Angel Story, Sarah’s Story

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This angel story was submitted by Sarah’s sister, Gretchen.  In her own words, she describes to us the traumatic life that she and her sister had leading up to her eventual murder.  Thank you Gretchen for sharing your story with us!

I am sharing these stories on my blog in hopes that during Domestic Violence awareness month that you would consider supporting the organization, Break The Silence Against Domestic Violence.  There are many opportunities to help including a one time gift or an ongoing membership.  You can find out more by visiting https://www.breakthesilencedv.org/become-a-member/

This is Sarah’s story, written exclusively by her sister and with very little editing from me.

I only tell this story in the hopes someone will learn from it, or  gun laws get stronger and the gun laws already in effect are enforced better. Sarah was the baby of the family and had 13 siblings. 11 of those siblings lived elsewhere with their other parent. So In our home there was only us 3 girls, and our mother. Our mother became very religious when Sarah started kindergarten. Going to church and being involved with all church functions. As a single parent trying to make a living, we all grew up quickly out of necessity. We were also taught to instantly obey adults, never talk back, never stick up for yourself, always turn the other cheek. Often hearing the phrase, “if you make your bed you have to lie in it”.  I believe all 3 of us ended up in bad marriages.  After all we should be keeping the men happy, no matter the cost of our health and happiness. But through all that Sarah grew up a happy child. We had no television due to religious beliefs, so we learned early to entertain ourselves, play outside, use our imagination. At 17 she fell in love with a man. She was head over heels, and wanted to get married within weeks of meeting him. My mother would not sign papers for her to marry early because he already had 5 children, with four of them living with him. They married 4 days after she turned 18.  They were pretty happy for a while. Whenever they had a disagreement he would just completely ignore her for weeks to months on end, without speaking, or even acknowledging she was in the room.  During the last year of their marriage she stepped out on him several times. I am certainly not proud of that. And that is when her killer came into the picture.  He probably would of just been another affair but she ended up pregnant. Her first husband moved away. And Sarah struggled with the guilt of her oldest daughter not having her father around. She was determined that would not happen again to her daughter, so she stuck it out, he was an alcoholic, he was suicidal several times. In and out of re-hab, using marijuana for sure.  They broke up several times and always got back together with him convincing her that they married for better or worse, in sickness and in health. And his sickness was the bottle.  He had a passion for  guns. Having had a felony he was not allowed to own guns.  So the few they registered were in her name. After that fateful day I learned there was over 25 guns in the house, stashed everywhere according to police report. Under sofas, under coffee tables, etc.  Two years almost to the day, Sarah collapsed at work.  She was life-watched into Wichita Hospital. She was having a brain hemorrhage. The drilled into her scalp and drained blood, in doing so they discovered an aneurysm. She had a 7% chance of recovery if she had surgery. We made the decision as a family to try because her children were 7 and 15 ( the fifteen year old had a baby).  It took nearly a year for her to recover.  She had memory issues, vision problems, shuffled her feet. The doctors recommended some therapy.  He told the doctor, “ nah, she’s home now, and doing well enough for sex”   I went back to the doctor later that day. and set up her therapy. Although that was not legal the doctor bent over backwards. She was definitely  a survivor at this point.   So moving ahead two years now. Brian was due for some surgery. He had mis-used his pain meds of course and was self-medicating that night with alcohol.  My sister was trying to sleep as she was working over the weekend. According the youngest child who was in the house and witness to the crime.  Brian would not leave her alone, begging for sex, etc. My niece said she finally went into the bathroom with him and had sex.  Then he demanded she get out of the house and don’t come back.  So she said, No you leave..  he went into the other room and came back with a military rifle and shot her twice in the chest. As she tried crawling towards the front door, he shot her four more times in the back. She was able to tell her 9 year old, I love you, get the phone and run.  And then Brian shot his head off. My niece called me at 3:30 am 9/9/12.

 

 

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Angel Story: Brandi, And The Thief In The Night

 

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“She was always off on some kind of adventure. Heck, her life was one big adventure, whether she was camping on the beach or floating down the Comal River. She loved the water”

As I interviewed Brandi’s mamma for a featured “Angel Story” I found myself in awe at the strength of the woman telling me the story of her daughter who was stolen from her family when she was just 22 years old. Brandi was a fun loving kid who did well in school, and “rarely had to study”. Her mamma described her as the “life of the party” and followed up by telling me “she WAS the party”.

Brandi participated in pageants until she was 15 years old. She had an older brother who she called her “ketchup baby” because she put ketchup on everything, including his food! When she was 18, she and her brother walked her mamma down the aisle and Brandi gained 2 sisters in the process. Her room was a mess because she couldn’t be bothered to slow down enough to clean it. Her mamma told me that she was always on the go, but knew that she could always come home, and often did, for a warm meal and a mamma’s hug. She’d often show up at the last minute for a meal, and when she did her mamma knew that she was feeling down—and her favorite therapy was Disney movies and a beer with friends. Brandi loved lady bugs and had one tattooed on her foot. Her family now calls them “Brandi Bugs”. She loved animals and was always bringing home a stray and when she was murdered one of her beloved animals survived the torture that took her life and was found days later. She was loved by so many and even in death it was obvious to her family that their baby girl had very few, if any, enemies, and this is why her murder is difficult to understand.

