A Terrace man is recovering from chemical burns on his face after being attacked with suspected battery acid and police say that the two culprits remain at large.
Mike Anderson, 51, was walking home after attending the Philanthropy Day event at the Terrace Art Gallery on Sparks Street near Davis Avenue at 8 p.m. on Nov. 15 when he was approached by two men, according to RCMP.
One of them asked Anderson, who is legally blind, for the time. But when Anderson brought his wristwatch up close to his face, the two men sprayed him directly in the face with an acidic substance, which he says he believes might be car battery acid.
“I felt my face get wet, and then…I thought they were going to hit me, so I covered myself up. But my eyes were burning,” an emotional Anderson told the Terrace Standard on Monday.
Unable to see as the chemical singed his eyes and blistered his face, all he could hear was the uproarious laughter from his attackers. Then he heard a women’s voice, asking them to leave.
Soon after, they were gone.
“I could open one of my eyes, it would sting and kept closing, but I found a puddle so I could wash my face. I tried to use my phone but it was slippery, and it wouldn’t unlock,” Anderson says. “But I was close to home.”
In a news release after the incident, RCMP described the two suspects as Indigenous and in their 20s. One had a small beard, the other was wearing a hoodie.
‘I just hoped I could see again’
For Anderson, who was diagnosed this year with a complex neurological condition, walking the two blocks from the art gallery to his home is more difficult than for most people.
In August, Anderson suffered two herniated discs in his spine and was flown to Vancouver General Hospital for two weeks for doctors to administer a nerve block, a method of producing anesthesia.
Then a month later in September, he was walking over to a follow-up appointment for his back, he started to feel unwell. Fearing something was wrong, Anderson went to the hospital, where he lost feeling on his left side. He was sent back to VGH right away.
Doctors diagnosed Anderson with conversion disorder, a neurological condition that mimics the symptoms of a stroke. Rather than damage the actual structure of the brain, the disorder impacts a person’s ability to do certain things, resulting in conditions including blindness, paralysis and speech problems.
“They didn’t know why it was happening,” he says. “Then they eliminated stroke and said it was neurological, but no clots, bleeding or tumours, so that’s good news but it will still take time to retrain my brain.”
After the attack, the only way Anderson was able to tell how close he was from home was because he could smell the gas coming from a sewer lift station, a concrete sewer basin in the ground, and knew his street was the next one over.
He was able to get home, struggled with the security keypad on his front door, and washed his face in the sink. He called his son on his landline, who then came home and took him to the hospital. Hospital staff could still smell the chemical on his clothes when he was admitted, he says.
“It smelled like sulfur, like rotten eggs. RCMP aren’t sure what it was, but hospital staff think it was maybe car battery acid.”
It took six hours to completely flush the substance out of his eyes and lungs, he says. Hospital staff treated the painful blisters on Anderson’s face with a cream.
Although he’s trying to recover, the fear of being attacked while walking around Terrace has stayed with him.
“I was scared. I didn’t know where they were, and my eyes are bad because of other conditions. I just hoped… I hoped I could see again,” he says.
Anderson has been to a few eye appointments since the attack, and was told while his eyes are still irritated, no permanent damage was done to his already limited vision.
Community support ‘overwhelming,’ says Anderson
After being diagnosed, Anderson’s family started a GoFundMe page and have since started it back up again after he was attacked. So far, they’ve raised $7,010 out of their $8,000 goal to pay for Anderson’s medical expenses.
The community support to help him and his family has been “overwhelming,” Anderson says.
Karleen Lemiski contacted the Helping Hands of Terrace about Anderson’s story, and the organization jumped on board to cover any of his prescription costs, along with a monetary donation. The Terrace Royal Canadian Legion Branch 13 also contacted Anderson to see if they could help with any mobility items, such as a wheelchair, a walker, which can be used to help a person with mobility issues get around, and grab-bars.
The Kimmunity Angels Society was also contacted, and they are looking into whether they can reimburse Anderson’s September medical flight back from VGH, his new glasses or other medical expenses.
MaXXed Out Cross Training’s Denise Manion has also set up a fundraiser for a heavyweight sled pull competition scheduled for Nov. 28 to Dec. 6 to help the Anderson family.
Police are asking anyone who may have seen anything or know anything about this incident to contact investigators at 250-638-7429.