A former firebreather has been left scarred for life after her boyfriend set her on fire.
Danyeil Townzen, 42, from Dallas, Texas, US, suffered burns to 80% of her body, and miraculously survived.
In September 2019, Matthew Gerth, 34, was jailed for life after pleading guilty to aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury.
Danyeil says: “Matthew is a cold-blooded monster who tried to take my life.
“I’m now sharing my story to encourage other women to leave their abusive partners.”
In September 2017, Danyeil met Matthew, a construction worker, when their bus broke down.
She says: “I was on my way to San Antonio to see some friends.
“After we all got kicked off the bus, I called my friend to pick me up.
“That’s when I got chatting to one of the passengers, Matthew.
“He was really handsome and we hit it off straight away.
“Once my friend arrived, we offered Matthew a lift.”
Over the next two weeks, the pair enjoyed a holiday romance and afterwards they began a long-distance relationship.
Danyeil says: “During the next few months I visited him from my home in Dallas twice a week.
“I was really happy.”
But a month later, on New Year’s Eve 2017, Matthew’s nice-guy persona disappeared and he became abusive.
Danyeil says: “I caught Matthew going through my phone.
“When I confronted him, he shouted at me for texting other men.
“Before I could explain they were just my friends, he punched me in the face.
“I was stunned.
“The next day, he was remorseful, so I decided to forgive him.”
Then, in May 2018, Matthew relocated to Dallas to live with Danyeil.
But two weeks later, Danyeil returned home from the shops and Matthew flew into a rage.
She says: “He accused me of being with another man and tried to attack me again.
“I ran out of the house and slept in my car that night.”
The next morning, Danyeil returned to her home to pick up her shopkeeper uniform for work.
She says: “I prayed Matthew was still asleep.
“But when I walked into the kitchen, he was there.
“He said ‘Glad you’re home’ with a menacing smile.
“Then, he grabbed a knife.
“Terrified, I grabbed a bottle of hot pepper sauce from the worktop and threw it in his face – hoping to blur his vision.
“But he launched at me and began repeatedly punching me in my face.
“I frantically grabbed my blowtorch I used for work as a firebreather and burnt Matthew’s arm with it.
“Then I managed to break free and ran outside, but I tripped over.
“Suddenly, Matthew appeared over me and poured liquid all over my body.
“I recognized the smell and realized it was kerosene that I also used for work.
“I was hysterical and begged him to stop.”
Matthew then used the blowtorch to light Danyeil on fire.
She says: “He said ‘You burn me bitch so I’m going to burn you’ before setting me alight.
“Then I felt my skin being peeled off.
“I was writhing in agony as Matthew laughed and kicked me.
“After that, everything went black.”
Thankfully, a neighbor had called the police and minutes later, fire officers attended, putting out the flames.
Meanwhile, Matthew had fled the scene.
Danyeil was airlifted to Parkland Hospital, where she was put into an induced coma.
Soon after, police found Matthew 240 miles away in Johnson City and he was arrested.
Five months later, in October 2018, Danyeil woke up.
She says: “I couldn’t believe I’d missed five months of my life.
“I saw birthday balloons around the room and realized I’d missed my 40th birthday.
“Doctors told me 80% of my body had been burnt, from my neck down.
“When I looked in the mirror, I burst into tears.
“I barely recognized myself.”