I remember everything vividly. This event was like others in my life. Maybe you can relate? The assassination of John F. Kennedy. The death of Elvis. The death of John Lennon. The day the Challenger crashed while launching the first school teacher and a crew into space. The Oklahoma City bombing. And most recently, the fall of the twin towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. These events stand out in my memory. Better yet might be to say they are stamped into my memory. I find that I remember being in a heightened state of awareness. I remember smells, tastes, feelings. Everything was more real.
It was a Thursday. Omaha, Nebraska. March 23, 1995. At approximately four o’clock in the afternoon, my husband, Paul, came in the front door. He sat at the kitchen counter and we chatted like couples do. I gave him an update of the day. It had been a really good day. I had bought some items that I could re-sell and make some money. I was excited! At five o’clock, I was thinking about making dinner. The kids were out front drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. Paul sat in the kitchen talking to me and the phone rang so he answered it. I was watching him talk on the phone and as I looked at him across the counter, I heard him ask, “WHAT?” and then “WHEN?”
I had never seen anything like this happen. It was like slow motion and I could physically see that the blood literally drained from his face. He became white and pasty and his lips were turning a bluish color like you might see from a kid who has been swimming in a pool and has gotten cold. A white ring began to form around his mouth making his lips seem even bluer.
I knew something really, really bad had happened. I walked to the back of the house and went into the bedroom and locked the door. It wasn’t long before Paul was softly knocking.
“Shelly, you have to let me in.” He said.
“Something bad happened, didn’t it?” I asked
“Yes.” He said. “Now open the door.”
I remember thinking, if he just doesn’t have to tell me it won’t be real. I opened the door and pushed past him and walked to the living room. “I don’t want to know.” I said commandingly as I charged past.
“You have to know Shelly. It won’t go away or change.” He said in a calm voice.
He followed close behind on the way to the sofa. I plunked down on the sofa and he came and sat close to me.
“Is it my dad?” I asked. He shook his head no.
“My mom?” I shot back. Again he shook his head no.
My voice became shrill now. “MY SISTER?” I was nearly shouting.
“No, it was not anyone in your family.” He said. He looked at me and hesitated. I could tell he didn’t want to tell me either.
My mind raced. I felt fear and panic. I wanted to protect the children right then. They were all out in the front yard. I could see them through the front window. I felt relieved in a weird sort of way that it was no one in my family. We sat in silence for a moment.
“WHO IS IT?” I was definitely shouting. I had worked myself into a frenzy by this point and I was crying.
“It is Bev.” He said.
“Bev Pusch? Did she wreck the van?” I ask him.
Bev had just been over the day before. I taught bread making and sold wheat, dough enhancer and other supplies. I looked over his shoulder and saw the supplies Bev had purchased from me yesterday. She forgot them and they were hanging in a bag on the banister.
“No. Mark shot her to death.” He said in a monotone voice.
My mind was reeling now. I couldn’t seem to wrap my brain around the horror of what he had said. Bev was my best friend and prayer partner. Mark was Bev’s 15 year old son who had been playing with my children the day before in MY backyard.
I felt dirty.
“I feel sick.” I said dryly.
“I know.” He replied.
Paul held me for a minute while I cried and then I looked at him and fired off a barrage of questions, “Why? How? Where? Who knows about it? Where is Michelle? Where is Matthew? What happened? Do we need to call someone? Who was that on the phone?”
Michelle was Bev’s 14 year old daughter and Matthew was Bev’s five year old son.
The big question was WHY?
“Why would he do something like that? Are you sure?” I asked puzzled.
Paul said he didn’t know why. We were both aware that they had been having some problems with Mark and obedience. He had been living away from home for several months and had recently been reunited with the family.
“All I know is, it happened downstairs in the basement. Mark lured Michelle and Bev downstairs with the promise of a surprise and then he jumped out from behind the bar and shot both of them with his dads guns. Bev died on the floor of her basement. I think everyone knows about it. Judy is the one that called and she said it’s all over the news.” Paul said.
And then I asked Paul, “What time did this happen?”
“It happened at around 3:30. It was weird because I was right there by their home and I heard it on the radio that there was a shooting and a hostage situation. It never occurred to me that I would know them.” He said.
“A hostage situation? Who is being held hostage?” I asked.
“Call Judy. She will probably know everything that is going on.” He said. He looked worried and tired. The blood still had not returned to his face.
I went and dialed the number. Judy said it was all over the news. Home school mom shot by son. She said that Mark had also shot his sister, Michelle. When he shot Michelle she jumped into one of the bedrooms downstairs and was holding the door shut with her arms up and he shot her five more times through the door. The door probably saved her life and took the brunt of the force. She was alive and in the hospital in critical condition. Matthew was a foster son that Bev and her husband had recently adopted. He was five, the same age as my son Phillip.
Judy said that Matthew was somewhere with Mark and they hadn’t found him yet. He had left in his dads pickup and he didn’t know how to drive. It was a stick shift so they anticipated him getting stuck at some point and not being able to drive it. This seemed odd to me.
We didn’t watch much TV. The kids would occasionally watch a video and even that was few and far between. Our TV was kept in the basement and we only got a couple of local channels. Paul and I headed to the basement and flicked the TV on. I watched about two minutes of the footage and sprinted up the stairs and called the kids inside.
“Stay in the house. Go in your room and play.” I said in a scolding voice. I could see the confused looks on their faces.
A dear friend, Debbie, lived four houses away. I walked down to her home and rang the bell. She saw me and smiled and gave me a hug. I knew she didn’t know yet because of her happy spirit. She didn’t watch TV either and I asked her if she knew the news about Bev. She said no and as I told her, I could see the confused look on her face. She cried and asked the same questions. “Why, when, where, who?”
A wave of fear suddenly crept over me. “I have to go now.” I said curtly as I rushed to the door. I turned and ask. “Are you okay? She nodded through tears. I hugged her quick and said, “I will call you later.”
I ran home and raced up to the door, went in and locked it behind me. It occurred to me at that moment that he was still out there with a gun or maybe two? I didn’t know. I began asking myself, “Did he like me? Did he like Paul? Would he want to kill us for something? What if he came to the house? What would I do?”
The fear was gripping. I got on the phone to Judy again. Paul had the children with him in the basement and the TV was off. She was giving me the details when Paul walked up the stairs and went into the bedroom. He came out holding his handgun. Another wave of fear. Little did I know, FEAR was an emotion that would stop waving over me and through me and eventually would take up permanent residence in my heart and mind.
The next two years are a blur to me. That same year, we moved to an acreage in Iowa. Left our church. Had a baby. I wanted to change everything!
I remember parts of it, just not big parts. I became obsessed with Bev and the shooting. I wanted to know every detail. I spent hours on the phone talking about it. I had friends come spend the night because I was afraid when Paul would work the night shifts. I didn’t want to be alone.
After Bev’s death, the fear consumed me. My thoughts became scattered. I didn’t trust anyone. I would break down and cry and cry and cry. Everywhere I went, I would remember the last time I was there with Bev.
The fact that Mark, the murderer, had been in my home the day before playing with my kids really shook me. I didn’t like Mark. I had told Paul six months before this happened that he was the kind of kid that was going to wig out and shoot his whole family. Paul scolded me for saying it. Something in my spirit would caution me every time he was there. I talked to Bev about it briefly. She didn’t bring him much because I think she knew how I felt about him. But she did bring him over the day before he killed her.
The funeral was nearly a week later. Michelle was getting out of the hospital and they wanted her to be able to attend.
Mark was caught the same day as he didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. He called a family friend and the friend went to pick him up and the story spilled out of him. He said he had heard voices telling him to do it. Matthew was safe. Mark was detained in a minimum security holding cell.
I couldn’t get my home clean. I scrubbed everything down. After all, he had touched the counters and he was in my kitchen. I talked on the phone about Bev and Mark. What about the dad? What about him? How is Michelle doing? What about Matthew. Would he go into counseling? What would happen to them all?
I announced to Paul in the middle of May that I wanted to have another baby right away. I became pregnant that month and was due the next February. I said I wanted to move to an acreage and get away from it all. I wanted to attend a new church. There were so many memories of Bev. I couldn’t bear it!
We found a ten acre home in Iowa and started a new life. It was isolated which was not good for me. I slept a lot. I had a new baby, an old ‘new” house in a town where I knew no one. I was afraid to send my kids to school and kept them home to Home School. I wasn’t doing a great job. I was depressed and afraid.
I was starting to feel bad a lot. I spent a lot of time on the computer late at night after the kids went to bed. Writing. Chatting. Reading. Emailing. It was my lifeline to the rest of the world. The normal world.
I started to go to doctor after doctor with symptoms of various sorts. I had pain throughout my entire body. My head would ache so bad I would throw up and I was tired all the time. My feet and ankles hurt going up and down the stairs. Eventually they told me in 1996 that I had Fibromyalgia. It seemed like a death sentence with five little kids. I was so tired and felt I wasn’t schooling them well. I wasn’t keeping the house clean or doing anything really well. People kept telling me that I just needed to give myself time.
I remember my life ‘before Bev’ and yet it seems a little clouded. Like it isn’t real or it is questionable.
The last thing I really remember was Paul sitting on my bed and asking me, “Shelly, when are you coming back? You have been gone for two years.”
“What? What year is it?” I asked astonished.
“It’s 1997.” He responded.
As I write this, it is 2007. I have learned so much about trauma and what it can do to your mind. The fear was so strong. I have many physical aliments that still haunt me. Though I have learned to cope. I had not been ready for such trauma. Who could ever be ready for it? Running away was not the best thing to do. I should have worked through it. I realize that now. Of course I seem to live and learn. I suppose many of us do it that way.
Life for me is good. When you have a traumatic event happen to you…it creates a “new normal” this is fully understood by me now. I would do it differently. I would seek counseling and work on getting over the fear instead I packed it up and took it with me. Today, I work on it. I have much less fear than I did. Thank God!
And lastly, Mark died in jail. His brain was sent to a place in Denver and they said he had a rare form of schizophrenia. I hate to say it but I felt relief when he died.
Update: As I re-post this on my website about relationships, I want you to know that in the last three years I have learned so much about fear. The fear was coming from me. It was coming from my thinking. Even as I re-read this article, I could see the learning and awareness I have now that I didn’t have three years ago. Your life can be whatever you make it. I am grateful for this experience. I now know that I create my reality. I create my way.
Thank you for taking time to read this!