I have a story to share — a story about my 26-year old daughter, Gina Marie, my 3-year-old grandson, Shaun Edward, and my 7-month-old grandson, Joshua Lee. They were murdered in an arson fire in Jeannette, PA on June 9, 1993. My son-in-law has been found guilty of this dreadful act of violence and is serving three consecutive life sentences.
All this — four lives totally destroyed — because of domestic violence.
It started with my daughter looking for the American dream — looking for the house, with the white picket fence, two cars in the garage, kids, a dog in the yard and a wonderful husband. After she graduated from high school she began the search. She first found the husband and had a child — Shaun Edward was born December 1, 1989 in Maryland. This marriage ended in divorce.
The story continues — she gets involved with another guy — he decides that the “grass is greener” in Pennsylvania — the dream package is waiting for them there. That was in February 1991.
It wasn’t long before I got a phone call that this “friend” had beaten up Gina during a birthday party that she had given him. He had hit her, bit her on the arm and punched her several times in the stomach. The stomach punches had the most relevance to me — she was pregnant with child # 2. The police were called, Gina went to the hospital, and her friend went to jail.
Now comes the next day — Gina decides he didn’t mean it — he had been drinking — so all is forgiven — she doesn’t press charges — she doesn’t file a protection from abuse form (PFA). Isn’t it amazing how the bright sun light makes everything look tolerable — he was in control.
All was quiet for awhile — the pregnancy held — but the American dream was dwindling. Gina’s friend — as well as Gina — were having trouble holding jobs. Money became an issue. It was their decision to give this baby up for adoption. Gina searched and found a couple in California that wanted to adopt this baby. She left Pennsylvania for a few months to give birth to baby # 2. During her time in California she had decided not to go back to Pennsylvania — she was going to come home. Wait a minute — the guilt started with her — maybe if I try harder; maybe if I did just what he wanted; maybe if Shaun was a better child; maybe if I got a better job; maybe if I kept the house better; maybe….maybe….maybe. Gina and her friend weren’t married yet so legally there was nothing stopping her — just her desire to try one more time — to do better.
There was little talk during this time as to what her friend might do better — through Gina’s eyes all the maybes were with her.
So back to Pennsylvania she and Shaun go — searching for that American dream. Her friend won — he was back in control.
Things continued to get worse; credit problems; being fired from jobs; Shaun being sick; and the violence continued.
It wasn’t long before they announced that another baby was expected.
During the next few months there seemed to be more verbal abuse — coming from both of their mouths. One of my “pat” responses to Gina — when she would call about these verbal battles — was “walk away — he can’t fight by himself” — of course that didn’t happen — the warfare continued. The house became a battle field.
Even during all this fighting they decided to get married. The marriage was disclosed to us after the fact. When she told me she said — “I didn’t think you would approve.” She was right. I guess now he was officially our son-in-law.
November 10, 1992 sweet Joshua Lee was born.
Then came another life threatening battle. In January 1993 — around two in the morning we got a phone call from a police officer that told us that our son-in-law had tried to kill our daughter — he threw her up against the wall, tied a telephone cord around her neck, hit her several times, bit her numerous times, and threatened to shoot her. It was Shaun that was her savior — he ran out of the house in his bare feet and PJs and went to a neighbor yelling for help — he was three years old. Our son-in-law was arrested and preparations began for Gina to file a PFA.
The phone wires were hot with her calling us and us calling her to see what the next step would be. Our son-in-law got out of jail and spent some time with his family — but in the end — Gina let him come back — never appearing for the PFA hearing. Again all the maybes kept echoing in her head — along with how will I take care of two kids by myself. Again he won — again he was in control.
More months, more fighting, more tears.
In May 1993 our phone rang. It was Gina — she told her father that she wanted to come home — she’s had it — it was not going to ever work — he was never going to change. It seemed they had another fight and our son-in-law threatened to take the two kids from her. These were words Gina understood — it seems you could abuse her but don’t mess with her kids. This battle ended again in bloodshed — however, it wasn’t Gina’s — it was our son-in-law’s . Gina busted his nose.
Her father told her to get in her car and head home.
Gina packed the car, was preparing to leave when our son-in-law returned to the scene and continued the threat about the kids — he would have her picked up on the turnpike, he would take the kids and she would never see them again. Bottom line — she stayed.
One month later, Wednesday June 9, 1993, our son-in-law poured gasoline in the living room, up the stairs, and right into Gina’s bedroom, lit a match, and walked away — walked away with not a burn on his body; walked away with no carbon monoxide in his lungs; walked away while my daughter and two grandsons died in the inferno.
The cycle of domestic violence was now complete — he now had the ultimate form of control — Gina, Shaun, Joshua — they were now the silent witnesses to murder.
It was seconds of terror that forever changed the world — That’s when their lives ended — and when the nightmare for our family began.
Gina had gotten the little house, the two cars, the kids, and even the dog. The only thing is — she married a man that needed total power and control over her — he made his choice and he never thought of the consequences.
It was seven months and three days before our son-in-law was arrested — it would be another year and a half before he would go to trial — it was another 42 days of listening to Gina, Shaun, and Joshua dying all over again and watching our son-in-law still be in control. I can remember so clearly being called into the court room and the jury coming in with the verdict. I have never been able to put words to those emotions — all I know was my mind was going a thousand miles a second — I think I relived every second of Gina, Shaun, and Joshua’s lives in those few minutes — time stood still — and then it came — guilty! Guilty on all counts. The sentencing — three consecutive life sentences without the chance of parole.
My son-in-law is no longer in control of my daughter. As he sits in his brown cell dressed in his brown clothes the only one he can control now is himself. He isn’t controlling our lives any more. The world’s violence has leaked into our home which is to be a safe place. Through all this we are forever changed but we are continuing. We know our son-in-law is no longer in control of my daughter and grandsons — they are now sleeping with the angels.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you — a story about a mother and her two boys — a story that changed our family in the second it took to strike a match.
Every story has a moral — this one being no different. The lesson we can all take away from hearing about Gina, Shaun and Joshua is — we are all victims of homicide and domestic violence.
by Gina’s Mom, Shaun & Joshua’s Nonie
To learn more about Gina’s story and her surviving family’s anti-violence activism, visit www.g-s-j.org.