Written by: Rachel, Survivor
Trigger Warning: This story contains an account of abuse as well as brief discussion of violence culminating in the death of a victim of domestic violence or a loved one. Some survivors may find this particularly upsetting. Please consider your triggers and well-being before reading past this point.
On the morning of December 9, 2017, my husband of 13 years took the lives of our nine-year-old son and five-year-old daughter before taking his own. When it happened, I was overwhelmed and in shock. I struggled to reconcile the reality of what happened and wanted to blame it on mental illness, depression, and him just snapping. I could handle neither the death of my children nor the weight of it, knowing it was caused by vindictiveness.
His family, whom I was close to, also shamed me into silence and minimized his history of abuse simply because it was not physical. As a result, I was mostly quiet about the full story for the first year after it happened. My heart ached to reveal what I had experienced and the whole truth of what happened to my children that December morning.
I had so many nightmares and near-constant anxiety because I had kept it all locked up inside. After much therapy and soul searching, I came to recognize that evil sits in the shadows of silence. I will not be silent and allow this part of my story to be swept under the rug or for others to live this alone, unaware of the risks they face.
Fear of being judged by others makes it hard to speak up – even though it happened to you and is your story to tell. There is always a perpetrator, and so many times, it is someone you love. Although you are being hurt, you do not want to hurt them back; you only want to be loved and respected. You hope for change, so you stay silent. Silence is lonely and confusing, and all it does is leave a string of heartbreaks in its wake.
You deserve someone who will listen and lookout for the best interests of you and your children. Trying to save an abusive relationship is impossible unless the abuser admits they have a problem and is actively engaged in therapy, demonstrating a commitment to make lasting changes. Admittedly, this is rare and is most often the exception rather than the rule.
Even some pastors lack a proper understanding of the dynamics present in abusive relationships. Instead of guiding you toward resources to help, they often apply religious beliefs to convince you to stay, stressing that God prioritizes unity – and rejects divorce – over your safety. Ideally, you should see a licensed therapist who has domestic violence and trauma training and listen to them, not the one inflicting the pain.
So, why did I stay in this relationship if it was so abusive? This is a good question, and it is one that I am still trying to figure out. The biggest reason I continued to stay in the relationship is that I loved him. Ironically, the reasons I stayed for the last few years were our children and the extreme guilt I carried for hurting my husband.
Even from the beginning of our relationship, I always hated when we fought and the sort of things he would resort to. I hated how vindictive he was, even with others, and how he always put himself before the children and me. Despite how difficult the last two and a half years of the marriage were, the majority of our 17 years together overall were not hard times.
Initially, I was drawn in by the attraction I felt for him. He was very handsome, and his blue eyes just pulled me in. I loved him for his sense of adventure and how he had a way of not letting fear stop him. He pushed himself to achieve so much. There was nothing that he could not – or would not try to – figure out. I always took the safe route, and there was a thrill in being with him. I also felt secure in knowing he would always learn how to take care of whatever problem may arise.
His thirst for knowledge inspired me. He seemed to know a little about everything and was a deep thinker. I always took things at face value – without question – and just believed what I was told. He questioned everything and wanted to know how it all worked. Again, this trait was the opposite of me, and I found it attractive.
I loved him because as long as I didn’t talk about something he had done negatively, he listened to me – a trait I hadn’t seen in many men – and we were best friends. We had this foundation that I relied on to keep me connected to him and our marriage. If there was no conflict, our marriage was pretty good, but realistically, we all know it will arise occasionally.
During our marriage, I never saw myself as a doormat. I said what I was feeling, but I honestly think that caused more confusion. Our friends and family – and both he and I – all believed that I was strong-willed and stubborn. How can that type of personality be vulnerable to abuse? Perhaps, it could be assumed that I had even caused some of it.
There were red flags from the beginning, but I lacked confidence in my ability to find someone who would make me feel truly loved. I feared being alone. That was my fault, and I thought that it was not fair to him to stay in a relationship where I didn’t feel completely loved. He would tell me that I expected a fairy tale, and that wasn’t real life. Also, he said that I was lucky that I ended up with him and not someone who would take advantage of me.
