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Acid Attack Victim: Scars More than Skin-Deep

On September 3, 2010, Derri Velarde was walking toward her Mesa, Ariz. home around 1 p.m. when a woman approached her, carrying what appeared to be a cup of water. The woman threw the contents of the cup at her.

Velarde told CBS News, "She just stopped abruptly and looked at me and threw it in my face. It was instantly like fire. It started burning."

The burn was sulfuric acid, which immediately began eating away at her skin. As the attacker fled, Velarde's 18-year-old daughter called 911.

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Velarde's daughter said on the call, "She just pulled out of the car, she just got home from work and somebody threw acid on her. What do I do? She has acid all over her body."

The mother of five was rushed to the hospital with second-degree burns to her face, neck, and back.

Initially, the attack was feared to be a copycat. Just days before, 28-year-old Bethany Storro had described a similar attack in Vancouver, Wash. Storro later admitted the attack never happened; she'd actually thrown the acid on herself.

In an exclusive "Early Show" interview, Velarde said she was shocked by the hoax.

She said, "I thought, 'No it's just got to be some rumor out there or something,' but I just thought, 'I can't imagine someone doing this to themselves."'

In the initial months of her recovery, Velarde documented her progress in a video diary. When she went outside, she had to be completely covered to protect her painful scars. Velarde's children helped, applying ointment to her skin, part of the long healing process.

Her doctors predict a good recovery, but caution some of the scars will never go away.

The incident is still under investigation. Police are baffled as to who committed the crime.

Det. Michael Melendez, of the Mesa Police Department, said, "Right now what's holding us back is that there is no match in the database for the fingerprints that we've lifted from the evidence."

On "The Early Show" Monday, co-anchor Erica Hill spoke said Velarde "Looks incredible," five months since the attack.

Hill said, "You were showing me a little bit of your skin, like by your neck. And even though it's been five months, I would have thought it would have been a little bit more raw and open. It seems to be healing beautifully."

Velarde said the physical healing has been the easiest part of her recovery.
There are scars left from her ordeal, she said, that run deeper.

"(The) psychological part, that's been hard," Velarde said. "Just to, still that fear, not knowing who did it. You know -- being kind of a little bit afraid to go home. All that kind of stuff. It's been hard. It's been hard on the kids."

Velarde said she gets concerned when she's alone.

"I get a little bit leery when I'm, specifically if I'm alone, by myself in the car, if I'm waiting for someone or, you know, I'm just kind of a little bit more aware of who's around me," she said. "I'm always looking around. Sometimes we get a little startled, someone comes up to get in their car next to me. You know, little things like that."

Hill pointed out that police actually found the cup used in the attack -- some sulfuric acid still inside -- in a trash can. However, they cannot identify the fingerprints found on the cup from their database.

Velarde said she still doesn't know who would do this to her.

She said, "I still, after all these months later, I still -- I mean, it's -- because it was so personal, I think it's kind of limited possibilities of who it could be. But it's hard to say."

As for Bethany Storro, Velarde said she recently learned police from Washington were speaking to police in Arizona about her attack.

Velarde said, "Apparently, they had called my detective right after it happened to me, and they wanted some information, and I think they were onto her pretty quickly, because they wanted to know about wounds, and how it was splashed on my face and things like that. They wanted photos of me, you know, to kind of compare, things like that."

Velarde said she was concerned people would think she, too, was involved in a hoax.

She told Hill, "I didn't want to read stuff online, because I was a little bit nervous people would think, 'Oh, she did this to herself, too.' People talk. But I thought, 'You know, the truth will come out.' I wasn't that worried, but I was a little bit nervous about it."

Since the attack, Velarde said, her life has changed considerably.

"It's been kind of difficult," she said. "I still haven't gotten back to work. And I've been staying out in L.A. for a little while, just recovering, and it's kind of been hard being away from family and friends and stuff. But I think I need to do that right now, for me."

Velarde said she also plans to get counseling.

She said, "I kind of didn't think I needed it. But now, yeah, reflecting back on some things, I think it would be a good thing."