven stitches in my hand. And now internally, my sternum is wired shut.
And as for that final stab to Donna’s chest just before her assailant left —
Donna Ongsiako: It missed my heart by the edge of a dime is what I remember them telling me.
The edge of a dime.
Jim Axelrod: When she talks about the margin that the knife missed her heart by.
Kiersten Ongsiako: Yeah … if she was any slouched over … anymore, that would have been it.
Kiersten says as soon as her mother was able to talk, she had one simple request.
Kiersten Ongsiako: I remember her saying, all I smell is this blood in my hair. Can somebody please wash my hair?
Sharon says they got permission, and then she and two of Donna’s family members did their best to wash Donna’s hair as she lay in her hospital bed.
Sharon Sharpe: We were determined to see if we could make her smile. So, we turned it into a ridiculous idiot session with three of us … like a factory line. … We laughed through our tears. … and any time … anybody would get too serious we would make it funny.
But her hair was far from Donna’s biggest concern. She was sure her attacker would find her and finish the job.
Sharon Sharpe: She was convinced that he was in the hospital. And we kept telling her, no, you’re here under an alias.
Donna Ongsiako: I survived. I stood face to face with him. I could 100 percent positively identify him. He’s coming back for me.
Detective Tozzi says they were pretty sure the young man knocking on windows at the Taco Bell drive-thru shortly after Donna’s attack was their suspect. Within two days, a customer who saw him met with a police sketch artist.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: And … was able to provide pretty great details on the person she saw that night.
Investigators then took the sketch to the hospital.
Jim Axelrod: What did Donna say when she saw that sketch?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: She said, yeah, that was incredibly accurate. … She tweaked it a little bit. … She said that … yes, that looks like the person who stabbed me.
Donna Ongsiako: His … curly blonde hair. … He was like a surfer kid … or a skateboarder or something like that.
Former Assistant Prosecutor Laurie Gerhardt says the sketch of the suspect was soon plastered all over Monmouth County and on law enforcement social media.
Laurie Gerhardt: So, people are obviously talking and trying to figure out, do we know where is he from? Who is this kid?… And it’s scary because you like to have a sense of security in your community.
Investigators reviewed the cameras of stores in the shopping center near the Taco Bell to see if they’d get lucky and spot their suspect, hoping the more images they had, the more likely the chance of identifying him.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: We were … trying to go back and look at video … from various businesses to see the description and … really to put out the BOLO like this is who we’re looking for.
Security cameras had captured the suspect once again.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: The surveillance we got from the store over there … was from the inside the store, but it was pointing outwards.
Jim Axelrod: I see. And it definitely caught him.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Oh, yeah. You could see him walking.
Jim Axelrod: Wow.
As police kept looking for the suspect, Donna Ongsiako was turning a corner, at least physically. Amazingly, after just four days, Donna was released from the hospital. Sharon says that was all due to the training Donna had done prior to the attack.
Sharon Sharpe: Clearly, she’s very physically fit. … She wouldn’t have survived this if she wasn’t.
Jim Axelrod: It’s an amazing thing. You were out in four days. But as you leave the hospital, you are also walking back into a world where whoever did this to you is still out there.
Donna Ongsiako: Right. But also … I wasn’t going back to the farm. I wasn’t going back to my house. No, there was no way.
In fact, Donna would never step foot in her house again. She and Kiersten moved in with family living in New Jersey. Then, just eight days after the attack, not long after the police sketch began circulating, Detective Tozzi’s phone rang.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: I take the call and the woman on the other end … says that she’s calling about the stabbing in Colts Neck. I said, “OK.” I said … “How can I help you?” And she said, “I … think … my cousin Brennan Doyle may have something to do with that.”
It was the first time Tozzi had heard the name Brennan Doyle. He was just 16. His cousin told Tozzi word was going around her family that Brennan was involved in the Colts Neck stabbing. The cousin had seen Brennan just days prior to Donna’s attack.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Between July 3rd and 6th, because he was up in Connecticut for her wedding with his family.
Jim Axelrod: He had attended her wedding?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: He attended her wedding, and she was able to provide us a picture of what he looked like during the time he was up there for the wedding.
Laurie Gerhardt: The photo she sends is Brennan with long, curly hair, wearing camouflage shorts. Looking very much like the kid in the sketch and more importantly on the videotapes.