We started dating in the summer of 2000. He was my first boyfriend, and I had no experience to know how a relationship worked. My parents didn’t have a good relationship. I was young and thought that my expectations were set too high. Part of me also believed that it was a maturity issue he would eventually outgrow. Plus, as I said, I relied on the qualities I mentioned earlier that I loved about him to keep me in. Somewhere during the years we dated, he admitted to me that he was addicted to OxyContin. I was floored, and although we were both naive to addiction at that time, I supported his efforts to quit.
After dating for three years, I wanted to get married. I didn’t believe in living together before marriage, and I was tired of having to clean two apartments. Also, I was growing tired of not being around my stuff because he always wanted to be at his place and no longer wanted to be known as the “girlfriend who paid for everything.” I felt guilty for having premarital sex, and I felt if we planned to stay together forever, then we should just get married. I told him this for a few months, and on our ski vacation, he finally proposed. I had been a nurse for a year, and he had just graduated with his bachelor’s degree in business.
We got married in September 2004. Around that time, he decided that his new job was too much stress, and I supported his decision to quit. He went to work for his dad, and we decided to buy the house he grew up in and remodel it to make it our own.
That first year was rough, though. At some point, he began to struggle with his addiction to OxyContin again, although I did not know it at the time. We fought a lot. I felt so used and neglected because I was working full time and was completely responsible for all the household duties, including cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, and mowing the lawn most times.
He didn’t take work very seriously. Some days, he wouldn’t go in, while other days, he worked minimal hours while still going out often with his friends. Sometimes, he didn’t come home at night, and I’d have no idea where he was. I desperately wanted his love and for him to take care of and look out for me. I was super clingy, which probably also pushed him away. He felt like I had turned into a clingy nag.
I can’t remember the exact timeline in that first year, but we got into a huge fight about his lack of effort in the relationship. He got so mad that he punched a hole in the hallway wall. I went and put my hands on his shoulders and told him to calm down. He pushed me out of the way, went to the front room, picked up a dumbbell, and threw it through the front windows.
This was the first act of violence that I had seen from him. It shook me to my core, but I wasn’t afraid he would hurt me; I was just astonished at the rage inside of him. We both called our parents at that time. He felt as though my mom only sided with me. From that point on, he did not trust her and manipulated me into seeing my family as biased. I didn’t confide in her or anyone in my family about our issues after that.
We had another fight where he cut three or four new blinds on the windows and damaged other parts of the house. This devastated me, as I had put so much time and money into fixing up our remodel. In both incidents, I never got an apology. We didn’t have the typical abuse cycle of remorse. He didn’t clean it up or fix any of it – I did. I was mad, and when I brought it up, he blamed me for pushing him to that point.
He admitted eight months into our marriage that he had taken out a credit card and opened a PO box to support and hide his addiction, but he said he was out of control and claimed that he wanted to get clean. I was upset, but I was also glad he came to me. I wanted to help him “fix” it. He took four months to concentrate on getting clean without working or contributing in any way. He went to NA meetings, read books, and saw a counselor.
For the first few months, I was very supportive of his work to get clean. However, I was ready for him to be an active partner in the marriage. My needy, nagging ways started back up. He shirked responsibility for his choices and said I had pushed him into marriage. After letting resentment build towards me, he asked me to leave on our first wedding anniversary. Again, I was crushed. I wanted him to love me, to want me, to care for me. We separated for six weeks, and I missed him so much during this time.
After the six weeks had passed, we started talking again and discussed treating each other better and creating a plan for the future. He decided to go to medical school after I tried convincing him to enroll in nursing school. His vision was always to be on the top, to not answer to anyone, and be successful.
For the next two years, his returning to school with prerequisite requirements and acceptance to med school injected additional stress into our marriage, but we didn’t have conflict because of it. We seemed to be on the same page in life and once again friends, but I still never felt completely loved. After he was accepted to med school, we decided to start a family; I was the ripe old age of 28.