Brandi was on break from college and working as a server in a restaurant where she’d worked since she was 15 years old. She didn’t bring her boyfriends around a lot but from what Brandi’s family knew of her murderer, he was a nice young man who seemed polite and seemed to care about the pageant winning, water loving, adventure seeking ketchup loving baby girl.

She lived with him for 3 weeks before that horrible Thanksgiving night when every thing changed. They’d spend the day celebrating Thanksgiving with family and ended up in a bar with some friends. This was the day that her boyfriend would become a thief in the night. Witnesses later testified that he and Brandi were arguing and a few times Brandi went outside to hide her tears and regain her composure. Many people at the bar offered her a ride home and she refused. She refused because he told her that if she left him that he would never speak to her again. He’d been exerting control over her for weeks since her car was broken and she depended on him for everything. They lived out in the country and she depended on him for everything. She had plans to move in with her father, but never got that chance. Because of the thief in the night, did what thieves do, he stole every next moment she would have.

We will never know whether the arguments of that night were related to her leaving him, but statistics tell us that the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is after one removes themselves from the situation.

They continued to argue (and drink) that fateful night so neither of them were fit to drive, both of them had a blood alcohol level well over the legal limit. But that did not stop him from driving anyway.

She didn’t know he had a gun. He legally possessed it for 3 months before that night. Later, it would be revealed that he had some mental illness issues and never should have been granted the gun legally, but he had been—and Brandi found that gun pointed at her head as he was driving down the road after they left the bar.

Her mama told me that after he pulled the trigger she likely did not suffer and if she did the alcohol she’d consumed likely helped with what must have been paralyzing fear. After shooting her, he drove past several hospitals and made one phone call to a friend. He admitted to killing the Brandi. He then attempted to crash the vehicle into his house in an attempt to take his own life. When that did not work, he dragged her dead body into the house, set the house on fire, laid on top of her and took his last breath less than an hour he’d stolen her last breath from her. Her mamma told me when it came time to lay her to rest they had to finish what he started and were unable to give her the funeral she deserved. In a cruel twist of fate, her body had to be cremated before her family and friends could say goodbye to the beautiful ladybug loving, family loving, water loving, beautiful daughter, granddaughter, sister and friend.

Brandi’s mamma wanted to make it clear to me that they did not LOSE Brandi to domestic violence; rather she was STOLEN from them. Because that is what domestic violence does, it steals–it steals dignity. It steals value. It steals lives. And even though Brandi’s family is breathing air, the memory of her and her loss brings painful breaths. Almost 8 years later, I could feel the pain in the words of Brandi’s mamma as she told me the story.

For families like Brandi’s, life is never the same. Many people don’t understand that this kind of loss often results in other horrible things like divorce, bankruptcy, severe illness and most of all a lifetime of grief. Senseless acts like this cannot be grasped by the human mind, much less a mother of a 22- year old beautiful girl who had her entire life in front of her. Brandi can no longer snuggle up with that fuzzy blanket and watch Disney movies with her friends. Her mamma will never see her happily married with a family of her own. She will never have the opportunity to see if Brandi would pass her love for ketchup on to her children. Her brother probably can’t even pick up a bottle of ketchup. All of them think of Brandi when they see a ladybug. I read once that “water will make a coward of us all” and while that may be true in the practical sense, this water loving baby girl was no coward. None of us can begin to understand what those last moments must have been like for her. As she felt the metal of the gun on her temple, I am sure her mama and her siblings flashed through her mind—she’d not told any of them about the verbal and emotional abuse she’d been enduring. And while Brandi’s mamma knows it wasn’t her fault, even in her communication with me I could feel the misguided guilt. One of the hallmarks of a domestic violence relationship is isolation and lies. Brandi had done both and her family had no reason to believe she was living with a monster. And somehow they must find a way to go on; and 8 years later I am sure it feels like it was yesterday, because we just aren’t wired to bury our babies.

When I asked Brandi’s mama what an organization like “Break The Silence” meant to her answer to me was simple.

“After losing my daughter to domestic violence, BTS reached out to me at a time when my own biological family were at a loss of what to say or do. They wrapped me in love and helped me put one foot in front of the other. They were my strength when I had none. Then, as my healing began, they gave me courage to do the same for others that have suffered the same as I. BTS is love. Pure love”

Those of us who are part of the BTS family agree. But we need your help to continue to reach families like Brandy’s. If you are interested in helping in any way, please visit https://www.breakthesilencedv.org/become-a-member/and consider either a one- time gift or a reoccurring gift to this life giving organization. Portions of monies donated are set-aside for angel families like Brandi’s.

As far as Brandi’s mamma is concerned, she remains a light and a pillar of hope to us all. Thank you Tammy for allowing us to tell your story. I know you want more than anything to never see another story like Brandi’s in the news or even within our survivor sister organization. As for Brandi, this world misses her light, and we will spend the rest of our days telling her story; may she rest in peace and may her story serve to educate those who do not understand that this is prevalent in our society. May each breath not hurt for you, and may the peace that passes all understanding guard your heart. Your BTS family loves you!