Doctors fear a young Northern Irish woman will never speak or walk again after sustaining extensive brain damage in a vicious baseball bat attack in Chicago.
Natasha McShane, from Silverbridge, Co Armagh, was beaten unconscious in the city, along with her American friend Stacy Jurich, exactly one week ago.
The 23-year-old ex-Queen’s University graduate remains in a critical condition on a ventilator in a drug-induced coma, having suffered a skull fracture and swelling to the brain in the no-warning assault.
One of two suspects, Marcy Cruz (25), was yesterday granted $1m bail after prosecutors said she was “just as culpable and as guilty for every whack of the bat” as her boyfriend Heriberto Viramontes (30), who was denied bail by a judge the previous day.
The two victims had been on their way home from a bar when they were both savagely beaten with an aluminium baseball bat and robbed.
Yesterday, the Assistant District Attorney told the court that Stacy needed staples to the outside of her head while Natasha will require extensive rehabilitation for speech, sight and mobility.
Referring to the Ulster exchange student’s condition, assistant district attorney Erin Antoinetti added: “Doctors don’t know if she will ever walk or speak again.”
It is understood the McShane family have been told it will be a couple of days before they begin to withdraw the anaesthetic.
Ms McShane, who is under the care of one of the city’s top doctors, had been studying urban planning at the University of Illinois since January.
She and 24-year-old Stacy had been hoping to travel to Cape Cod this summer along with some friends from Northern Ireland.
In an interview two days ago, Ms Jurich said Natasha’s mother, father and sister were keeping a vigil by her hospital bed.
“They’re having a really hard time right now,” Stacy said.
“I think the focus of their lives is just being at her bedside, making sure she hears all of our voices and knows we’re here. She’s going to open her eyes some day and that’s what’s most important to them... that they’re the first people that she sees.”
Ms Jurich called it her “mission” to see that she and Natasha recover from their injuries – and, she said, she wants justice.
“We would like to make sure that the individuals that did this terrible, terrible thing are sentenced and are put behind bars and do not have the opportunity to hurt another person and another family,” Stacy said.
Last night, Viramontes was moved into solitary confinement in jail for his own safety.
Cruz, meanwhile, is scheduled for a preliminary court hearing on Monday, May 3.