Our son changed everything for me. I felt loved by this little baby, and the love I had for him was indescribable. Admittedly, my energy focused more on our son, as did my husband’s. We both had so much love for him. While my husband never sacrificed anything inconvenient, he loved and spent time with our son, and they developed a very close bond. I felt we had the perfect family.
During his four years in medical school, I can remember two fights where he got violent. One time, he threw a table and another he shattered the mirror on our closet doors. Again, he offered no apologies, only blame. I was the one who cleaned them up and got them fixed. Overall, besides the stress and those two fights, those years were good.
We decided we wanted another child, and our daughter was born right before my husband entered his residency. Although we lived five hours away from family while he was in med school, moving 15 hours away for a five-year residency was heartbreaking. I had always envisioned my children growing up with their grandparents and cousins close by. We moved to the Southwest with a four-month-old and a four-year-old. It was a new place, we didn’t know anybody, and I was struggling with postpartum depression on top of all the changes.
For the first time in our 12-year relationship, he was the one making money, and I was a stay at home mom for 18 months. It was a hard transition. I felt no self-worth. I loved my kids so deeply but never felt I was good enough. No matter how much I poured in, I wanted to be better; I wanted to be more. My husband was overwhelmed by his residency and worked more than 80 hours in an awful environment. He voiced frustration that the house wasn’t always clean, the kids misbehaved, and that I wasn’t willing and ready for his every whim. I was told that I was lazy.
Despite our struggling marriage, we both felt our family wasn’t complete and wanted a third child. We tried for two years to get pregnant, but God knew better. I had gone back to work part-time, and that helped me some as I was able to get some validation from my job. Being a stay at home mom, especially with a narcissistic partner, is hard. I dealt with much depression from not getting pregnant with a third child and was sad knowing all our daughter’s “lasts” would be my lasts as well — no more baby.
My husband had started abusing his Adderall, continued to feed his addiction to porn, and wasn’t home much. When he was home, he was sleeping. I was always making excuses or breaking promises to the kids about him being involved or doing something with us. I was so lonely. I never had friends during our relationship as he was my friend.
I decided I needed to get in a better place mentally so I could be a better mom. I started working out and tried to regain a sense of self-worth. During that time, I made a friend to whom, over a few months, I poured out my heart and struggles. I even shared something from my teenage years that I hadn’t shared with anyone, including my husband. She was struggling, too, and we were trying to help each other. While she did help me gain confidence and motivation to get out of my depression, I should have turned to therapy to help me through the issues in our marriage and within me.
During this time, I was pulling away from my husband as his behavior and actions towards me were hurtful. I’ll never forget when he flipped on me, and I became fearful of him. Two weeks in a row, I had gone out with the girls, something I had never done. He demanded to know what was going on.
Over the next two weeks, he demanded to know every conversation or interaction I had ever had with my friend. He kept me up at night and interrogated me. He took my phone and downloaded all the voicemails and texts. We had security cameras, and he downloaded all the footage we had. For a few days, he even took possession of my phone. He told me that if I genuinely cared about him, I would cut off all the friendships I had made, not just the one I met at the gym. My friendship with her was an affair in his eyes. He wouldn’t commit to me if he thought it was physical, but he certainly said it was an emotional affair.
With all this abusive behavior going on, he was distraught and torn to pieces. I felt horrible and carried much guilt and remorse. I was also confused, however, because I hadn’t had an affair. I wasn’t seeking a sexual relationship, but I had shared and confided secrets with her. I didn’t know if what I had done was that bad, but I knew I had hurt my husband to his core, and the tears I cried over the next two years were out of genuine remorse for doing anything to hurt him so badly.
To this day, I would go back and change what I shared and gone to a therapist instead. I’m not advising you to avoid sharing with friends but rather keep it at healthy levels, as your abuser will turn anything against you.
