On Friday, September 29, 2000, I lost one of my closest friends, Sharon, to domestic violence. Today, I am remembering her and her beautiful smile.
Sharon was in an abusive relationship. When the townhouse next to Ronnie and I came available for rent, I told her about it. Finally feeling like she had options and with somewhere to go, Sharon decided to leave her husband, Art. She moved into the townhouse with her two children, a son and a daughter who were close friends with our two sons.
Our homes shared a common wall. Not only was I happy to have my friend close to me, I also felt that with her right next door, we could protect her.
At approximately 4:00 pm on September 29, 2000, our son Lance called me at work. Usually, he called to tell me he had arrived home from school safely. This time, though, Lance said, “Mom, there are gunshots coming from next-door!” Then, he started screaming that Art was shooting at Sharon and her boyfriend, Ray. I told Lance to go inside and hide behind the entertainment center. I told him I would call 911, then leave work and come home immediately.
When I called 911, the dispatcher said they had already received multiple calls about the shooting. I explained that my 11-year-old son was in the adjoining townhouse by himself. I was told someone would call our landline and give Lance instructions on what to do and keep him on the phone while officers were dispatched.
The 12-mile drive home from work felt like the longest drive ever. I was scared to death that Lance would be harmed. I knew my husband, Ronnie, was closer to our home than I was and was in the middle of a physical therapy appointment. I called his cell phone and explained what little I knew and asked him to leave and go home right away.
When I got to our dead-end street, it was cordoned off with crime tape. Dozens of police cars and a SWAT team were on site. Our townhouse was located at the very end of the street, and I could see Ronnie on the other side of the crime tape, walking toward our home.
Police officers grabbed Ronnie and told him he had to get out, that one person was dead. It was Ray, Sharon’s friend. Art had chased Ray, shooting him in the back multiple times. Ray had collapsed on a neighbor’s front porch and died. Ronnie told the police, “I have to get my son!” They assured Ronnie that Lance was safe; the SWAT team had him and was bringing him to us.
At that time, we didn’t know whether Sharon and her estranged husband were dead or alive. Later, we learned that Art had shot Sharon multiple times and she had died almost immediately. He then shot himself in the head and was laying on top of her, dead, right inside the front door of Sharon’s townhouse.
In the meantime, I was telling the police that Sharon and Art had two children together. The daughter worked up the street at Starbucks, and I was pretty sure she was at work. The son was most likely at the local high school watching the Friday night football game. The police asked if the family had any relatives in the area. I said the only family member I knew of was Sharon’s sister in California.
The officers told Ronnie and me to go get the daughter from work and take her to a secure location. We agreed on the Shari’s restaurant up the street. Once there, we would have the daughter call her brother, then we would pick him up and take him to Shari’s as well. The police would send an officer to meet us there once we had them both. In the meantime, the kids could call their aunt in California.
When I got to Starbucks, I told Sharon’s daughter I needed to talk with her. When I said she was going to have to come with me, the first thing she said was, “Where is my mom? Has something happened to her?” I told her I wasn’t sure. During the drive to Shari’s, she kept calling her mother over and over. There was no answer.
We found Sharon’s son at a friend’s house, getting ready to go to the football game. He and his friend followed us to Shari’s. With my cell phone constantly ringing and the kids crying, it was chaos trying to keep them inside Shari’s, but we needed to wait for information from the police.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the officer called my cell and told me Sharon and Art had died and department would be sending a police officer and a member of the clergy to Shari’s. The sight of those poor children collapsing to the ground when the police told them their parents were dead will be forever etched in my mind.
My beloved friend Sharon always had a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon. She was a beautiful, hardworking woman who loved her children more than life itself. When she wasn’t working one of the two jobs she held to provide for her children, she loved going camping and spending time with friends.
Sharon tried to escape her abusive husband and start a new life. When she made the decision to leave her house and belongings and start again, she had hope for the future. Unfortunately, she left all of us before her dream of a violence-free life could become a reality.
October is National Domestic Awareness Month. If you or anyone you know is in an abusive relationship and needs help, there are resources available in every city. Click here for more information: http://www.ncadv.org/