Survivor stories: Honey, you said youd never hurt me

by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Bobbi Clayton has three vivid reminders of her marriage – her wedding ring and two bullets her husband shot into her body in an attempted domestic violence murder/suicide. Clayton survived the bedroom shooting. Her husband did not. 

At 14, Loretta Stinson ran away from home with a man who was full of rage and meth and alcohol addiction. At 31, she was sitting at home, by then nine years married to the same man, waiting, knowing he was coming home drunk again and that she would likely be beaten. Again.

Stinson, now an adjunct instructor in writing at Portland State University, and the author of 'Little Green,' a novel that follows a woman victimized by domestic violence, decided to leave that afternoon.

Since the time she was age 16, the man who would become her husband had told her that if she ever left him, he would kill her. But finally, the threat wasn't enough to keep her from standing up for herself.

'I realized I was already living my death,' she says.

Stinson drove to her sister's home, where the telephone began ringing with calls from her husband saying he would kill her when she went to work at a day care center the next day. She quit her job. Then he started calling a friend of Stinson's, saying he would kill himself.

One night in 1992, Stinson discovered he was following her home. Then he stood in front of her sister's house threatening to kill himself. She obtained a restraining order and it worked - for 20 years.

When word of the publication of Stinson's novel was sent out, she received what she calls 'a scary e-mail.' The message said, 'This better not be about me,' Stinson says. The book came out a year ago. Portland State University campus police have been alerted.

Stinson still isn't sure she's safe.

'We say we're survivors,' she says. 'He could show up any time.'

Loss of control

Bobbi Clayton knows she's safe now. She also knows how rare she is - a survivor of a murder/suicide attempt.

Clayton, now living in Gresham, had been married to her husband for 23 years. The couple were high school sweethearts, and had a son who is now 21. Through 23 years of marriage and seven years together before that, Don had never been physically violent, Clayton says.

Domestic violence experts say psychological and emotional abuse often precede physical violence. Clayton says she's an expert herself on that.

Clayton's husband worked in the alarm industry. Their home had cameras everywhere. She says he tapped her phone and had a keystroke device so he could record her computer messaging. He controlled all the family money.

The experts also say that what often precipitates a homicide is the ultimate loss of control by a husband who has spent years trying to maintain just that. When the woman says she is leaving, the guns often come out, they say.

In May 2009, Clayton decided to leave. Her husband, monitoring her every move, told her he knew. He came home one afternoon and took her to Washington Park, a place the two had often enjoyed together over the years.

The next morning, a Saturday, the landscaper showed up to mow the lawn next door and Clayton remembers her husband closing all the blinds in the bedroom, where the two of them were talking. He took out a handgun.

'He had this blank stare like he was numb,' Clayton recalls. 'He said, 'This will be over in a minute.' '

After being held at gunpoint for an hour and a half, Clayton asked if she could say goodbye to her family. She called her father from the bedroom while her husband held out his gun. She told her father about the gun. She hung up the phone, went over to her husband, rubbed his shoulders and said, 'Honey, you said you'd never hurt me.'

He shot her. Three times, one bullet in the shoulder, one in the arm, one in the hip. Nine mm hollow points. She fell to the floor. He shot himself in the head. She crawled up on to the bed and called an ambulance crew, which rushed her to the hospital.

Today, Clayton keeps the bullets that were removed from her body in a Tupperware container in her apartment.

'I keep the bullets to show I survived this,' she says. 'He felt bad if he hit a cat or a dog. He didn't have a lot of mean, but he was a controlling person.'