I did everything I could to win my husband back. During this time, I even contemplated suicide because I felt so worthless. He told me that “Suicide is the most selfish thing a parent can do to their child. If things are really that bad, they should take their kids out too.” This statement freaked me out. Who says that? At the time, while it freaked me out, I thought he had said it because he was trying to talk me out of even entertaining the idea of suicide. However, looking back, I believe he started entertaining these thoughts back then.
I allowed so much abuse based on guilt of what I had done or, rather, shared with my friend. He started abusing Adderall more and added alcohol to the mix. There were a few picture frames broken and tons of emotional abuse usually after the kids went to bed. They never saw the violence, only some arguments and many of my tears.
The first significant occurrence happened the first month after he turned on me. He threw a dining room chair through our backdoor window while the kids were swimming. Somehow, they were oblivious to it all. I called a neighbor to come escort them through the back fence to her house while I got everything cleaned up. I was shaking and upset. I still didn’t think he would hurt me, but my fear was elevated. My neighbor asked if I felt safe, and I told her I was okay and blamed myself for pushing him over the edge.
Two months later, we went on a cruise for my sister’s wedding. He always wanted me to get drunk, and I didn’t want to. I hated the way he acted when he was drinking. We got in a fight because he said I didn’t care about having fun with him. Our daughter was in the room asleep, but he got so mad at me that he tore the TV off the wall and threw it about two feet away from where I was standing; I was next to her.
I immediately picked her up and went to my parents’ cabin and had to confess what had been happening over the last few months and what had just gone on moments ago. Security came and noted the damage in the room, the things he threw overboard including my phone, which had four-months’ worth of pictures and videos that I hadn’t backed up; to this day, this still hurts me very deeply. They cut off his ability to purchase alcohol, but that’s all that really happened. He said I was turning him into a monster, and my guilt kicked in; I excused his behavior as the result of how I had hurt him.
My family was concerned with his behavior, but I assured them we were working on it and that it was only because of the alcohol that it had gone that far. Things were very rough, but nothing major happened until a year later. We had taken the kids to a hotel about a half-hour away for a staycation for the 4th of July.
He had been drinking that night, and I mentioned something about it. He stormed out from the pool area and didn’t talk to me again until I had gotten the kids to sleep and was going to sleep myself. Then he started talking about how miserable he wanted me to be and how he wanted me to be all alone on a deserted island. I went to the bathroom, so the kids wouldn’t wake up. I asked him repeatedly to leave me alone.
When he wouldn’t stop, I attempted to record what he was saying to me as he would often deny things he had said. When he saw this, his anger escalated. He grabbed my purse and emptied the contents on the ground, and then he took my phone, my wallet, and the keys to the car and left me there with the kids. The next day, we were supposed to take the kids to the hotel water park, but I had to make up an excuse that he was sick and didn’t realize he left us there without a car or phone. I took the kids to the water park, and the hotel allowed me to charge a taxi to the room to get home. Unfortunately, both kids had to ride back without their car seats. I was furious, but again, there was no apology, only blame.
It was at this point that I knew I could not sustain this relationship. I felt like I owed it to him to stay until he finished his residency. I knew if I left before then, he wouldn’t complete it, and I didn’t want all his hard work to be in vain. If he could graduate and be on his own, he wouldn’t need me. He warned me if I left that nobody would ever want me because I would be pushing 40 with two kids, and everyone would want him because he was a surgeon. I didn’t care at this point if I was alone for the rest of my life; I just wanted peace.
Nothing significant happened for a few months, but I decided I needed to go talk to a professional. After three or four visits, she advised me to leave and, if we were planning on moving back home, to go ahead and do so, as I was in an unsafe environment, and it would get worse. I didn’t want to further destabilize the children’s lives with school and an impending move already coming. I knew they needed stability. That’s when I finally turned it over to God. I decided to quit fighting back, not let him get to me, and just be the best wife I could be.
When we moved back, his stress and abuse of Adderall had increased drastically. We got a big, beautiful house, and I was doing all the leg work to get it financed. He was so difficult about everything, and the emotional abuse and his expectations were not practical. I was so frustrated one afternoon when he wouldn’t sign some paperwork for the house that he was sitting in the bed, and I hit the top of his foot that was under the comforter. I should not have hit him and am not making excuses for it. After that, all he said was that I was the abuser, that he had never physically hit me, and it had really affected him.
