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Getting Out Alive

August 16, 2019 - 10:59 pm

According to a 2013 Washington State Domestic Violence Fatality Review, guns are by far the most common weapon used in domestic violence homicides.  More than all other weapons combined.   Emy Johnston shares her remarkable story of how she navigated for her life after being shot by her ex-partner.

A warning that the content on this story is disturbing.

Resources for help:

Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence Friends and Family Guide

New Beginnings (Available 24 hours): 206-522-9472

DAWN (Available 24 hours): 425-656-7867

Mother Nation Services for indigenous families

APICHAYA Services for Asian families

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (Available 24 hours) : 1-800-799-7233

Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence

 

Producers: Yuko Kodama and Jesse Callahan

Photo: Emy Johnston

Speaker 1 0:00
91.3 KBCS music and ideas listener-supported radio from Bellevue College.

According to a 2013 Washington State Domestic Diolence Fatality Review, guns are by far the most common weapon used in domestic violence homicides, more than all other weapons combined. Next, domestic violence survivor and thriver, Emy Johnston shares her remarkable story of navigating for her life after being shot by her ex-partner. A warning that the story involves disturbing content.

Unknown Speaker 0:35
My name is Emy Johnston. It was November 19 2012. My ex had been told to leave work that day because of some kind of issue that he was having with another co-worker, I can’t really remember what the deal was. But they didn’t like his attitude. They asked him to leave work. So he got really upset. And he came to meet me for lunch downtown. And he was really stressed out about money. He said, they’re asking me to leave, I don’t know if I’m going to get fired. I feel like I’m going to do something crazy. I just- I don’t know what to do. And I said, You know what, I’m going to take the rest of the day off. I’m going to go tell my boss, I need to leave. Let’s go home. Let’s watch a movie. Let’s cook dinner. Let’s just relax. You know, don’t stress about this. And he said, ‘No, just stay. You need to keep working. Do your thing. I don’t want to interrupt your day’. He left and I went back to work. And it was pouring down rain. And by the time I was getting ready to get off work. He said, Oh, I’m down at this bar in Belltown. Why don’t you come down and meet me? I said, okay, sure. So I go down to the bar right after work. He was in that kind of happy drunk stage where, when I got there, he was, ‘I love you so much. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ve never loved anybody the way that I love you’ and just hugging me and just so happy to see me. And then he’s like, here, I want you to hold my credit card for me. I don’t want to spend too much money tonight. So why don’t you just hold on to it? And I’m like, okay, sure, no problem. And we we’re sitting there and I’m having a drink with him. And all of a sudden he just kind of snapped. And he’s like, ‘give me my f#$%ing credit card.’ And I’m like, ‘You just asked me to hold on to it’. He said ‘Give me my f#$%ing credit card, b%@#’, you know, just out of nowhere. And I’m like, ‘oh, great. I see where this is going’. Just like that in a blink of an eye. One minute, he’s just like, so happy, ‘I love you’. The next minute, it’s “Give me my credit card b@#$”. And so I’m like, ‘okay, here’s your credit card, I’m going home’. I get on the bus to our neighborhood. And when I get there, I realize I don’t have the keys. We have been sharing a set of keys, because he lost his keys and some other drunken night of his, you know, with all this drinking that he was doing at this point. I’m like, great. Now what am I going to do, I’m calling him I need the keys. He’s not picking up. I go to a bar in our neighborhood. And I just sit there and I wait. I run into someone who was one of my best friend’s boyfriends from about 10 years ago. So I see him there. And I sit down and I start talking to this guy. And we’re kind of catching up. We hadn’t seen each other in a really long time. Finally, my ex contacts me, and he tells me that he’s coming home, he’s got the keys, he’s with his brother, and his niece. And he’s gonna come meet me at the bar that I was at. So I’m waiting there at the bar sitting next to this old friend of mine. And he shows up, very, very drunk and very, very angry. Especially when he walked into the bar and saw me sitting next to a guy. A guy I hadn’t seen in 10 years, the guy that was just an old boyfriend of a best friend of mine. He comes in. He had a look on his face. It was as if his whole face had changed. his jaw was tight. His eyes, they were like boring holes in me. They were so intense. And his face was just dark and tense. Everything about him was just really overwhelming. He decides he wants to stay at the bar. He gives me the keys, his brother’s waiting outside. I go outside. I asked his brother, can you please go in there and get him because he needs to come home. He does not need to be out here drinking more in the state that he’s in. Can you please try to get him to come in. I sit outside with his niece who was probably two or three, while his brother goes in to try to get him to come out of the bar. He comes back out in a few minutes. And he’s like, No, he’s not coming. He wants to stay. So I’m like, whatever. Just take me home. I get home and I’m with his brother and his brother’s daughter. I start making her sandwich, you know. Then my ex calls and he goes, ‘Hey, I’m going to bring home a pizza, I’m coming home. Tell him to come pick me up. I’m going to grab a pizza. Just tell him pick me up at the pizza place.’ And I’m like, okay, now he’s gone from really happy to really angry to now he’s really happy again. His brother goes to pick him up, he brings him home. At this time. I’m on the phone with my mom, when he walks in the door. My grandpa had just passed away. And that was the day of my grandpa’s funeral. He walked in the door. He saw that I was on the phone, he grabbed my phone from my hand, and he throw it across the room. I was really angered by that, also stressed because my grandpa had just died. I wasn’t able to attend the funeral because I didn’t have the money to fly out to Milwaukee to go.

