When Donna Ongsiako opened her front door just after midnight to let in her cat, the last thing she expected to see was a stranger with a knife. It was July 7, 2013, and up to that point, Donna says, it had been a routine weekend.
Now she was face to face with a young man on her porch, cutting into the screen of her porch window.
“I tried to slam and shut the door,” Ongsiako said. “He stuck the knife through the opening, and I cut my finger so that I immediately let go of the door. And then he pushed his way in.”
Without a word, the stranger repeatedly stabbed Ongsiako. After she collapsed to the floor, she says the intruder finally spoke to her. “He decided then to ask me for my car keys and if I had a lighter.” She told him both were on the kitchen table, and he took them — along with her purse. But, she says, he wasn’t finished with her. He came over to where she lay bleeding. “He said, ‘you dead bitch’ and plunged the knife into my chest.” Then, she says, her attacker walked out.
Ongsiako’s house was located on a flower farm in Colts Neck, N.J. Her adult daughter, Kiersten, lived there but was out at a party. Home alone, bleeding profusely, with no neighbors in earshot, Donna’s only chance at survival depended on reaching her cellphone, which was upstairs charging.
Thinking about Kiersten possibly finding her dead motivated Ongsiako to climb those stairs. To this day, she doesn’t know how she did it. She managed to call 911 and before briefly losing consciousness, described her assailant. He had long blonde, curly hair and a backpack. Ongsiako thought he looked about 17 years old.
Police and first responders arrived within minutes, but the young man had fled. Ongsiako was rushed to the hospital and was in surgery for more than seven hours. It saved her life.
Ongsiako is now speaking publicly about her attack, the hunt for her assailant and overcoming the trauma. “48 Hours” contributor Jim Axelrod reports on the case in “A Stabbing in Colts Neck” airing Saturday, May 13 at 10/9c on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.
Almost immediately after the assault, a manhunt began for Ongsiako’s attacker. Monmouth County Detective Andrea Tozzi says shortly before Ongsiako’s 911 call, a driver had called police to report a young man with a backpack hitchhiking along the road near Ongsiako’s home. Police responded but the young man was gone. Tozzi felt it was a strong lead. “It was too coincidental,” she said, “for somebody to be walking … and then 15 minutes later, you know, Donna is calling to say that she was stabbed.”
Tozzi says police got another call shortly after Ongsiako’s attack. Taco Bell employees in a strip mall five miles from Ongsiako’s home reported a young man with a similar appearance walking through their drive-thru with a knife. Police didn’t find him, but while searching the area, they found Ongsiako’s stolen car abandoned behind a movie theatre. Then a Taco Bell customer who had seen the suspect helped police create a sketch. Investigators showed it to Ongsiako who tweaked it saying, “‘That looks like the person who stabbed me.'”
A tip led investigators to 16-year-old Brennan Doyle, who lived near Ongsiako’s home. Doyle fit the description of the suspect sketch around town, the tipster said, and, what’s more, he had recently cut his “skater”-style hair short.
Tozzi had never heard Doyle’s name before. Looking into his background, she found no juvenile record. “He had never been arrested,” she said.
At the end of July, when the Doyle family was back in town from a trip, the detective went to their house. “I wanted to see if [Brennan] cut his hair.” Tozzi says Brennan seemed nervous when she showed him the suspect sketch. “He was wearing a baseball hat,” she said, but “you could tell his hair was cut short.” She continued monitoring Doyle while also investigating other leads.
In the fall of 2013, employees of a bowling alley in the strip mall where Ongsiako’s car had been abandoned alerted police that they had found a knife on their roof. Investigators got a warrant to search Doyle’s home where they retrieved a similar knife. They had already obtained a warrant for Brennan’s DNA, which ultimately matched DNA found in Ongsiako’s stolen car. In late October, Doyle was arrested and charged with six counts including attempted murder and carjacking. He pleaded not guilty.
Former Monmouth County assistant prosecutor Laurie Gerhardt explains she wanted Doyle charged as an adult because of the seriousness of the crime. “In juvenile court, Brennan is looking at four years maximum … In adult court, I know he’s looking at up to 30 years,” she said.
A judge ruled Doyle would be tried as an adult and Doyle posted bail. Ongsiako felt “anger that he was even allowed to be bailed out.” Her daughter, Kiersten, says she was terrified of Doyle.
As prosecutors prepared for trial, the details of what happened the night of Ongsiako’s attack emerged. According to investigative reports, Doyle claimed that prior to the stabbing, he used hallucinogenic “magic” mushrooms. He stated that he became paranoid and felt like he was losing touch with reality. He said he had a knife in his hand, so his father locked him out of their home.
Investigators believe Doyle approached Ongsiako’s nearby house that night, wanting to steal her car. But Gerhardt does not believe Doyle acted like someone incapacitated. “This kid allegedly on all these mushrooms whacked out of his mind, manages to ditch a knife,” she told Axelrod. “… He abandons the car … That’s not a kid who’s so high on mushrooms, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
In August 2015, Doyle pleaded guilty to carjacking and attempted murder. The prosecution dropped the remaining charges.
Ongsiako attended his sentencing. “I wanted him to see me as strong and as a survivor,” she said.
Doyle had his turn to address the court. “The drugs turned me into a monster that night,” he said. “I am truly sorry.”
Doyle was sentenced to 15 years in state prison.
Ongsiako is now sharing her story, speaking with prison inmates and police cadet classes, educating them on the victim’s point of view. And in 2015, she created a support group to help other victims of random attacks. Donna says she continues to rebuild her life and move forward.
“You just keep going,” Donna says. “I did what I had to do to be here today, you know, and go another day.”