A year after a horrific act of domestic violence left her with gunshot wounds, Kate Fay rebuilds her life.
Her pelvis broken and six bullets lodged in her body, Kate Fay heaved her wounded friend off her, stood up, and stumbled past her dead mother.
Outside her mother’s Shoreview home, Fay crumpled to the sidewalk, crying out for help from her mother’s movers and somehow managing to call her brother on her cellphone. “John shot everybody!” she told him. “Mom’s gone!”
It was June 4, 2013. Fay had just seen her 57-year-old mother, attorney Nancy Sullivan, shot to death by Johnny L. Simpson, 65, the boyfriend Sullivan was trying to leave. Tony Brown, Fay’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her 5-year-old daughter, lay wounded, shot four times when he stepped in front of Fay to try to end Simpson’s rampage.
It ended only when Simpson fatally shot himself.
Brown and Fay survived. Fay spent the next week in intensive care, heavily sedated, occasionally lucid enough to ask her brother, Danny Fay, who never left her side, what had happened. A month passed before she was well enough to leave the hospital in a wheelchair.
“It’s been unreal ever since,” Fay said. “Nothing will ever be the same.”
Simpson’s horrific act of domestic violence had effects that extended well beyond his primary target. Fay and her brother now live not just with the damage inflicted by gunshot wounds, but also with the memories and sorrow inflicted by that day.
On average, every minute in the United States, 24 people become the victims of violence at the hands of an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Women are the primary targets. Beyond the horror they suffer, there is the shock, fear and grief inflicted on their families. And domestic violence is an even broader public health concern because children who survive or endure violence often become violent themselves.
Something felt amiss
In the Shoreview case, neither of Sullivan’s adult children had seen signs of potential violence in their mother’s relationship. But after their mother’s death, they learned that Simpson’s ex-wife had made allegations of violence during their divorce.
That they didn’t see or sense danger doesn’t surprise Liz Richards, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.
Even the best scientific methodology is right only about 60 percent of the time in predicting lethal domestic violence, Richards said.
The best predictor? A woman’s gut instinct. “If you feel like you’re at risk, even if you can’t articulate why, trust that sense,” Richards said.
In Sullivan’s case, something was starting to feel amiss. The day before she was killed, she told her son that Simpson was trying to keep her from moving out. Danny Fay said he told his mother to call a police escort. Instead, she called Brown. Meanwhile, Kate Fay, feeling some concern, left work to help her mother.
But they never expected anything like the violence they encountered at her house. “Of course I would love to ask my mom a million and one questions,” Kate Fay said last week.
Sullivan’s case is a particularly grim illustration of one of the most established truths about domestic violence — that the breakup is the most perilous time for women, because the abuser is losing control. But violence can be difficult to predict because up until that time, control may have been exerted quietly, Richards said. Often, a woman is accustomed to capitulating to the man so he has no need to resort to violence.
In therapy, victims often say they became accustomed to doing what the partner wanted. Many say, “He would just look at me and I knew,” Richards said.
‘I want to talk’
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