CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - What happened to Sally Ismail's parents made headlines the week of November 12, 2012. Union County authorities say Sally's father shot her mother in a murder suicide with their 9-year-old daughter as the only witness.
Sally was 16 at the time. She and two siblings lost both their parents that day to the worst kind of domestic violence.
The build up to that final, violent episode happened over time.
If you are experiencing a domestic violence crisis, or need guidance, call 704-332-2513. The Mecklenburg County Women's Commission also provides help for planning an exit strategy or staying with an abuser until it is safe to leave.
If you are experiencing a domestic violence crisis, call 911, or the Safe Alliance Domestic Violence hotline at 704-332-2513.
Sally says her mother, Mary Overman Ismail, left her father, Bobby, several times in the past but was always scared back into returning. She says her mother endured years of verbal and mental abuse.
"It just really saddens me that she had to put up with that kind of abuse," said Sally. "She got with my dad when she was young. And she was young when she died. Only 36," she said.
Sally said her mother had recently filed a restraining order against Bobby, but it was dismissed. She moved out of the house a few weeks prior to the shooting.
Sally said that day, Mary had driven Sally's little sister to the bus stop and they were waiting in her truck. Sally says Bobby drove up to the truck and shot her mother, before killing herself.
"My mom actually told my sister to get down on the floor board because she saw my Dad's truck coming. She just sat there. And I don't know why she didn't drive away. That kinda gets to me," she said.
Sally and her sister have received a lot of therapy and counseling. Sally does not blame her mother, it's her father who committed the crime. However, Sally often wonders, "what if." She thinks about what would have happened if her mother had stayed with her father; or if she had left with a different exit plan.
Questioning is a natural part of the healing process, says Sandy Hammond, who works with victims and their families at the Mecklenburg County Women's Commission.
"The victim knows the perpetrator better than anyone else. That's why victim safety is so important," said Hammond. "When you're talking about safety planning, it's very individualized. What works for one person doesn't work for the next," she said.
Hammond said some victims are able to easily leave and others need months of planning to make a safe escape.
She said one of the most dangerous times can happen soon after a victim has left an abuser. Hammond said some women need to stay on high alert for potential encounters.
Sally is still hopeful for others. "Maybe they will be able to get away and not go through what we went through," she said.
Her life is getting better. She's the legal guardian of her 12-year-old sister and has a baby of her own. She wants to major in criminal justice.
Sally believes the cycle of violence ends with her and that raising awareness will help prevent other cases.
It's a pervasive problem. In fiscal year 2014, Mecklenburg County law enforcement reported more than 8600 criminal domestic violence cases. More than half were listed as "simple assaults."
Sally understand the complex decision victims face in deciding to stay or go. Obstacles include fear, financial dependence, isolation, guilt, and even hope that the abuser will change.
Sally believes her mother did the best she could at the time. Her face lights up still talking about her now.
"Oh, she was wonderful. She was really funny," said Sally. "She was so nice all the time."