In 1989, Linda Walls, then of Kankakee, suffered the most horrific domestic violence attack imaginable.
Walls’ four children were murdered when the father of three of the children intentionally set the house on fire, trapping them inside.
Her abuser, Bernon L. Howery, is serving a life sentence for the domestic violence-related crime.
The tragedy occurred after Walls had endured years of stalking and verbal/physical abuse at the hands of a man whose love was the killing kind.
In “Surviving Heartbreak Valley,” a book that Walls wrote about the abusive relationship, she paints the picture of that dreadful day that every domestic-violence advocate warns is the most dangerous time for a woman.
It was the day that the abuser knew it was over.
“He told me he knew I was planning to move after I graduated and he would prevent it. I told him, ‘I will no longer be intimidated by you. I have you out of my life, and it is going to stay that way.’ He then reaffirmed his pledge to make me pay in pain for the rest of my life,” Walls wrote.
Walls has devoted much of her life to educating women about how to escape their abuser.
“I wrote ‘Surviving Heartbreak Valley’ to help save lives of women and children. My book gives them an active plan to not suffer in silence but to escape the abuser. The plans include advising the victims to make their employers aware of their situation so steps can be taken to keep them and their coworkers safe at work, which includes the parking lots,” Walls said in an email.
We were all horrified last week when Juan Lopez, a man desperate to hang on to a romantic relationship, killed his ex-fiancee, Dr. Tamara O’Neal, Chicago Police Officer Samuel Jimenez and pharmacy intern Dayna Less in a shooting that began in the parking lot of Mercy Hospital and ended inside the hospital.
No one knows what was said before the shooting. Lopez was found dead at the scene.
But a witness claimed Lopez went to the hospital to demand the engagement ring back.
That bit of speculation triggered an Internet debate over whether the tragedy could have been avoided.
“Why didn’t she just give the ring back?” asked a reader in an email that literally turned my stomach.
How do we know that wasn’t what she was doing before Lopez, a man who had a history of abusive behavior toward women, fatally shot her six times before going on a rampage.
Once she gave the ring back, it would have been over, and as experts point out, the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is trying to make a break.
Walls said that a woman caught in an abusive relationship may be afraid that the abuser will show up at their jobs like Lopez did at Mercy Hospital. It is important that companies have an employee assistance program that could help.
“If the doctor had gone to employee assistance and stated that she was being abused and had broken off the relationship and that he was threatening her, and if employees took heed of that, they would take steps to protect the job site and to put an alert out. When a person is coming to get one person, they don’t care if they kill everyone in the process,” she said.
Walls is also advocating for a mental health clause to be included in the Violence Against Women Act, and in domestic violence and stalking laws.
“When a person is arrested for domestic violence or stalking that they receive a mandatory mental health evaluation for obsessive behavior toward the victim, homicidal ideation; thought disorder (hallucinations/ delusions/paranoia); poor impulse control; explosive disorder … and presenting a physical danger to others; and suicidal ideation,” she said.
“It would buy time for the victim to make arrangements at her job or to move to a location where the person can’t find them. If the abuser were taken into treatment and given the right medication so that they could wean them off the person, it would at least give the victim a chance to escape,” Walls added.
Nearly three women are murdered every day by a former romantic partners, according to Bureau of Justice statistics.
For those women who may be in denial about the danger intimate partner violence poses, Walls’ survival is a powerful testimony.
“Reading my book, you should get a clear picture of how someone falls in the trap of domestic violence,” she said.
“Surviving Heartbreak Valley” is available at major booksellers.