Unknown Speaker 6:07
And so at that moment, I kicked him. And he grabbed me, threw me across the room, threw me to the ground. And he at this point violently attacked me. While I was laying on the ground, he stomped my head repeatedly. And he was wearing shoes at the time. So he just kept stomping and stomping and stomping on my head and his brother, and his niece who were in the room witnessing this. Meanwhile, my mom is still on the phone, she can’t tell what’s going on, she can hear this altercation going on. And he stomped me unconscious at that point in time. And so my mom remained on the phone. And what I think she remembers hearing the most is me coming to when you’ve gone unconscious from a violent attack. When you come to, it’s like you have moment of you don’t know where you are, you don’t know what just happened. So I started screaming at the top of my lungs, his brother was telling him to stop, ‘you need to stop, you need to stop, man, stop this’. And I think when he realized that there was nothing that he could do, he just decided to get his daughter out of there and get her safe, which I can imagine that his daughter was the first person on his mind at the time. But his brother didn’t do anything to help. He didn’t call the police, he didn’t do anything. So you know, we’re kind of, at this point, alone in our home.

Unknown Speaker 7:52
And I remember hearing footsteps, and I remember him coming back into the room with the gun. And he was pointing the gun at me. And it was like he was getting ready to do an execution. He was like, ‘stand up. I’ve got three bullets in this gun. And it’s enough to take your life right now’. And so at that point, he had decided that he was going to kill me. I am, you know, trying to reason with him. And I’m, I’m just kind of repeating the same things, ‘I love you. Don’t do this’, you know, ‘Put the gundown. Let’s talk about this.’ I’m just scrambling my brain for any possible thing that I could say that would snap him out of it or anything that I could possibly say. Nothing’s getting to him at that time. And I’m pressed up against the wall of our bedroom. And he’s standing about five feet away from me, blocking the door with the gun pointed at me.

Unknown Speaker 8:59
He fired off a shot into the air above me and it just rang. My ears just rang the flashing light of the bullet in the room. The next two shots that he fired the first one, went through my left arm, shattered my bone into a million pieces and then went into my abdomen. But at the time, I didn’t even know I had a bullet in my abdomen. The pain of my arm – That was all I could think about. It felt like someone had set my arm on fire. Everything was burning. I all I could feel was fire throughout my whole entire arm. And I started screaming and I think he was shocked. He didn’t say a word. I just remember crying and saying ‘you just shot me. You just f$%^ing shot me’. You know at some point. I told him ‘You need to call 911. I need help .I need to go to the hospital.’ And he refused. He said ‘I have one bullet left in the gun and I’m going to kill you right now and you’re not going to need an ambulance’. I told him ‘Get something. I need a tourniquet. You need to tie something around my arm because I’m losing a lot of blood here’. And I had a downcoat on so I’ve got you know blood mixed with feathers and, and everything else I couldn’t move my arm. I’m like holding my arm by the edge of my jacket just so I cann’t move about the house. And I managed to get into the bed. He grabbed something, a T-shirt or something, and ties it around my arms so that at least to kind of try to stop some of the bleeding.

