Column: Domestic violence leads to family tragedy

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Recently I watched a story on Discovery Health about a woman who had half a face. Her boyfriend shot her, leaving her without a nose, without an upper lip area and minus an eye. He shot and killed her mother.

This woman’s story was so inspiring to me. Despite her disfigurement, she stayed strong and worked to rebuild her life and her face. She also began to speak out against domestic violence.

I thought, if she could put her face forward to reach women suffering from domestic violence, then I could too. This is the story of my aunt, Mary, who didn’t get the chance to tell her tale of domestic violence. Her life was ended by her husband.

Mary was a lovely person. She took in countless stray cats and had a weakness for helpless animals. She was married, had a 13-year-old son and worked for a Columbus area library. Her life seemed to be going well when her old high school boyfriend, Clee,  came back into her life. He had recently divorced and thought he’d look her up. It didn’t take long for her to leave her husband for Clee.

Of course, the family disapproved. At that point in my life, I was busy with college and managing my own dramas, so I didn’t judge her as harshly as others did. What surprised me was that she was willing to leave her son. They always had a great relationship. She told everyone she was in love and "her big teddy bear" had come back into her life.

Soon after they started dating, his controlling ways became apparent. It was little things at first. He told her to get rid of her wedding dress, from her first marriage. He told her she was going to wear a bikini on a trip to Las Vegas. These "little things" were red flags my aunt didn’t see.

After they got married, which was only a few months after dating, Mary became more detached from her family. Clee didn’t allow her to talk to them on the phone and she rarely came around for family events, at least not without him. She didn’t see her son much, and a cat her first husband gave her "disappeared."

We had suspected physical, and obviously mental and emotional abuse. She tried to leave him several times but she always went back. Once, my mom and two of her other sisters went to their apartment and got her stuff and forced her to leave.

Eventually my aunt did leave and moved back in with her former husband and her son, which probably added to the rage Clee was already feeling. It probably wasn’t the best move, but she needed a safe place to stay, and she and her former husband had remained friends.

Soon after she returned to her former husband’s home, the threatening phone calls began. He threatened her, her ex-husband and even her son. The phone calls escalated into visits to her ex-husband’s home and her work. The day after an altercation with her former husband, it happened.

Clee called Mary at work and told her he was sick with a cold and needed her help. For some reason, she was happy to oblige. She ran to her ex-husband’s home and made some chicken soup for her ill, estranged husband. When she got to Clee’s home, she found a sick man, but he wasn’t physically ill. He took out a gun and shot her in the head.

Afterwards, the police report said he called his ex-wife and asked her how to get blood out of the carpet. Truly, a sick man.

I remember that night so vividly. The phone rang fairly late and I remember my mother saying, "What!" in total shock. She had just gotten the phone call saying her little sister had been killed. I was horribly sad for my aunt’s death but I was even sadder for what my mother was going through. She has always been the strongest person I know and to see her deal with that was heartbreaking. She and Mary were only four years apart – the same as me and my sister. I couldn’t imagine losing my sister so violently.

In the weeks after the shooting, my family went through a lot. Some were sad, some were angry and some were regretful that they hadn’t done more to protect Mary from the abuse they knew she was enduring.

Not only did my family have to go through the funeral but they had to go to the courts and face the man that caused them so much pain. What a helpless feeling of having the person responsible for a loved one’s death sit in the same room as you.

The case never went to a jury trial. Clee died in jail of a heart attack. Later it came out that he had allegedly planned to take Mary’s body and bury it – after he went and killed her ex-husband and her son.

I wanted to write this in the hopes that just one woman will learn what Mary didn’t: to get out before it gets bad. If you start dating someone who tries to control your life, break it off. Someone with that kind of personality will only get worse as time goes on.

For those of you women in an abusive relationship, understand that this can happen to you. Unfortunately, it happens far too often. There are people you can talk to who can offer you help. Reach out to family, friends or call a domestic violence help line. They can advise you of how to get out safely and find a place to stay. You can also call the police.

For more information on domestic violence or for help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or call CHOICES, a 24-hour local domestic violence hotline at 224-4663.

Andrea Cordle is editor of the Southwest Messenger

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