94-year-old park ranger returns to work after assault

A 94-year-old woman who was viciously attacked in her Richmond apartment last month made a triumphant return Tuesday morning to the historical park where she serves as the nation’s oldest full-time park ranger.

Betty Reid Soskin had her first day working Tuesday at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond since she was assailed by an intruder on the night of June 27.

Grinning colleagues were lined up and flanked by media as Soskin was greeted at the park’s visitor’s center and asked to address a crowd. But amid all the fanfare, there was the sense that she was eager for a return to normalcy.

When asked about her recovery, Soskin said:

“The experience took something away from me, and I’m still trying to measure that. … And (it’s) something that can only be replaced by getting back into my routine.”

Soskin woke up around midnight in her Richmond apartment on Hilltop Drive to find a man rummaging through a jewelry box in her bedroom.

She responded by reaching for her cellphone to call for help, according to police. The attack began when the suspect saw what she was doing, wrestled the phone away from her and started punching her.

The suspect then dragged Soskin from the bedroom into the hallway before unleashing another round of blows, according to police. Eventually, she crawled into a bathroom and locked herself inside.

For nearly an hour, the suspect went through her apartment stealing items, including a commemorative coin given to her by President Barack Obama.

Soskin said the attack left her with black eyes and other visible injuries that she felt the need to hide by not going outside for a week afterward:

“I was almost obsessive about not wanting to look like a victim, because I did not feel like a victim. … But the day I looked in the mirror and all signs of bruising was gone, I felt myself again.”

Soskin added:

“I realized it was all transitory.”

Speaking frankly to those gathered to welcome her back Tuesday morning, she said there were still emotional wounds she suffered that she continues to cope with.

She admitted sleeping with the lights off at night has been a challenge. She was also conflicted about whether she would ever be able to confront her attacker, who has still not been arrested.

Soskin conveyed that she was nonetheless prepared to resume her work at the historical park, which features the role of women and the Richmond shipyards in the World War II home front.

At the park’s visitor’s center, Soskin gives regular talks about her experience as a young African American woman during that period:

“It probably will be a different experience (now), so much has happened — not only to me but to the nation.”

Soskin said she was glued to her television during her recovery, alluding to events such as the recent police shootings of black men during routine traffic stops in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The lectures of Soskin, the great-granddaughter of a slave, revolve primarily around the nation’s race relations history, “opening up those conversations in ways that much of the country has yet to experience,” she said.

She attributed the support she has received during her recovery to her being able to continue that work.

As for the coin given to her by the president during a White House Christmas tree lighting last December, it hasn’t been recovered.

She said she has come to realize that the coin itself had little value, but that it was the memory of having the president press it into her palm that she treasured:

“After all, it’s just a coin. … The experience was irreplaceable.”

Still, police have said the coin could potentially help identify the suspect in the assault.

Anyone who is offered the coin in a sale or trade is asked to immediately report it to Richmond police by calling (510) 620-1755.