The next day we were all in the elevator, and our children were fighting over pushing the buttons. Our son pushed the button, and I told him that it was his sister’s turn. My husband looked at me and asked, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” I felt like I had to prove something to him, so I squeezed our son’s arm and said, “I told you not to do that.” He started to cry because I had squeezed it hard – the guilt I had and still have for that. I let my emotions for my husband dictate my actions toward my child. I asked my son to forgive me for reacting that way, but I still felt horrible. After that, my husband would call me a domestic abuser and a child abuser.
He had also taken his test and went out many nights to strip clubs and hotels, spending thousands of dollars all while texting me threatening, heartless messages. This was finally it. Despite my still feeling that I needed to maintain stability for the kids, I couldn’t do it anymore. I had finally reached the point where I was having a hard time controlling my actions. The emotional abuse was escalating at an exponential rate, and while I desperately wanted to get this new house that the kids were also so excited about, I just couldn’t do it.
I told him that if he didn’t stop drinking, I was leaving. We got in a fight, and he headed to the bar, so I took the kids and left. I was afraid of him hurting me then. I was fearful enough that I had taken his pistol and put it in my dad’s gun safe. I still hoped by leaving that this would be the wake-up call he needed.
I didn’t file any legal paperwork when I left. To my surprise, he was mature when we told the kids that we would not be getting the new house and would be living in separate homes. We blamed the distance between our homes on the fact that I couldn’t find a job nearby. I didn’t feel safe living close to my husband, away from my family. Even then, I still didn’t give my fear the full attention it deserved. I thought he would just try to make my life miserable by letting air out of my tires, turning off my water, or whatever else he could to make life hard. He had the kids on the weekend, and I had them during the week.
He texted me so many mean messages about how I had screwed the kids up by leaving, and he looked forward to me seeing how damaged our son would be as an adult, and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. Once we moved back home, there was a disconnect between him and the kids. He still put on a front of being a good dad for them, but he no longer cared about their safety or well-being. All he could see was how I had screwed them up. I started getting fearful that he may live up to that statement he had made about suicide and killing the kids, too. I tried to push those thoughts away by convincing myself I was being too emotional.
After being separated for over two months and he had been working for a month, he called me sobbing, saying he was out of control and wanted his family back; he wanted to get clean. I immediately went back to him for several reasons. First, I felt very sorry for him. I thought that this was the break I had been waiting for, that he’s seen the light and things will get better. Also, I had initially told him if I ever separated from him, I would live nearby so the kids would be close to him.
However, as my fear increased, I couldn’t hold up to that. He had said I was a liar and don’t live up to my promises. I had told him that if he quit drinking, I would be with him to work out our problems. He said he wanted to quit, and I was expected to uphold my agreement, regardless of what happened over the two months.
The next day he was drug tested, and the results were positive, so he lost his job and was turned into the medical board. He moved out of the house he had rented, and he moved into mine. This was when he went into a deep depression, sleeping 18-20 hours a day. I was back in “fix” mode, but he was in deep. I tried to be positive and help him any way I knew how, but he was resistant to everything.
Toward the end of the month, before he had technically lost his job, he wouldn’t respond to their attempts to reach out to him. I was fearful he was making his road even harder. I knew he was supposed to go meet with them that afternoon, but he refused to get up. They called his phone, and I answered. I told them he wasn’t ignoring them but was really depressed from dealing with all of this, and if they could give him a grace period, he would get back to them. I was a real enabler of his behavior.
I went to the bedroom and told him what I had said. He said that it was okay, and I was surprised that it went better than I had anticipated. About 15 minutes later, he came out in a fit of rage. He threw several of the kids’ picture frames and a dining room chair, shattering it, all while yelling at me that I had no right to do that. My fear heightened as this time, and I tried to talk myself out of it. I asked him later if he was feeling suicidal, and he told me that he wasn’t, that I was just projecting how I would be reacting in that situation.