Brennan’s resemblance to the sketch all around town was about to become even more important because of what the cousin told Detective Tozzi happened a few days later.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: She was staying at … Brennan’s family’s lake house in New Hampshire as a wedding gift. And Brennan, his brother and the mother showed up there unexpected.
Jim Axelrod: Hang on. This woman is in Lake Winnipesaukee. She’s on her honeymoon?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Yes.
Jim Axelrod: And all of a sudden there’s Brennan, Brennan’s mother, Brennan’s brother, crashing her honeymoon?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Yes. And the dog.
But what was even more surprising was Brennan’s appearance.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Brennan’s hair was cut.
Jim Axelrod: The next time she sees him, he’s cut his hair?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Yes.
Jim Axelrod: So that’s a big red flag.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Yes.
AN UNLIKELY SUSPECT
Brennan Doyle’s cousin told investigators that Brennan showed up just days after Donna’s attack, hundreds of miles from home, with his hair suddenly cut short. Like Donna, the Doyle family resided in Colts Neck.
Laurie Gerhardt | Former Assistant Prosecutor: They lived in a very nice house, two sons, a mom and a dad. … The life of a typical Colts Neck’s teenager. It’s a life of wealth. It’s a life of privilege.
Brennan was a student athlete on wrestling and hockey teams. Detective Tozzi started digging into his background.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: He had never been arrested. … There was never any charges filed against him prior to … our … investigation.
According to the prosecutor’s records, police had been called to the Doyle house for what they refer to as “family conflicts.” The location of the home would turn out to be very important.
Jim Axelrod: Where did Brennan live?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: So, if you make a right up here, um, and you go up maybe a quarter of a mile, uh, on the left.
Jim Axelrod: So, that’s close.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Yeah.
The teen and his family lived within walking distance of Donna’s house — up the very road that driver had reported seeing someone she described as a young hitchhiker just prior to Donna’s attack.
Jim Axelrod: When does the Doyle family return to Colts Neck?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Later in July.
With Brennan and his family back in town, Tozzi reached out to the family, saying investigators were canvassing the neighborhood.
Jim Axelrod: What happened when you went to the house?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: We spoke with Mrs. Doyle. … She was … nervous. … Her voice was cracking.
Jim Axelrod: Did this raise an eyebrow for you?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: It did.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: We asked if Brennan and his brother could come and look at the composite sketch … if they had any idea who that person might be on the sketch.
Jim Axelrod: Did Brennan come out?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: He did.
Tozzi says she wanted to see Brennan’s hair to confirm what his cousin had told her: that it had been cut much shorter. It seemed the teen tried to stay a step ahead when he came out to greet the detective.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: He was wearing a hat. He was wearing a baseball hat.
Laurie Gerhardt: I think wearing a baseball cap … was a calculated move.
It might have been, but it didn’t work.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: You could tell his hair was cut short.
Next, Tozzi showed Brennan the police sketch of the suspect — the same one Donna helped tweak to look just like her attacker.
Jim Axelrod: How did he react?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: He … looked away. He looked at it, looked away. And said,” “I don’t know. I don’t know.” … He was nervous, and he was scared. … And he got very quiet.
Matt Troiano: There is a reaction. Eyes are down. … No eye contact. People are nervous. Mom starts redirecting the conversation.
Brennan Doyle’s family and his attorney denied “48 Hours”‘ request for an interview. We asked Matt Troiano, a defense attorney and CBS News consultant, to study the case file.
Matt Troiano: And I think that that probably confirms what they believe going in.
Brennan’s odd behavior and resemblance to the sketch and video evidence may have been striking, but with nothing else to go on yet, Tozzi thanked the Doyles for their time and left.
Jim Axelrod: Did you know that was your guy?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: I was pretty confident … that we were on the right track with him. But we also have a duty … we had other leads that were coming in. … So, we were doing a lot of … follow ups.
As investigators worked the case, Donna was struggling. Weeks after the attack, the reality of what had happened to her had taken hold.
Donna Ongsiako: I lost everything that night. I lost my home, had nowhere to go. I lost my car. They took it into evidence.
Jim Axelrod: Donna, you lost more than half your blood.
Donna Ongsiako: Exactly. I lost — I lost a lot.
Donna says that’s when, in addition to her physical recovery, she faced a new challenge.
Donna Ongsiako: Symptoms of PTSD started to show up. … I’m not eating. I’m not sleeping. I don’t care about anything. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m happy. You know, every emotion under the sun at any minute.
