We hold these tiny computers in our hands, they make life convenient they give us directions, they keep us connected to our friends and family and they can be a device whereby we get information that drives us to our knees so hard that we can be certain that other people feel the fall on the other side of the world.
One Sunday morning, Laura’s tiny computer dinged beside her as she lay in bed nursing a headache. She ignored the call at first, but when the phone rang again, Laura picked up to speak to her sister Jill. Laura told me that she could hear the fear in he sister Jill’s voice. “They are missing” her sister Jill told her. Confused, Laura asked for clarification and Jill told her that their sister Jennifer and teen aged niece Kelsie were missing. Jennifer’s boss said that she called in sick to work and Kelsie’s school reported that she was not at school, that Jennifer called her in sick. Neither reported that the phone call from Jennifer indicated that anything was wrong, and certainly she did not have fear in her voice. Laura told me that the entire family knew that something was off. While they’d never heard of any physical abuse, Laura knew that Jennifer’s fiancé was controlling. That morning when the family received a phone call about him being in ICU in New Mexico, Laura knew something was wrong. She kept calling Jennifer’s cell phone and Kelsie’s too and when they both kept going to voicemail, she feared the worst. Laura was over 300 miles away so all she could do is stay connected to that phone and hope for the best. Feeling helpless, all she could do was make calls and send text messages, asking for prayer. The family immediately went over to Jennifer’s house to look for her. They knocked on doors and looked into windows and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. They called the police to do welfare check, again, nothing or no one was found. Laura told me that she knew that he had killed them when they got word that he was in ICU in New Mexico. His cousins were there with him bedside and confirmed that Jennifer and Kelsie were not there.
The family, desperate for answers called the police again. This time, the police forced their way into the house. A neighbor told the local newspaper “as soon as they got the door kicked in on the third try, we just knew as the family literally fell down and started crying”. Meeting them at the door was Kelsie’s lifeless body in her own pool of blood. As the police continued in the house, Jennifer’s body was found in the bedroom, she was also beaten to death, she too lying in her own blood, except he gently laid a comforter on top of her lifeless, bloody body.
The tiny computer dinged again, and Laura told me that she can still remember the exact words coming from her sister on the other line: “they are in the house”—I am sure the details of what came next are both permanently etched into Laura’s mind as deeply as she tries to forget those stinging words from her sister, words that changed everything.
Her sister and niece were dead, and they were dead because of domestic violence. Laura told me that she kept telling herself that “this doesn’t happen to us, this only happens in the movies”—but it had, in fact, happened to her family. And they are still trying to make sense of it all, almost 5 years later.
Autopsies were performed and indicated that he’d killed them both by beating them with a baseball bat, a full two days earlier. He had been last seen leaving the house that day, waving at the neighbor as if it were a normal day. He then drove to the bank and withdrew all of their money out of their account and drove 10 hours to New Mexico, where they found him in the ICU 2 days later dying of a drug overdose. His life held precariously in the hands of doctors who no doubt knew what he’d done, but treated him just the same, where he regained full health. He was arrested for the murder of Jennifer and Kelsie and is now serving a life sentence in the Texas Department Of Corrections.
Jennifer was 44 years old, and Kelsie never got the chance to live her life at all. We can’t imagine the terror that existed in that house that day that they were taken from this planet. In this country, every 9 seconds someone is assaulted or beaten in this horrible epidemic we call domestic violence. Family members that are murdered at the hands of an abuser, usually an intimate partner abuser, are left picking up pieces of their lives, except some of those pieces are so shattered that they can’t be picked up, they can’t be put back together, because for these angel families life will never be the same. In Jennifer and Kelsie’s case, I am sure the family finds little comfort in his incarceration, but great comfort in knowing that he will never leave another lifeless body for a family to find in the most horrific of circumstances.
I came to know Laura’s angel story through my own little computer that dubs as a phone. In that little black square box are fellow survivors and a community where we all find strength, hope and healing. Surviving domestic violence and especially losing somebody to domestic violence is a special kind of pain. It is a pain the likes of which some never recover. So, I often log on to our community Facebook page and I meet people like Laura, and I listen to their stories and I am incited to do something about it. Many of us have made it our mission to write, talk and scream until somebody listens to us. I do not know the specifics leading up to that day, but I would imagine that there were warning signs, both visible and invisible. I am sure Laura and her family spend their days misguidedly placing blame on themselves. I am grateful that this family has an organization like “Break The Silence Against Domestic Violence” who provide for these “angel families” in many ways ranging from financial support to retreats, scholarships, Christmas adoption programs for kids affected by domestic violence and many other programs afforded to not just angel families but all persons affected by domestic violence.
Laura is a survivor too. She may or may not have experienced domestic violence herself, but everyday she wakes up and tells the story or her sister and her niece she survives that pain so that she can tell the world that we all must take a stand against this. Laura doesn’t want anybody else to get that phone call that changes everything. Laura couldn’t explain her pain to me if she tried. BTSADV has provided her with people who care and people who will listen. Laura is surrounded by an online community of people who love her and people who understand the pain of losing a loved one in such a brutal fashion. I am sure in the 5 years since Jennifer and Kelsie’s murder Laura has switched phones and that little tiny computer where she received the horrific news may be at the bottom of a lake somewhere. But, it is my hope that now she uses a similar device to be reminded how much this country hates domestic violence and how much good people want to help.
It has been an honor (and a little bit difficult) to write Jennifer and Kelsie’s story. And while it is an honor, Laura told her story to me and I am telling it to you in case you are inclined to help continue the community that is BTSADV. You can make a one time gift or become a member. No gift is too small and know that this organization exists solely to support survivors and angel families. Because as Laura found out, this doesn’t just happen in the movies, this happens to somebody you know, this could happen to you. And so let’s use all the tiny computers in the world to shout from the mountain tops NO MORE! Please consider becoming a member today.