He started going out again, not telling me where he was going and shutting the kids out. I knew things were bad, and I begged him to get help. We had another fight while the kids were awake. I went to the bedroom to get away from him talking and to get ready for work. I locked the bedroom and the bathroom doors behind me. He kicked them in to find me in the shower pulling the shower curtain down. I felt so vulnerable and angry at that moment.
Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t make him leave. I felt sorry for him and didn’t want to do the yo-yo things with the kids. The last week he had gotten up to go to our son’s birthday party and do iFly with us, so I was hoping maybe he was getting to a better place.
The day before it happened, he said he was going to the dealership to get another set of keys for his car. He was gone all day, which I thought was strange. I texted him at 530 pm and told him our son and I were going to my parents’ house to help decorate for Christmas while our daughter attended a school function, and I asked if he’d like to join. He said no. When we got home, he told me, “I don’t think we were ever meant to be together.” Later, I would learn from a police report that he had purchased a shotgun.
I was taken aback and knew it was going to be a big conversation. I put the children to bed so we could talk. To my relief, once the kids were asleep, he didn’t pursue a conversation about it. I knew he was up all night in bed next to me. At 2 am, I almost rolled over and asked if he was abusing his adderall again, but I decided that would not lead to a good place, so I just went back to sleep.
—— Trigger warning: the following section briefly describes the events that occurred on the morning Rachel’s husband murdered their children and took his life. Readers are advised to exercise caution in their choice to continue reading. ——
Our son and I were going to run a 5K together that morning while my husband watched out daughter. Because he struggled with anxiety at bedtime, our son slept on a mattress in our room. When my alarm went off, my husband immediately went and picked up our son and put him in our bed before going to the bathroom. He was acting strangely, so I got up and followed him in there.
I caught him taking a handful of Adderall, and when I asked him what was going on, he said I had just startled him. He then went into our room, picked up our son, and carried him into our daughter’s room. At this point, my heart is pounding because it didn’t feel right. I knew something was off.
As he started to close the bedroom door behind him, I grabbed his hand and said, “Please, come out here and talk to me! what is going on?” He took three steps out, pushed me back down the hallway, and said: “No, I will not talk to you!” He shut the door behind him, and I tried to get in but couldn’t. He had wedged a baseball bat between the door and our daughter’s bed.
I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. Inside, I knew it was terrible, but I didn’t think it would be anything immediate. So I called out to our son, “Come on, baby! We are late for the 5K, and we have to go now…”
And then I heard three rapid gunshots. I yelled at my husband, “Please, no, I’ll do anything!”
I went to find the phone and call 911. At some point, he came out of the room and shot himself in our bedroom, leaving me to see the kids when I was asked if they had a pulse. I have always believed that he did this so I would see the children and endure further pain.
Twelve hours later, I received an email that he had sent by delayed delivery, saying that I had been the one who had changed. He said that I had become a better person, but in doing so, I had moved away from him and towards God, and it was his own fault that he was so dependent on me. He then went into how pathetic his life had become and how he didn’t see much hope of repair, and I was blamed for not being more compassionate towards him. His last line was, “There is something to be said when someone is provoked on purpose.”
That’s my story and why I am speaking up and out. I want awareness of this behavior. I want those living it to be set free and to have the support of those around them. I want the family court to help victims when they have gotten brave enough to get out. I want an end to the confusion of abuse. Abuse is abuse; there are no excuses. There should be no judgment from those on the outside who think victims should ‘just get out’ as there are so many reasons that play into why victims don’t leave. Leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time.
I believe that my life was spared to help others living in domestic abuse. I don’t believe it’s our place to go about bad-talking or calling names but to bring awareness and love to those who have been deprived of it. I don’t want anyone to hate his. He struggled, but he lashed out. It’s not about hate or anger, although I am still working through my anger; it’s about accountability and it not being okay. If those inflicting abuse don’t get help and truly seek change, we must step away towards light and love to heal.
*If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org, chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777, or send a private message through our Facebook page. For crisis services, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.
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