Warning: Graphic content
In 2012, Dana Vulin, of Perth, Australia, was doused in methylated spirits and set alight by a woman who thought she was having an affair with her husband.
Vulin received burns over 60 percent of her body, including her face, and was left with significant permanent injuries.
She has spent the years since the attack rebuilding her physical and mental health, while fighting for her attacker to be punished. It worked: The woman was sentenced to 17 years prison in 2015.
Now in an extract from her new book, “Worth Fighting For,” Vulin explains in her own words exactly what happened that night.
In the early hours of February 16, I woke up to the sound of Natalie in my house.
I’d fallen asleep on the couch. It was a hot night and I’d drifted off without a top on — wearing only loose army pants that came halfway down my calves.
Across from me stood Natalie, with her arms crossed, wearing black pants, a black singlet and a black hat.
“Hello, Dana,” she said as I opened my eyes.
She’d watched the place until Paul left, sitting in her car for hours upon hours, smoking drugs, waiting for the chance to make her move. I would find all that out, but only much later, when it was far too late.
She’d forced her way in through the sliding doors from the private balcony at the back of my unit. The lock on the door had been broken for a couple of weeks.
I’d locked myself out of the apartment and had only been able to get back in by climbing onto my balcony from the side of the building. I would later learn that was how Natalie got in as well.
I’d been keeping the sliding door sealed by jamming a piece of wood into the track that it opened along, but it was still possible to open it about 30 centimeters [12 inches] or so, enough for Natalie, skinny as she was, to squeeze through.
I got up, shocked, and covered my boobs with my arms. “Natalie!” I yelled, “What the f–k are you doing? Get out of my house!”
She just stood grinning at me, eyes wide and glassy. She was high.
“Where is he?” Natalie asked.
I was still groggy. “What do you mean?”
“My husband,” she demanded. “I know he’s here.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. Still half-asleep, I got to my feet and stumbled about, looking for something to put on, and finally found a top on my bed.
As I was struggling into it, I heard the wood keeping the balcony door closed being removed and the sliding door being pulled all the way open. I walked back into the living area and found Natalie had let someone else into the apartment, a tall, heavily built guy.
The man knelt down and was playing with my dog, Killer.
I had no idea who this guy was at the time, but later I’d find out his name was Daniel Stone.
He was not a friendly looking person in the slightest. His eyes, like Natalie’s, were widened by drugs and cold.
He was grinning, but his smile was awful — cruel like his eyes and smug in a really chilling way.
He knelt down to keep playing with Killer. I didn’t like that because my little dog was everything to me. As if sensing my discomfort, the man looked up at me and winked.
“Just tell me where my husband is,” Natalie screamed and I realized that she thought I was hiding Edin somewhere.
I tried to reason with her. At this point, I still thought that if I could just calmly explain to Natalie that I wasn’t having an affair with her husband then the misunderstanding would clear itself up and she would leave.
The whole thing was so ridiculous to me. I had no interest in the man whatsoever, I had barely even met him, but I could not make Natalie understand that.
She was ranting, demanding I produce her husband out of thin air.
I moved across the room to give myself space, putting the bench that divided the kitchen area from the lounge room between us because she wasn’t calming down.
She ranted and raved at me while, in the background, Daniel Stone calmly took a phone call. He looked almost bored.
At that point, Natalie noticed the glass candle on my dining room table. She snatched it up.
It was a methylated spirits burner, a kind of candle made of clear glass where the wick draws fuel from the chamber within.
I’d bought the candle for a bit of mood lighting in my apartment, but Natalie had other ideas. She held it tight, lit it and then whipped out a glass crack pipe and used the candle to start heating up a rock of crystal meth. I couldn’t believe it.
As the sharp, chemical smell filled up my apartment, it occurred to me that this was the behavior of an ice addict.
She’d probably been high every time she’d called me. It would explain her irrational behavior, her paranoia, her threats.
Ice addicts live in an entirely different world, one with different rules. Ice lets users stay awake for days and days upon end.
While the body doesn’t get tired, the mind slowly starts to unravel and people can become aggressive, irrational and violent.
After days without sleep, a person can enter a state of psychosis.
That’s when the really terrifying potential of the drug is unlocked: a user can enter a state of total delusion, fixating on fantasies, carrying out the most frightening actions, all without stopping to think about what they are doing.
Much later, in court, it would be revealed that Natalie and Stone had been watching my house all night, smoking crack pipe after crack pipe, waiting to catch me alone.
When Paul had left that night, they’d seen their chance.
In that moment, though, I’d had more than enough. I moved across the room to snatch the burner from her.
The naked flame flickered between us as I demanded she get out of my house.
“He’s not here, Natalie!” I was yelling in frustration now. “Take a look around. He’s not here! I don’t even know him!”
Stone finished his phone call and moved to stand behind Natalie. She looked over her shoulder to talk to him.
“What do you think, Stoney?”
“You know what I think,” he said. “I think the b—h is full of s–t.”
It was only then that I realized how much danger I was in. I remembered all the threatening calls from Natalie and the strange man. I recognized the voice — it was this man.
The one who’d said, “I’m going to rape you. I’m going to mess up your pretty face. I’m going to kill you.”
I was terrified now. Taking the burner, I retreated back behind the kitchen bench, close to the front door, putting some distance between us in case Stone made a move towards me.
But it was Natalie who moved forward. She was less than a three feet away and getting frantic.
“Just tell me where he is,” she threatened, “or I’m going to burn you!”
This seemed so ridiculous I almost laughed, but instead, I just cried “What for, Natalie? What did I ever do to you?”
A second later my life as I knew it was over.
Natalie grabbed a bottle of methylated spirits from the cleaning products on my kitchen bench, removed the cap and threw the liquid all over me.
Waving her hand in a zigzagging motion, she doused me with the chemical, hitting my face, arms, chest, everything from the waist up.
The methylated spirits caught the naked flame in my hand and suddenly the whole world was on fire.
The flames were everywhere: my shoulders, my naked stomach — only my boobs were protected by my tiny boob tube.
The flames spread to my head, my hair went up in seconds and when I reached up to wipe the burning chemicals off my face, my hands were already on fire.
Panic took hold of me and I dropped to the floor to try to smother the flames.
My mind went back to a classroom years and years ago, when Constable Care, a cartoonish puppet who taught kids basic safety principles, visited our school.
It’s something that every Perth schoolchild remembers: this big friendly puppet telling you to look both ways before you cross the street, to be wary of stranger danger and if you find yourself on fire, to stop, drop and roll.
So, in the moment, that’s what I did.
This turned out to be the worst possible thing I could have done — a big no-no for chemical burns.
When I hit the floor and rolled around, all I managed to do was spread the burning chemicals onto my back, so now I was engulfed by flames.
The pain was excruciating, but through my screaming, I could hear Natalie and Daniel making their escape through the sliding door.
They were laughing at me while I burnt alive.
When I stood up the flames were getting worse and I could barely think through the pain. Panicked, I turned to the sink, trying to put the flames out by pouring a bucket of water over myself.
I kept screaming for help, for anybody who could hear. Across the room, poor little Killer was whining in terror.
I knew that I needed to get help. I was as good as dead without it. As I fumbled with the front door I could feel the skin falling from my fingers.
I managed to get the door open and crossed the hallway to the unit next to mine, kicking at the door while yelling for help. Long moments passed. There was no answer.
Even after the fire was finally extinguished the chemicals continued burning me and it was so intense.
I screamed so loud and for so long that when someone finally came, he wasn’t even my neighbor.
The guy who turned up was working out in the gym of an apartment building next to mine and he’d heard my screams and come running. By the time he got to me the flames had gone out. There was little left for them to burn. I lay dying on the floor. I opened my eyes to find a man in gym gear squatting next to me.
“I’m Denis,” he said, in a voice so calm it immediately brought me out of my state of shock a little bit. “I’m here to help.”
I’ll say this about Denis Ericson: the man is a hero. He lives in another building and he’s the one who saved me.
Think about it: from inside the gym of another building he hears a woman in distress and comes running, takes charge, saves her life.
There’s nothing about that day I’d wish on anyone, but it makes me feel so happy for humanity that there are people like Denis around — calm, kind and heroic.
“I’ve been set on fire,” I choked out.
He took charge immediately. “We need to get you in the shower,” he said, helping me up, but I tried to argue.
“Please, no,” I begged. I was in shock and I believed that running a burn under water is what made it blister.
I fought with Denis as he kept convincing me to walk to the shower; I was terrified that if he put me under the water it would disfigure me completely.
I could see it in my mind so clearly, the damage the shower would inflict on me.
Looking back with what I know now, it’s just about the dumbest thing I could have thought.
Denis was great, so calm and spoke to me really nicely to get me into the shower.
Asking me my name, telling me everything would be okay, that help was on the way, to just hang in there and that everything would be all right.
Inside my bathroom, Denis turned on the cold-water tap and helped me crouch down under the stream.
Even though the water was only on a gentle trickle, every drop felt like a tiny knife straight onto the exposed nerve endings where my skin had been burnt away.
I could see the entire upper half of my body was ruined. My hands were the worst — I remember looking at them as they curled into useless little fists before my eyes. I wept.
The pain was unbearable. Denis stood beside me in the shower trying to comfort me. “Everything is going to be okay. Help is on the way. Just hang in there, it won’t be long and we’ll have help here. You’re going to be all right.”
I stayed conscious, in agony, until the ambulance got there and the emergency workers came into the room, my tiny bathroom full of police, firemen and paramedics, who put me onto a stretcher and into an ambulance.
“Knock me out,” I remember yelling to the paramedics. “Please, the pain — please, just knock me out.”
Weeks later, when it became clear I would never be able to live in my apartment again, my family came by to pack up my home. They organized for everything to be put in storage — my bed, my clothes, all that I owned. Then cleaned the place for the next tenant, repairing the damage from the fire. Years later a family member told me the hardest part was while she was cleaning those tiles from my bathroom, weeping as she scraped the dead skin off the floor of the shower.
The pain before I finally passed out in the ambulance was worse than anything I could ever have imagined — but that would turn out to be a tickle compared to what lay ahead of me.
This is an extract from Dana Vulin’s new book “Worth Fighting For,” available from Aug. 28.