Domestic Violence: One Woman's Nightmare
And How She Saved Herself
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- As she sits down on the sofa at the shelter and makes herself
comfortable, Brenda appears relaxed, self-confident and happy. It's hard to believe that
she was once the victim of a violently abusive relationship.
"This is something I'll never walk away from. It is always going to be a part of me.
I'm never going to be able to leave it behind," Brenda says of her experiences in the abusive
Brenda is a psychology student and mother of three who volunteers at the Sexual
and Physical Abuse Resource Center's shelter for battered and abused women and
children. To protect Brenda's identity and privacy she will be referred to by first name only.
Brenda understands the problems of the women at the shelter because she was in an
abusive relationship that lasted three years.
Brenda moved to Florida five years ago. She settled with her two children in a small
rural town in North Florida. "I felt like I had this big space in my life," she says of her single
status at the time. Brenda is still legally married but has been separated from her husband
for nine years now.
"About eight months into my stay there (in the town) I met this really interesting
guy," she said. "He had just relocated there from Ohio and I met him through my baby
sitter. Keith was a very interesting guy, charming, very ambitious and hard-working kind of
About six months into her relationship with Keith, Brenda decided she wanted to
buy a house in a neighboring town.
"The opportunity came along for me to buy a house as opposed to renting a house
for the same amount of money," she said. "I didn't feel I needed to ask his permission to
move into this house. I'm a big girl, it's my money and I can make my own decisions.
That's probably when things started changing with him."
When Brenda decided she wanted to move, Keith started giving her grief about not
talking it over with him. He started expressing a macho-type attitude and insinuating that
he should have been the one to make the decision to move.
"It's like he felt superior or something or, you know, it bruised his ego or whatever.
Whatever the case was, something changed this guy. Even to this day, I can't put my
finger on it... and then alcohol and drugs came into the picture and things went from one
extreme to the next. It was like a downhill slide from that point on," Brenda says.
Keith moved in with Brenda to help her with the landscaping of the yard because
the house was on a large, overgrown lot. He was in and out of the house because they
would fight and each time the fights got worse and worse.
"About one year into the house things really took a turn for the worse. I was in and
out of the hospital for this injury and that injury and all the while lying about what is going
on. It was crazy... I don't even know what I was thinking about at the time, she says. "It
more or less came to a head then, I think, because it was crazy," Brenda says.
"I'd find myself out there down this dirt road in front of my house. Picture this,
here's my house and here are all these woods surrounding it and I don't have any
immediate neighbors... so when your phone gets snatched out of the wall, that's it," she
says. "It was a total violence, rage type situation where you don't know if you're going to
live or die."
On top of dealing with the confrontations with Keith and protecting her children and
her home, Brenda found that she was pregnant with Keith's baby. Just before Christmas,
the situation intensified. Brenda and Keith had a violent confrontation and she decided
that she needed to get out of the relationship.
Brenda went to the police department for a protective injunction to keep Keith away
from her. The injunction worked to a degree. Keith didn't get close to her, but he
continued to leave "messages" for her at the house. The messages ranged from broken
windows to dead animals lying on the doorstep.
"It was a constant threat. He would not, at that point, cross the injunction. He
would go out into the woods behind the house and fire his gun into the air and shout 'The
next one's for you baby!' It was a terrorizing situation," Brenda says. "I no longer slept in
my bed. I slept on the sofa so I could be close to the doors so I could hear him if he
decided to come in. I bought a gun. I really felt like I needed to do that because I knew
sooner or later it was going to be a situation of either me or him."
Two days before Christmas, Keith came to the house. Brenda's son had awakened
her saying that Keith was outside the window. Brenda sent the children to their rooms and
told them to lock the door, put a chair under the knob and stay there no matter what.
Brenda took the gun out from under her pillow and went to the window by the door.
Keith was at the door telling her to open the door. When Brenda refused to open the door,
Keith broke the door down. What ensued was terrifying. Keith was obviously drunk and
told Brenda that he was going to kill her and then kill her children.
Keith ripped the phone from the wall when Brenda said she was going to call the
police. When Brenda pulled the gun from behind her back, Keith taunted her to shoot
him. She shot low and to the left when he advanced toward her. He then lunged toward
her and Brenda shot him in the hip. Keith, obviously in much pain, turned and walked to
his car and left.
"There is no doubt in my mind that if he had gotten the gun from me, he would
have done exactly what he said he was going to do and killed all of us," Brenda says.
The police drove up after Keith left to investigate the situation. Fortunately, a few of
the detectives were familiar with Brenda's complaints against Keith. Charges of breaking
and entering and assault were filed against Keith. Keith was given the choice of jail or
counseling. He chose counseling.
The threats did not stop when Keith agreed to go for counseling. After repeated
counseling sessions, Keith's counselor went to the local authorities and told them that she
was afraid that Keith was going to kill Brenda and her children. Brenda, after much urging,
agreed to go to the counseling center to speak with his counselor. The counselor
impressed on Brenda that she felt Keith's threats against Brenda and her children were very
serious. The counselor feared Keith would try to kill Brenda given the opportunity.
The police and the counselor urged Brenda to find a safe place and put her in
touch with SPARC. She left her home and went to SPARC's shelter and stayed for 30 days.
Keith managed to track Brenda to Gainesville and tried to contact her. He even
leased an apartment in the same complex where she lived. Keith repeatedly attempted to
contact Brenda. He knew that she was pregnant and her approximate due date. He waited
at the hospital where she was to deliver in hopes of catching up with her. Brenda says she
doesn't know how he found out where she was going to deliver because she registered at
the hospital under a false name.
After numerous verbal confrontations, Keith called Brenda at home and told her he
was going to kill himself. Keith had been suicidal in the past but had never gone through
with it. Brenda explained that although she knew she shouldn't care and would be putting
herself in danger, she couldn't ignore his plea for help. She was afraid that if she ignored
him, he would kill himself.
Brenda went to his apartment and looked in the window. She saw him lying on the
couch with broken glass surrounding him. She went back to her apartment and called the
police. By the time the police arrived, Keith had disappeared. He simply vanished. He left
all of his belongings and a fully furnished apartment and disappeared into thin air.
"I don't know what happened to him. I haven't heard from him. I have no idea
where he is," she says. "Life goes on."
Today Brenda is working on her degree in psychology and volunteering at the
shelter as well as at a few other agencies. She plans on marrying the man she is now in-
volved with late next year after her divorce is finalized.
"I volunteer and help out at the shelter because if ever I can be an inspiration to
someone else, that would be wonderful. A lot of the time I am doing paperwork or
donations or something, but most of the time I am talking to the women that are here,"
"If I can leave and walk down that sidewalk and look behind me and see a smile or a
glimmer of hope because of something I may have said, it makes it all worth it. It's all
worth it to me. I have one of those 'save the world attitudes' because I don't want anyone
to have to go though what I did."