STANLEY — Throughout her life, Sayeh Rivazfar says, people have told her she's a survivor.
The 35-year-old state trooper thinks "fighter" is a more accurate adjective to describe her refusal to give up.
Throughout her childhood Rivazfar was struck with overwhelming challenges. While a little girl living in Pensacola, Fla., she had been abused and neglected at the hands of a mother who pursued drug- and alcohol-fueled partying, leaving Rivazfar and her siblings behind. She would also endure sexual abuse at the hands of a man who threatened her, demanding secrecy for the crime he committed.
The darkest storm came when she was 8 years old.
Rivazfar was kidnapped and raped repeatedly by the same man who molested her a year before. This took place moments before he slit her throat, narrowly missing her jugular vein. The man then murdered Rivazfar's younger sister, Sara, in her presence.
It was a brutal reality to face, but it wasn't enough to keep Rivazfar from pursuing the life she knows she was meant to live. For her, the brutality she experienced in the vulnerable years of her childhood served as fuel to meet her goals.
On Tuesday afternoon, the trooper conveyed the battle she won to approximately 30 students of Brian Amphlett's criminal justice class at the Finger Lakes Technical and Career Center.
"There will be times in your life that it feels like you can't get above it," Rivazfar told students. "But I'm telling you, I surrounded myself with positive people and positive things and I fought. I kept fighting to push through and move on. I'm telling you what, it has not failed me yet."
As she did last year at FLTCC, and as she has done repeatedly on a variety of stages since the horrific incident occurred, Rivazfar told her story to students. She included the majority of the brutal details along the way.
Rivazfar lived with her mother, Patricia Pafford, and her father, Ahmad Rivazfar, in Pensacola.
When she was 5, her parents got a divorce. Despite doubts about her ability to support her children, Pafford was granted custody of Rivazfar and her two younger siblings, Sara and Arash.
The children would bounce from house to house with their mother as she regularly consumed drugs and alcohol amid run-ins with the law.
The lifestyle came to a head the night of Sept. 21, 1988, which was a school night, Rivazfar vividly recalls. Her mom had gone out to party.
Shortly after falling asleep in the bedroom she shared with her 6-year-old sister Sara, Rivazfar remembers being awakened and carried out of the home. When she looked up she immediately recognized the man carrying her as a boyfriend from her mother's past — Ray Wike.
It was a year prior that Wike had molested her, Rivazfar explained to students. It was a dark fact that Wike threatened her into keeping a secret.
"He told me that if I told anybody, he would kill my family," Rivazfar said.
After he placed her in his beat-up old green Dodge, Wike went back inside Rivazfar's home, reemerging with her little sister.
It was later determined that after finding out that the two little girls were alone at their home, Wike used a crowbar to pry the back door of the residence off its hinges at some point between midnight and 1 a.m. Sept. 22, 1988.
After loading the girls into his car, he drove to a secluded area, pulled off onto a dirt road and parked the car. After he bound Sara's hands and feet, the fear between them became palpable, Rivazfar said, and they began to cry.
"Ray told us if we are good, he'll bring us to our mother," she recalls. "He told us she's right up the road."
Wike then raped Rivazfar "until daybreak," she said.
When that terror ended, Wike moved on, having Rivazfar walk into a portion of the woods as he carried her 6-year-old sister behind her.
Around 150 feet off the dirt road, he stopped.
"He says, 'Say your prayers,'" Rivazfar said. "And as he says that, he takes out this large black-handled knife and he begins to cut my throat."
She recalls the blood and then dropping to the ground, aware that if Wike saw her move, he would finish killing her.
Wike then turned to Sara, who Rivazfar heard begin to panic.
Rivazfar looked down as she told students that she could feel the vibration on the ground from her sister, who was kicking at the earth at Wike turned the knife on her.
"And then all the sudden, she doesn't make any more sounds," Rivazfar said.
When done, Wike jumped over Rivazfar's motionless body. She heard the rustling of the brush as Wike retreated from the scene, hopped into his car and drove away.
Rivazfar would stand up and approach her lifeless sister, who also had her throat slashed.
"I looked at her," Rivazfar said. "I knew she was not going to answer, but I still called her name over and over again."
According to court documents from Wike's murder appeal process filed in Florida Supreme Court, at approximately 6:30 a.m. Sept. 22, 1988, a couple saw an 8-year-old Rivazfar alongside a rural road in Santa Rosa County. The little girl was waving one hand and held the other to her bloodied throat.
The couple picked her up and drove her to a nearby store to call for help. During the drive, she told them that a man named Ray had taken them from their home and killed her 6-year-old sister.
On Tuesday, Rivazfar played for students the audio clip of the call the woman who picked her up that morning made to 911.
Rivazfar also played for students a clip of the 911 dispatcher calling Wike hours after the murder. Thanks to the information Rivazfar provided to Santa Rosa County sheriff's deputies, Wike was located along with his green car and his bloodied clothing at his parents' house. The dispatcher woke Wike up when she called to tell him that his house is surrounded by law enforcement and he needed to come out with his hands up.
"Is this a joke?" you can hear a drowsy and baffled Wike ask the dispatcher.
As for Rivazfar, a doctor told her that the tip of the knife barely missed her jugular — which, if punctured, would have ended her life.
"The doctor said I survived by the grace of God," Rivazfar told students. "I don't consider myself to be a religious person, but I am spiritual and I believe that there is a higher power and there are reasons for things that happen. I believe that I was supposed to survive. I was supposed to make sure that this monster paid for what he did to my sister and I, that he was not able to do this to anyone else."
It was a mission that was fulfilled.
With the help of Rivazfar's testimony at trial, Wike, who was 30 at the time of the offenses, was convicted of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, sexual battery and attempted murder.
Wike was sentenced to death. With appeals, he evaded execution for 15 years, but in 2004 he died of cancer while behind bars.
Ahmad Rivazfar, who lived in Greece, was granted custody of Rivazfar and Arash, considering Pafford's displayed inability to provide a stable environment for her children. Pafford would fight to get her children back, but through the support of politicians, the media and the masses, Rivazfar and her brother stayed with their father, who she describes as "a rock."
With her experiences in place, Rivazfar passed the New York State Police exam in 2001. She would then marry in 2010. Next month, her son Noah will turn 4 years old.
"It a very happy life now for sure," Rivazfar said.
Rivazfar provided a series of important messages to students on Tuesday: the importance of family, surrounding yourself with positive people, not ignoring something suspicious or someone in trouble. Underlying it all: Rivazfar was a victim, but she survived.
"The best advice I can give you is don't give up, especially when times are tough," Rivazfar said. "When you're provided a challenge … it's not there to beat you, you're there to beat it. So keep fighting, keep pushing through the tough times and the good will come."
Canandaigua Academy student Tristan Jiroux expressed gratitude for Rivazfar's appearance after Tuesday's presentation.
"It was a sad story, but the message is important," he said. "It's nice to know that you can overcome it."