Unknown Speaker 10:53
You would think that the neighbors would have heard the gunshots and probably called the police. No, Boulevard Park is in the flight path. All of the houses in that neighborhood had been made with soundproofing windows. So no one heard a thing. So that leaves me and him there having these conversations – this back and forth. ‘No, I’m not gonna call an ambulance’. He said ‘You just got shot in the arm, you’re going to be fine. Seriously, you don’t need an ambulance.’ And I’m like, ‘oh my gosh, please, just anything.’ So he says, ‘okay, you can call my mom’. So I get on the phone with his mom. And I’m trying to be cryptic, because I’m like trying not to say anything too alarming or anything like that. I don’t know, I say to her um. ‘Hi, I’m losing a lot of blood right now. And I need to go to the hospital immediately’. I don’t say your son just shot me. I don’t say anything like that. I just say I’m losing a lot of blood, I need to go to the hospital. And she was aware that something was going on. Because a few nights beforehand, I had asked her to come spend the night because his behavior was escalating, and I was afraid. And I told her that I said ‘I’m afraid to be here alone. Can you please come stay with us?’ And she stayed a night or two with us. And she said, you know, ‘Are you okay for me to go back?’ And I was like, okay, sure. And so she knew that things were escalating. So when I called her to tell her that I was losing a lot of blood. She knew what I was saying she knew that it was because something that he had done to me. Her response was, ‘If I call an ambulance for you, my son’s going to jail’. And so we got off the phone, and I just started praying. Because at that point, I felt like I I had exhausted all of my options. I had been begging this man for help for probably about an hour, hour and a half. Now. I’m thinking nothing’s helping. Nothing’s going to work. His mom’s not going to help. No one can hear me. No one knows I’m in here. No one knows what happened.

Unknown Speaker 13:23
And so I asked him just hold my hand. Because I didn’t want my final moments in life to be screaming and crying with this person. I just needed someone to hold my hand so that I could just go peacefully. I prayed that if it was my time to go, that it will be peaceful, that God would take me. And at that point, the police knocked on the door. He cocked the gun, had it to my forehead. And he said, ‘Don’t you say a word’. And I wanted to scream and let them know that I am in here, come get me, save me. But I had this gun to my head. And he was like, ‘don’t you say a word. If you say a word, I’m going to pull the trigger’. And so they’re knocking and they’re knocking. And then the knocking stops. And at that moment, I’m like, ‘Oh sh54. I’m done’. Like this is it that was my last hope.

Unknown Speaker 14:22
Probably about ten more minutes goes by and I hear them bust the door down. And I’m like thank God, you know, just rejoicing. But at the same time, I’m really scared. Because I’m laying on the bed, the bed’s in the corner of the room, he’s in between the door to the bedroom and me. He had mentioned to me that if the cops ever came for him, that they would have to shoot him first before they took him to prison. And so in my mind, I’m thinking, oh, no. There’s going to be another shootout like he’s gonna shoot a cop. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. He’s so crazy right now. I’m back over here, I might get shot again by an officer, I had no idea what was going to happen. Like, I just really was afraid that this is going to become even more escalated at this point in time. And so the police come in, and they say, you know, ‘Get down on the ground’. He gets down on the ground, drops the weapon. they handcuffed him and he says, ‘I love you’. And they haul him off. It was the weirdest thing. He just was so calm about it all. And ‘I love you’ like ‘I’ll see you later’. That was the last thing he ever said to me in the course of our relationship. And then um they put me in the aid car. And I said ‘can you please call my mom’. And they said what’s her phone number, and I go, I don’t know, but just call the number back who called the police for me. And I knew that there was her.

Unknown Speaker 16:02
I often think about the woman who was in the aid car with me. There was a lot of people in the aid car. But there was one woman there and and I don’t know her name. She was a hero for me that night because she held my hand and I told her I’m in a lot of pain. She looked at me and she said,” Don’t worry, we’re going to take care of you now”. And then at that point, I don’t know, I just passed out. That’s all I remember.

Unknown Speaker 16:27
When you think about having a breakup that happens in one night with a violent shooting like that. You can imagine that, you know, the next day, waking up in the hospital, I woke up to a completely different life. I didn’t have a place to live. I mean, I suppose I could have gone back there. But who would want to live in a place where something like that it just happened to them. So I didn’t have a place to live. My family, you know, this, this man and his children, this was my family. My family was gone. The man that I thought I loved or I thought loved me, just tried to kill me. And not only did he try to kill me, but he refused to help me.