Donna Ongsiako: I felt like I was going crazy. … I was … always thinking … “I don’t know who this kid is, but he climbed through the window in that second that I fell asleep and now he’s hiding in the closet.” You know, kind of crazy thoughts.
Sharon Sharpe says Donna’s fear meant even friendly visits required a new protocol. –including announcing her arrival every step of the way so as not to trigger Donna.
Sharon Sharpe: “I’m going to come around the hedges now and I’m going to enter the backyard. I’m going to be touching the gate in three, two, one.” … I would shake my keys first, which had bells on them … Say, “It’s me, Sharon. I’m coming.”
The investigation lasted through the summer of 2013. Brennan Doyle remained the only likely suspect. Detective Tozzi says investigators took the next step in September.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: We got a warrant to obtain his DNA … his fingerprints, photographs of him, just things that are personal to him.
When the results came back —
Matt Troiano: There’s a fingerprint match, then ultimately there’s a DNA match.
Brennan Doyle’s DNA was a spot-on match to unknown DNA found in Donna’s car — in a number of places.
Matt Troiano: Eleven different DNA samples and pieces of evidence found in that vehicle. And really, there’s no reason why Brennan Doyle’s DNA should be in this woman’s vehicle. … He’s a stranger to her.
One more crucial piece of evidence was found in early October in the most unexpected spot.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Repairmen were servicing an air conditioning unit that was on the top of the strip mall. … They found the knife … on the roof right near the air conditioning unit.
A knife, looking weathered, as though it had been there for months was found on a bowling alley roof in the very same shopping center where the Taco Bell was located and where Donna’s car had been abandoned.
Jim Axelrod: How important was the knife?
Det. Andrea Tozzi: It ended up being very important because … the knife was from a set. … We determined that that knife matched another knife that we knew came from the Doyle household that had been taken months earlier.
Through a twist of timing and fate, the Colts Neck police already had another knife from the Doyle home, taken after police were called to the house a few weeks prior to Donna’s attack, following an altercation between Brennan and his brother.
Matt Troiano: There’s a knife that’s apparently used by the younger brother … in a threatening manner. Police are called. Police take the knife… and the situation ends.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: There was no charges or anything that came of it, but … they secured the knife in their evidence vault. … It was the same … brand name, the same look. … It was a silver knife.
Jim Axelrod: It was from the same collection.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: Correct.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: That was kind of the icing on the cake to get … a search warrant. … They had moved during the course of this investigation. So, we got a search warrant for their new home.
The search of the new Doyle residence, also in Colts Neck, turned up the rest of the knife set matching the one found atop the shopping center. In late October 2013, Brennan Doyle was arrested.
Jim Axelrod: What kinds of charges was he facing?
Matt Troiano: Serious ones. Attempted murder, carjacking, weapons possession. These are the most serious of crimes that we have.
THE STRENGTH TO MOVE FORWARD
Months after Donna’s brush with death, her alleged attacker Brennan Doyle was in custody, facing six counts including attempted murder and carjacking. He pleaded not guilty.
Laurie Gerhardt: You have to look at the seriousness of the offense.
The prosecution felt the crime warranted trying Brennan as an adult — even though he was 16 at the time.
Laurie Gerhardt: in juvenile court, Brennan is looking at four years maximum in … a youth detention facility … In adult court … he’s looking at up to 30 years.
A judge would rule in Assistant Prosecutor Gerhardt’s favor, but there was a catch. Brennan would now be entitled to post bail, set at $760,000, which he did.
Jim Axelrod: When you heard he was out, did all of the fear come rushing back?
Donna Ongsiako: It wasn’t so much fear as it was anger that he was even allowed to be bailed out.
The thought of running into Brennan terrified Kiersten. She says he even haunted her dreams.
Kiersten Ongsiako: I didn’t realize how much it was affecting me … I had no idea until I was, like, falling asleep. And all I see is his face.
As prosecutors developed their case, the details of what happened that horrific night began to emerge.
Jim Axelrod: What does Brennan Doyle say happened the night of July 6th, heading into the morning of July 7th, 2013?
Matt Troiano: Mushrooms. He says he was … under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms.
According to investigative reports he examined, Matt Troiano says that on the night of Donna’s attack, Doyle claimed he was losing touch with reality and had gotten into a fight with his father.
Matt Troiano: He has a knife in his hand. … Dad kicks him out. … And … he kind of loses his mind, makes bad decisions.
