College Student Instagram Star Posts Photo of Her Bruised Face After Boyfriend's Abuse Arrest
A 22-year-old college student in Florida has made international headlines after speaking out about the domestic abuse she alleges she survived at the hands of her 25-year-old boyfriend, who is reportedly the son of one of the wealthiest families in Brazil.
On Sept. 26, Melissa Gentz shared a photo of her bruised face with her 200,000-plus Instagram followers.
Three days earlier, her boyfriend, Erick Bretz, allegedly attacked her in his luxury apartment building in Tampa, Florida, according to an incident report obtained by PEOPLE.
“I won’t hide the marks of my story because NO woman should feel ashamed [or] feel blamed for being a victim of domestic violence,” Gentz, who identifies herself online as a student at the University of South Florida, wrote in the caption with her photo.
The post soon resonated across social media and in Brazil, where both Bretz and Gentz were born, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
On Sept. 23, Bretz was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic battery by strangulation and tampering with a witness, according to the incident report.
However, his attorney Larry T. McMillan shared a court filing showing Bretz is charged only with domestic battery by strangulation and a court official tells PEOPLE that is because prosecutors chose only to pursue that one charge. (Prosecutors did not respond to requests for comment.)
In a statement to PEOPLE, McMillan and attorney David A. Donet Jr., of Miami, said Bretz was “eager” to prove his innocence in court. He pleaded not guilty on Sept. 27, online records show.
“What has been portrayed in the media is not an accurate or a complete version of the facts and physical evidence,” they said. “The media has sensationalized the allegations of Melissa Gentz and created ‘Fake News.’ ”
Bretz, who has made headlines through the years as a competitor on the Motocross championship circuit in Brazil, hails from one of country’s richest families and his father owns a large supermarket chain there, according to Brazilian newspaper O Tempo.
Gentz described him in court documents as a “multi-millionaire,” the Tampa Bay Times reports.
She and Bretz had been dating for about two months before the alleged assault last month, around 4:10 a.m., according to the incident report.
The report states that Bretz allegedly “became argumentative and jealous” after taking some prescription insomnia medicine along with four beers and three-fourths of a bottle of wine.
During the escalating argument, Gentz believed that Bretz had taken her cell phone and “continued to bother [her],” at which point she pushed him and tried to punch him, according to the report. Bretz allegedly responded violently — throwing Gentz to the floor, kicking her in the face and strangling her with his legs.
After allegedly punching her in the face, he pulled out chunks of her hair and struck her in the face with a bottle then restrained her in the bathroom, the report continues.
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Gentz eventually fled the apartment and ran to the lobby, where a doorman called 911, according to the report.
Bretz was arrested later that night at his apartment.
He was held at the Hillsborough County Jail until Sept. 25, when he was released on $60,000 bail after surrendering his passport to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and agreeing to a restraining order prohibiting any contact with Gentz. (Bretz’s attorney maintains that the no-contact order was dismissed by a judge.)
Getz did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, but in an interview with O Tempo she described Bretz as aggressive and controlling, exerting ever more control over her life.
“Gradually I could not talk to anyone or my friends,” she told the paper in Portuguese, according to a translation of the interview. “even with my parents, he fought. He hacked my cell phone.”
“I talked to several of his ex-girlfriends,” Gentz continued. “He was always jealous. … I’m afraid he will not be punished.”
In their statement to PEOPLE, Bretz’s attorneys contended that her account of the alleged attack is false because she showed “no sign of trauma to her neck” and that “[Bretz’s] hands have no signs consistent with striking someone multiple times.”
Bretz has “no history of ever committing violence against women,” according to his attorneys, who instead pointed to the fact that Gentz was the first person to physically strike Bretz during their altercation, “sending him to a hospital.”
“The evidence in this case clearly dictates that Ms. Gentz was the aggressor,” they said.
Bretz and his family “will prosecute Ms. Gentz for her slanderous and libelous actions,” his attorneys said. “They will seek to recover damages for the harm to his and his family’s outstanding reputation.”
In an Instagram post a day after the alleged assault, Gentz referred to an unnamed “ex-boyfriend” who told her that she “had to accept my reality” — of abuse — “because I was the woman in the relationship.”
“He is not going to change,” she concluded that post. “Always put yourself in first place… before it is too late.”
‘We’re All Strong Enough to Put Ourselves First’
Gentz’s posts about her abusive relationship attracted wide notice in Brazil, the Tampa Bay Times reports, with one article being shared one million times on social media.
“Courageous. Doing what you have done is important and necessary,” Brazilian actor João Vicente de Castro wrote on Facebook, according to a translation from the Tampa Bay Times. “I’m proud of people like you. We are with you.”
Four days after her initial post about the alleged attack, Gentz posted a photo on Instagram and thanked others for their well wishes.
In the selfie, showing her smelling a bouquet of flowers she had received, Gentz wrote, “Life moves on and we’re all strong enough to put ourselves first.”