Unknown Speaker 17:15
It’s been a long, five years – Being in an abusive relationship – and I’ve talked to a lot of other survivors as well – It’s like an addiction, you know. You get addicted to feeling bad you’ve been having, you’ve had somebody, take the person that you were – educated, self confident, beautiful, very strong friendships. You’ve had someone, take that person, and slowly chip away at you and slowly dig a hole in your soul to try to take pieces of you little by little, until you get to the point where you’re in the relationship and you don’t know who you are anymore. It’s so psychological. And it’s so emotional. A big part of the healing from that has been to regain who I am as a person – to figure out who I am now, who I was before. How does the person that I was before, meet the person that I am now. Now that I’ve survived this, now that I’ve come up from the underworld. I got used to feeling bad about myself. I got used to being called names, I got used to racial slurs and put downs. Every little thing that he could think of that would affect me, he would use that against me. Any if you had any sort of past, sexual past, he would take that and he threw that in my face, repeatedly over and over again. Those were the types of things that he would use against me to just try to break me down and make me feel really insecure about who I was. Make me question, you know, everything that I thought that I knew about myself and my identity, He would try to take that from me.

Unknown Speaker 19:28
As a survivor, I took to doing things to make myself feel bad – eating foods that made me feel worse, getting into the habit of just bingeing on sugar and you know, drinking , and doing things that heightened my anxiety and made it worse. Because I knew that it would make me feel bad. What I didn’t realize was it was a continuation of me not loving myself and me not treating myself in a loving way. So when I was able to make that transition into giving my body healthy foods, giving my body things that were actually helping build myself back up, and helping myself heal from within on a physical level. It then came out into the emotional level, and was able to, to really, I mean, the holistic healing, I think has been a huge part of me getting to where I am today, doing the therapy, doing the EMDR. EMDR. is Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing. Basically, you go back to that moment, wherever the trauma occurred. And you revisit that moment, over and over and over again. And I can tell you, there were days where I did not want to step foot in that therapist’s office, because I didn’t want to go back to that moment… But I’m glad that I did. Because now I can sit here and I can have this conversation, and I can tell this story to people so that people know, what survivors of domestic violence can go through. I can revisit these traumatic memories without having the impact of what happened that night still affect me in this moment. you revisit that and you are able to take control of that memory in that moment, you’re able to revisit it and you can go up to the person, the perpetrator, the abuser, whatever it is for you or for myself, I was able to go up to my abuser and to say to him, ‘No, you need to leave now. You need to walk away. This isn’t right what you’ve done. You’ve hurt me, and you have taken something from me, and I’m taking it back now’. And you’re able to have these conversations in that space. When you’re doing EMDR so that you can transform the memory, take your power back. And then in your regular day to day life, when something that will trigger you occurs, you come at it from a place of strength and empowerment.

Unknown Speaker 22:20
If you think that one of your neighbors, one of your friends, someone that you work with is being abused by their partner, get them aside. When they’re by themselves, when this person is not around and ask them. Just tell them. ‘I support you. I’m concerned about you. Let me know what you need so that I can help you. what ways can I help you?’ Because calling the police isn’t always the best idea, you know, you just don’t know if that’s going to make the situation worse for someone or not .What’s going to trigger the abuser. What is going to cause more repercussions and further more violent abuse. We don’t know. I don’t know someone else’s situation. And it’s hard for other people to determine that for someone else. If you really feel that someone’s life is in danger, someone’s screaming ‘help call the police immediately’. Don’t hesitate. If you think you hear fights and things like that. It’s hard to tell sometimes. Is this violent or they just you know what’s going on up there. It’s hard to tell. If you can at all have that conversation with that person.

Speaker 1 23:44
That was Emy Johnston sharing her story with me in 2017. Johnston is now a proud mom and volunteers with the Seattle Police Department’s victim support team, using her experience to help other survivors of domestic violence. If you have a loved one experiencing domestic abuse, you can visit the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence website at wscadv.org/resources and click on the printable Friends and Family Guide. If you think you’re experiencing an abusive relationship, you can contact 1-800-799-7233 for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Special thanks to Jesse Callahan for help with editing the story. This is KBCS and I’m Yuko Kodama.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai