It was news she'd given up hope would ever come. Investigators in Virginia Beach had found the man who, more than a decade before, had snatched her as she walked to work, forced her at knifepoint into a wooded area off of Virginia Beach Boulevard and raped her.
All of a sudden, she was 17 again, scared and injured and stumbling to work, afraid her attacker would follow.
When Ryals, then Jamie Lewis, arrived at the Open House Diner the morning of Sept. 6, 1999, Lisa Basnight and the rest of her fellow waitresses knew right away that something was wrong. Her diner T-shirt was untucked and smeared with dirt. Twigs and leaves tangled her hair and tears streamed down her face. She was hysterical, Basnight testified in court this week.
They called police.
Ryals showed officers where the attack occurred and consented to an invasive two-hour exam to check for DNA and document her injuries.
The teen's gruesome wounds seemed to corroborate her story, according to medical testimony in court this week.
Officials recovered DNA from her attacker, but attempts at the time to match it came up empty.
Eleven years later, there was suddenly a match, prosecutors told Ryals as she stood in her Georgia kitchen, clutching her phone.
The results pointed to Devinche Albritton, a 30-year-old serving an 18-year prison sentence for a similar rape about three months prior to Ryals'. His past convictions had resulted in his DNA being added to a database.
A grand jury indicted Albritton on new charges of rape and abduction, and Ryals agreed to testify.
She knew that meant she would have to face her attacker in court. She didn't know he would choose to represent himself, giving him the chance to interrogate her firsthand.
Ryals took the witness stand for the first time on March 26, 2012, trying to contain her rage as Albritton leveled question after question, she recalled Wednesday. She had hoped the ordeal would be worth it. But instead she got a mistrial and another round with her attacker.
She took the stand again Monday.
"That's quite an elaborate story," Albritton, now 32, said from behind a podium. "But it's a lie, isn't it?"
"No, it isn't," Ryals replied, clutching a wad of tissues.
He asked: Did you shower that morning? Were you always late to work? Isn't it true that you came to my house for sex?
I don't remember. I was sometimes late. I don't know you, and I never went to your house, she replied.
This time the payoff she'd hoped for finally came.
After two hours and 15 minutes of deliberating, a panel of 12 jurors - 11 women and one man - on Wednesday found Albritton guilty of abducting and raping Ryals and recommended he serve life plus 30 years in prison.
Albritton begged for mercy. He received none.
"I see no hope of you being redeemed," Circuit Judge Edward W. Hanson Jr. said before imposing the full sentence. Albritton said he plans to file an appeal.
Each time Ryals, now 31, testified she'd had to relive the attack she'd tried so hard to forget.
"It's probably one of the worst things you can do to a victim is to let them get victimized again," she said Wednesday evening. "That's how I feel. Trying to make me feel like I was the one that did something wrong, that bothered me a lot."
The paranoia and flashbacks and nightmares waned with time but never fully went away, Ryals said. She hopes that maybe they will now.
"It's been almost 14 years and it's affected my life in so many ways," she said. "And I'm just tired. I needed closure."
The Pilot typically does not name victims of sexual assault. Ryals gave permission for her name to be published, saying she hopes her story encourages other rape victims to come forward.
"I'm ecstatic because I know he will never hurt another woman like he hurt me," she said. "I helped put him where he needs to be."
After the trial, Ryals — older and wearier, but with the same auburn hair, blue eyes and freckles she had when she was 17 — left the courthouse with her ex-husband and her mother at her side, as they've been since that morning 13-1/2 years ago.
"I'm sorry you had to go through it all," said Macie Pridgen, a spokeswoman for the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office.
"I'm not," Ryals said. "Not now."
Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.