Shattered: Intimate Partner Gun Violence | Connecticut Public Radio
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Shattered: Intimate Partner Gun Violence

Oct 14, 2019

Timira Hopkins knew her boyfriend was angry that she had stayed late at her grandmother’s house one day in March 2014, instead of being at home waiting when he got off work.

She had seen him upset before — often, even. His rage would routinely erupt into acts of violence, leaving her with black and blue bruises across her face. He sometimes threatened worse.

WARNING: This story contains graphic descriptions of domestic violence that some readers might find disturbing.

“He was like ‘If you don't come home by 4:00 p.m., I'm going to kill you,’” Hopkins said. “He would make threats like that all the time, but he never went through with it.”

But when she arrived home that evening to a darkened house and saw her boyfriend of five years holding a butcher knife, she sensed something had changed.

“He was just standing there … like he was a demon, like a demon possessed him,” Hopkins recalled.

Her boyfriend dragged her by her hair across their home and into the bedroom. That’s when she saw the gun.

“I got down on the floor, and I covered my face because he always told me, ‘If I don't kill you, I'm going to make sure you're unpresentable,’” Hopkins said.

What happened next is a blur. She awoke, covered in blood and with a chunk of her cheek dangling from her face.

When she stumbled from the bedroom into the living room to try to get help, she found her boyfriend on the ground, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.

“I told [the paramedics] ‘Please don’t let me die …’ That was my last words to them, and then I went in the ambulance,” she said.

Hopkins was shot five times, including in the face, chest and back, but she lived.

Her survival makes her one of an estimated 900,000 women alive today who have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner.

“Many U.S. homes have firearms in them. They also have domestic violence in them,” said Susan B. Sorenson, University of Pennsylvania professor and director of the Ortner Center on Violence & Abuse.

One night in 1981, Laura Morris's husband shot her in their home, the force of which knocked her to the floor. The bullet had grazed her shoulder and lodged into the wall behind her.
Credit Photo illustration: Tyrone Turner / WAMU

Nationwide, there have been efforts to strengthen protections for victims of intimate partner violence, including legislation that would limit abusers’ access to guns.

Maryland is one of 13 states, as well as the District of Columbia, to have enacted extreme risk protection orders, which authorize law enforcement to remove guns from the homes of dangerous people, including suspected abusers.

These laws, however, are not without critics. Opponents of ERPOs, sometimes called red flag laws, say these orders could be manipulated to have firearms unfairly confiscated from gun owners.

Though she survived, the shooting claimed Hopkins’ hearing in her right ear and the use of half her face. In 2015, nearly 2000 women were killed by intimate partners.

“Firearms are the most commonly used weapon when an intimate partner kills another intimate partner,” Sorenson said.

According to Sorenson’s research, women in the United States are more than twice as likely to be shot and killed by their male partners as they are to be killed in any other way by a stranger.

“Guns figure largely in terms of fatal domestic violence. They also figure into the nonfatal domestic violence,” she added. Sorenson notes that there are long-term effects of surviving intimate partner gun violence, including anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Star Myles had been with her former husband for 14 years - nearly half her life - when he shot her in the head one night during an argument, destroying her left eye and crushing half of her face.
Credit Photo illustration: Tyrone Turner / WAMU

According to a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.6% of women and 2.8% of men have experienced intimate partner violence involving a knife or a gun.

Hopkins is one of several women Guns & America spoke to about their experiences with intimate partner gun violence.

Like many, Hopkins described feeling ashamed to seek help about her situation —a response common to victims of domestic abuse, according to Debbie Feinstein, chief of the Special Victims division for the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office in Maryland.

“One in three women will be directly impacted by domestic violence. One in seven men [are] directly impacted by domestic violence,” Feinstein said.

The abuse often starts when victims are young. In Hopkins’ case, she was only 16 when she met her partner, who was 20 years old at the time. In Montgomery County, the organization Choose Respect seeks to educate young people about the signs of dating abuse.

The county’s Family Justice Center provides free resources to men, women and children victims of domestic violence, including counseling, legal support and supplies like canned goods.

“This affects everybody, and no one is excluded from getting help,” Feinstein said.

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Of the estimated 300 people in the United States who are shot on an average day, about 200 survive. But many of them do so with devastating physical and emotional scars that last a lifetime.

Their ailments range from paralysis and possible lead poisoning, to crippling anxiety attacks and depression. Eleven survivors of gun violence tell their stories in their own words in Shattered: Life After Being Shot.

Every individual’s story is paired with a portrait, — a composite — using a “stitching” technique that combines multiple pictures.

Explore the project, hear their stories

Thousands of people survive firearm-related injuries every year. Have you been shot? Is someone close to you a gunshot survivor? How did this change your life? What parts of you have yet to heal?

We want to hear your story.

Send us an email to shattered at wamu dot org or click here.

If you need help call the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

1-800-799-SAFE(7233) 1-800-787-7224

If you’re hard of hearing you can email: deafhelp@thehotline.org or videocall 855-812-1001

This project was produced in partnership with WAMU. Tyrone Turner is Visuals Editor at WAMU. Alana Wise is the Guns & America reporting fellow based at WAMU.

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.