- Associated Press - Sunday, June 24, 2018

FLAGLER BEACH, Fla. (AP) - She’s spent decades chasing bad guys, making daring life-saving rescues and providing a refuge for victims of injustice.

But standing on the Flagler Beach Pier during the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week sunrise ceremony in April, longtime Flagler Beach Police detective Liz Lowe undertook perhaps the bravest feat of her career. She told a crowd gathered about the darkest night of her life, publicly sharing her personal story of survival for the very first time in the oceanside town she’s policed for the past 23 years.

Lowe, known to most in Flagler Beach by her maiden name, Liz Williams, was 19 when she was abducted, beaten, robbed and raped by two men.

It was a nightmare that haunted Lowe for years and changed her life in an instant. But she didn’t let it define her.

Lowe took up law enforcement and found healing by serving as an advocate for those preyed upon like she once was.

“I don’t even know if I would change it,” she said during a recent interview. “Granted, I kind of lost some years there, struggling with (post-traumatic stress disorder) and not knowing what direction my life was traveling. That was pretty difficult. But I don’t know if I would change it. I love my life. I love the people I’ve met and the feeling I get of feeling like I’ve made a difference.”

Lowe, 55, handed in her police badge May 21, retiring to spend more time with family and enjoy life as a newlywed - she got married for the first time in April.

From investigating crimes to serving a key role on Flagler County’s drug intervention team, Lowe became an icon in Flagler Beach over her law enforcement career. To people she’s helped in their time of need over the years, her departure is bittersweet.

“I don’t know a better person than Liz to be in the position she was in, and it’s actually pretty sad to see her retire,” said Kristy Adcox, whom Lowe supported after her teenage daughter faced threats from a classmate last year. “She’s just a great person and she actually really cares about people.”

Innocence stripped

Liz Lowe grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas, a small town that straddles the Oklahoma border. She graduated high school and moved to Houston at the age of 17, where she worked as a waitress while attending college courses.

Her fun-loving teenage life ended on Halloween night in 1982 when a gunman kidnapped her as she returned home from a party. Lowe later learned that the gunman, Rory Keith Jones, was the leader of a gang of serial rapists who had stalked south Houston for years, preying on young women, she said during her April 8 speech at the pier. Jones forced Lowe into her car and drove her to a parking lot behind her apartment, picking up an accomplice, Robert Nickerson Jr., along the way. The two men took turns sexually assaulting Lowe and pilfering her car, she said.

“Literally, when that man came out from the bushes with a ski mask on and a gun pointed at me, immediately, nothing ever was the same again,” Lowe told The News-Journal.

Both men were eventually nabbed and convicted. Jones was sentenced to 45 years in prison for assaulting Lowe, she said, and Nickerson got 85 years in a separate case, Harris County, Texas court records show.

The attack left Lowe lost and hopeless. The wide-eyed girl she’d always been was gone, leaving her with the task of self-rediscovery. For nearly a decade, she struggled through that emotional journey, spiraling into a cycle of heavy drinking and depression. She later realized she was also struggling with undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder.

“What I had to do was just quit trying to be that person I was before,” Lowe said. “That was the main thing. Everything was just like I wanted to be that person again. And once you experience something like that, you’re not ever the same.”

Lowe eventually moved back to Fort Smith and was determined to turn her life around. She had an epiphany, that she wanted to use her pain and experience to help other victims of crime, and decided the best way to do that was to become a police officer.

She moved into her brother’s St. Augustine home in 1994 and enrolled in the Police Academy. A year later, she joined the Flagler Beach Police Department.

Officer Williams

When Lowe came to Flagler Beach in 1995, there were only nine officers on the force and none of them were women. Then-police chief Mike Plummer said he was looking to add a female officer to the agency and was impressed by the promise Lowe showed as an academy cadet. She quickly proved her mettle as a solid patrol officer and became Flagler Beach’s first detective in 2001 when Plummer restructured the department.

“She kind of brought a new perspective to the agency, a new way of looking at certain things,” Plummer said. “She loved law enforcement work. She loved being able to help people, and she was always willing to jump in and help.”

Lowe did just that in January 1999 when she dove off the Flagler Beach Pier and rescued a parachutist who was drowning in the Atlantic, using a pocket knife to cut him loose from his chute so she could pull him ashore. Her heroics were featured in an FBI magazine and she was honored by the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C.

It was her willingness and ability to go the extra mile, aiding crime victims in their time of misery, that endeared Lowe to the community. And for years, she volunteered with the Flagler County Drug Court, a pre-trial intervention program for non-work in retirement.

In 1999, she wrote the police department’s first Victim of Crime Act grant, and helped establish the grant program for the agency. It is designed to assist women and children impacted by crime, and has provided the Flagler Beach Police Department with more than $1 million in federal grant dollars for victim advocacy over the past 19 years.

Lowe also served as a member of the Florida Crisis Response team and responded to Pulse nightclub in Orlando following the mass shooting there on June 12, 2016. For years, she volunteered on Flagler County’s drug court, a pre-trial intervention program for non-violent, first-time drug offenders.

In 1999, she wrote the police department’s first Victim of Crime Act grant, and helped establish the grant program for the agency. It is designed to assist women and children impacted by crime, and has provided the Flagler Beach Police Department more than $1 million in federal grant dollars for victim advocacy over the past 19 years.

Lowe also served as a member of the Florida Crisis Response team and responded to Pulse nightclub in Orlando following the mass shooting there in June 12, 2016.

“Someone like Liz, who’s story is extremely powerful, she has the unique connection with victims,” Flagler Beach Police Chief Matthew Doughney said. “And she understands that empathy and sympathy and compassion are not weaknesses in this profession at all. They’re actually a strength. She used her story to channel that energy toward helping the victims in our city. That’s going to be really hard to replace because there’s an entire generation of people that have grown up in this community that know Liz Williams as the detective.”

In June 2013, James McDevitt dragged a woman behind a building in Flagler Beach and raped her in the middle of the night. It was a brutal attack that garnered heavy media attention. Through it all, it was Lowe who strengthened the victim of the assault. The News-Journal is not disclosing the woman’s name because she’s a sex-crime victim.

The woman credits Lowe with saving her life by supporting her through a low point when she contemplated suicide, saying she called Lowe day and night during her time of crisis. She still talks to Lowe regularly and considers her a friend today.

“I look at her as my angel,” the woman said. “She went through the same experience, so she understood what I was going through. The fears, the PTSD, the flashbacks, the feelings like I was crazy. That helped me out, hearing from someone who had been through it too.”

Lowe will remain in Flagler and said she still plans to serve on drug court. She owns a home near the Bull Creek Fish Camp in west Flagler where she and her husband, who she married April 28, will live together. Her mother lives in Palm Coast and her 27-year-old daughter recently bought a house in Tampa.

“Just at this time in my life, I feel like maybe I can figure something else out to do,” she said. “But right now, I just want to be a better mother, a better daughter and a good wife. I’ve never been a wife.”

Six-year veteran Ofc. Austin Yelvington will take over as Flagler Beach’s new detective, and Doughney said there’s money budgeted for a second investigator.

The Legacy

Rory Jones was paroled in 2011, despite Lowe’s objections. Less than three months after being released, he tried to rob and rape a motel maid before assaulting the woman and dragging her into a van, according to a Denton-Record Chronicle news report.

In 2014, Lowe had another bout with her past when she traveled back to Texas to testify against Jones during his sentencing for the 2011 assault. She sat within feet of the man who had changed her life forever and told jurors what he’d done to her 30 years prior. It helped convince a judge to send Jones, 58, back to prison for life.

It also allowed Lowe to close the door on her old demons.

“It was very, very liberating. After that, I felt like I had healed all through my adult life up to that point,” she said. “It was like going back and being able to face him, but not as a pile of Jell-O. As a pile of bricks.”


Information from: Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal, http://www.news-journalonline.com

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