EHS alumnus miraculously survives brutal attack

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

Alga Hitchcock, one old, one new.
   Few have survived the terror former Elizabethton High School graduate, Alga Hitchcock has, and even less have come through tragedy with her amount of grace and composure. After being brutally beaten, stabbed and left to die, Hitchcock serves as a sterling example of human resilience.
   Last January, the 73-year-old opened her home in Altus, Okla., to a custodian from her church so he could repair a broken fence. Ten months later she is still recovering from injuries sustained at the hands of the custodian during a day-long battle for her life.
   Lydell Mitchell, 37, was hired as a custodian at First Baptist Church in Altus where Hitchcock has been a member for nearly 35 years. After using his position at the church to gain Hitchcock's trust and access to her home, Mitchell demanded money then proceeded to carry out his threat to kill her. "He looked me in the eyes and told me that he was going to kill me," Hitchcock said.
   Mitchell continued to demand money from Hitchcock as he pushed her through her home and into her bedroom. He took out a monkey wrench and began beating her in the head. Mitchell bound her hands and feet with a telephone cord and dragged her back through the house, down garage steps and dumped her bleeding body into the trunk of her car.
   While in the trunk, Hitchcock struggled to free her hands and feet as Mitchell drove to an irrigation ditch in a neighboring county. She recalls holding her breath as the vehicle pulled to a stop and Mitchell opened the trunk. He opened and closed the trunk four times while Hitchcock pleaded with him for her life.
   The fourth and final time he opened the trunk, Mitchell began stabbing Hitchcock as she struggled to defend herself and to gain possession of the knife.
   "He used the knife and slashed my right arm to the bone. He did cut my throat but he missed my vocal cords and major arteries," Hitchcock said. "I thought I was dying and I guess he wanted to make sure I died because he put his hands around my head and twisted my neck. I heard my neck crack. I lost all ability to resist."
   Mitchell thought he had delivered a fatal injury to Hitchcock's neck and left her to die in the trunk. She recalls her body functions slowing down and the temperature dropping as she waited to be discovered. That night it reached temperatures as low as 26 degrees in Oklahoma.
   "I was very uncomfortable and very cold. I had on a summer pair of slacks and shirt but I moved around because I was miserable," Hitchcock said. "All that was in the trunk was an 8.5" by 11" piece of paper that I tried to keep warm with."
   Hitchcock, who has been the director of prayer ministries at her church for over 20 years, spent the entire time she was in the trunk practicing what she knows best. "I have been a praying person since I was a child. I learned how to pray by praying and it is natural for me whatever my problems are, to turn to the Lord," Hitchcock said.
   Over the next 20 hours Hitchcock clung on to life and prayed in order to remain conscious. "I prayed that people would know what really happened to me and that good would come out of bad. I prayed that God would put good in Mitchell's heart," Hitchcock said. "I knew that I was going to meet my maker very soon and I wanted to have a pure heart. I prayed that my family and friends would know God had taken care of me, and I prayed for the church, our community and for the missionaries who suffer, because now I had a better understanding."
   Hitchcock admits she did ask God why he had allowed her to be the victim of such a terrible attack. She said her lifetime of Scripture reading provided her with answers. "I asked God why he had let this go on so long, and then I recalled the story of Joseph where he said you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good," Hitchcock said.
   On Monday Jan. 21, 2002, Hitchcock's co-workers at the church became alarmed when she was late for work. The search for Hitchcock began at her home, and ended when her blue car was spotted in the ditch where it was abandoned. Hitchcock was taken immediately to a local hospital where she underwent surgery.
   Although badly beaten and bruised, doctors described Hitchcock's condition after the attack as miraculous. She had no permanent damage to the skull after suffering four blows to the head with the monkey wrench, and her neck was injured but never broken.
   Less than five months after the attack, Hitchcock traveled with her church to Malawi, South Africa, where she worked with the children of missionaries. "I told God I know you saved my life for some reason, and whatever you want me to do, if you provide the help, I'll do it," Hitchcock said. "When any one person is trying to be in the Lord's will, no matter what happens you can be assured he is there. If I had died, I knew that I was safe as far as the Lord was concerned."
   Today, at the age of 74, Hitchcock is back working full time at her church. She is hindered only by injuries she sustained to her hands where she suffers from arthritis as a result of broken fingers, and twisted joints. She has to use both hands to pick up a glass of water, and has difficulty typing on the computer.
   Hitchcock continues to live in the home where she was attacked and said the whole ordeal has taught her a lot. She said she has already seen some good come from her attack, and voiced appreciation for her church's and community's support.
   Hitchcock said the community of Altus is similar to her hometown of Elizabethton. She has not been back to Tennessee for several years but stated she still has close friends in the area, and vividly recalls working as a reporter for the Elizabethton Star in the mid 1940's.
   In August, Hitchcock's attacker pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery, and was sentenced to 55 years in prison with no chance of parole.