Police thought it likely that Brennan, who lived a short distance away, approached Donna’s home looking to steal her car.
Det. Andrea Tozzi: I don’t know if his intent was to kill Donna. … certainly, when he started stabbing her, that became his intent.
Laurie Gerhardt: To me, what he’s doing is he’s getting rid of the witness.
Gerhardt believes Brennan did not act like someone incapacitated by drugs. Brennan drove five miles to that shopping center after leaving Donna’s house.
Laurie Gerhardt: This kid … manages to ditch a knife … He abandons the car … That’s not a kid who’s so high on mushrooms, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Troiano says while a lot of the evidence against Brennan Doyle was strong — the knife, the security camera videos — one thing put this case over the top.
Matt Troiano: What is going to seal the fate of this boy, this kid, is that there’s DNA in her vehicle that links to him. … It’s indefensible.
But as it turned out, there would be no need for a defense. In August 2015, Brennan Doyle agreed to a plea deal. In return, the prosecution dropped all but the two most serious charges — carjacking and attempted murder.
Donna Ongsiako: It was very important for me that he admit his guilt … If he took the plea, he would have to confess his guilt to the court.
In October 2015, Brennan Doyle, now 18 years old, appeared in Monmouth County Superior Court for sentencing. Donna, who’d attended every court appearance, was there to face him one last time.
Donna Ongsiako: Even though I felt overpowered by fear … I wanted him to see me as strong and as a survivor.
It was an emotional day for Kiersten, there to support her mother.
Jim Axelrod: When you would look at him in court? What do you remember feeling?
Kiersten Ongsiako: Anger. Very angry. Sorry (cries).
Brennan was permitted to address the court.
BRENNAN DOYLE (in court): The drugs turned me into a monster that night. … I pray and hope her wounds will lessen, and she will recover eventually. I am asking you to forgive me.
BRENNAN DOYLE (in court): Going to prison will be the hardest thing I will ever have to face in my life and I’m afraid.
“Brennan Doyle later sent “48 Hours” this statement:
“The only thing I can say is an apology to the victim. My actions have altered her life cruelly. She should never have had to take on the pain and suffering I inflicted. She did not deserve what happened to her, and it was entirely my fault. All I can do is wake up each day guided by my unforgiveable actions, and act with the dignity my 16 year old self did not possess. I am sorry for everything.”
Brennan Doyle was sentenced to 15 years in state prison. The law requires him to serve at least 85 percent of that time.
Laurie Gerhardt: Justice has to be done on both sides, and we have to be sensitive to that. We have a 16-year-old kid who for the most part had absolutely no prior history. … The court has a balancing act to do.
Jim Axelrod: Did it feel like justice?
Donna Ongsiako: It did not.
Jim Axelrod: What would have felt like justice to you?
Donna Ongsiako: More like 30 years. 40 years. 50 years. If not longer.
Even with Brennan off the streets, Donna was still struggling. She had found PTSD and domestic violence support groups but says there were none for victims of random attacks. So, in 2015, she decided to create her own: Survivors of Violent Crimes.
Tiffany Ott: [The] reason … we took to the support group … was … to help each other cope.
Donna connected with fellow survivors Tiffany Ott and Dana Richards. Together they held meetings and felt gratified they could help when more survivors joined.
Dana Richards: They’re finding relief in knowing that they’re not alone.
But Donna says her work isn’t done. Her future plans include helping victims connect with trauma therapists and offering self-defense classes.
As she grows her support group, she’s also educating others. She travels to prisons, meeting with inmates and addresses police cadets so they can understand the victim’s point of view.
DONNA ONGSIAKO (speaking to police cadets in 2019): I got up and made it up the stairs to my bedroom where my cellphone was … but I got through to 911.
Sharon Sharpe: She survives. And she’s building a life. … How could anyone not applaud that?
Donna says the physical scars that remain are a reminder of the surgeons who saved her life.
Donna Ongsiako: You could either get sucked into the darkness … or you just keep going. … I did what I had to do to — to be here today … and go another day.
Donna Ongsiako filed a civil suit against Brennan Doyle and his father. She was awarded $5 million. She has yet to receive payment.
Brennan Doyle will be eligible for parole in 2027. He will be 30 years old.
Produced by Susan Mallie and Kat Teurfs. Marcus Balsam, Michelle Harris and Jud Johnston are the editors. Lourdes Aguiar is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.
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