Grateful (and shocked) to be alive

As you may already know, my family is grappling with a profound tragedy. On August 2nd my husband Delano was killed in an officer involved shooting in Charlotte, NC. If you’re following the media coverage, you’ll notice conflicting and incomplete information. This is why I thought I’d take a moment to explain what happened, though it will take years to fully unravel the situation in my mind.

Delano and I had been married for 17 years and had a blended family of 5 children. He was a nurturing father, a hard worker, and avid sports fan. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica and had careers in the Jamaican Defense Force and as a professional soccer player before emigrating to the US about 20 years ago. Contrary to media reports, Delano was never physically abusive, but he could be grouchy, ornery, and inflexible. Early in our marriage his mother heard him fussing at me and said, “Don’t worry about him. He’s always been a pain in the heart.” It was an apt description.

However, about three years ago I noticed a change in Delano. He sometimes seemed paranoid and irrational. This escalated sharply – and unexpectedly – while I was on a business trip. Delano became convinced I was having an extramarital affair. We were speaking on the phone (me in Texas, him in North Carolina) when he threatened to shoot me in the face. I returned home immediately and got a restraining order. Ultimately, Delano agreed to seek mental health treatment and we reconciled. I hid his gun in a locked safe in our attic.

Life returned to normal for a few years. 

More recently, Delano had become depressed and sometimes delusional and paranoid. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get help for a person in this situation. He did not seem to be a danger to himself or others, so could not be involuntarily committed. At the same time, he didn’t have enough insight to understand he needed help. I was left with no choice but to pursue the marital separation that precipitated this tragedy.

Held at gun point

Delano began having a manic episode on Monday, July 29th. Come Thursday morning neither of us had slept all week, but we’d mutually agreed to separate. That morning Delano left for work with his belongings packed into his car, including his gun. While he wasn’t happy, he was accepting of the situation. I had, and still have, no reason to believe he wasn’t genuine in his intention to separate.

This is why I was surprised when Delano returned home after work that evening as though nothing had changed. I asked him to leave and, when he refused, called the police. They could not assist me because Delano had a permit for his gun and I did not have a restraining order. Later that evening, I was able to obtain a restraining order based on emotional distress, but it would not be served by the Sheriff’s office until sometime the following day.

When I returned home after midnight, Delano ambushed me with his gun. His physical movements were erratic and he was delusional and paranoid. He dragged me next door to my sister’s house by my throat. As our teenaged kids ran out the back door, Delano shot a warning shot into the living room floor to stop my sister from escaping.

The next ten minutes were the most terrifying of my life. My husband held my sister, Becky, and me at gun point as we begged and pleaded for our lives. It was especially shocking and horrific because this was not Delano. He’d always been a “pain in the heart,” but never physically violent. This was not my husband. This was not the father of my children. At the time, and in retrospect, Becky and I both believe Delano was experiencing a psychotic break. He was manic and impassive. He could not be reasoned with. He was completely unemotional and there was no flicker of empathy we could appeal to.

When Delano suddenly – and without provocation – shot Becky through her legs, we knew we weren’t going to make it out alive. Our children had escaped and we hoped they’d called 911, but there was no sign of the police. A few minutes later, Becky lunged for the gun and we tried to wrestle it from Delano. As he tore at my arms with his teeth, my sister was able to extricate herself and run for help. This disrupted the situation enough for my husband to stand and move out into the open. He aimed the gun at me and I screamed, sure I was about to die. Then the sliding glass door shattered and Delano fell to the ground at my feet. I was still realizing he’d been shot by police when I saw his gun hand moving. Terrified I would still be shot, I grabbed the gun and threw it out through the broken sliding glass door, before running outside to safety. 

I’m told Delano had a pulse when he was treated on the scene and CPR was provided for 40 minutes. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Picking up the pieces

This tragedy has been particularly painful and complicated given the circumstances. My children and I are sad, angry, confused – and we feel betrayed. We’ve begun counseling, but this will be a long process towards healing. 

My sister’s injuries are painful and debilitating, but she’s using this opportunity to promote the importance of active shooter training. We were fortunate she knew the best chance we had was to fight back. Quite frankly, we are both still shocked to have made it out alive.

I’m so thankful Officer John Juhasz trusted his instincts and did not second guess himself. If he had, I would undoubtedly have been shot. My children would now be grappling through this trauma without either parent. I’m also profoundly aware of the dilemma of getting mental health treatment for someone who is “off” but not clearly unsafe to himself or others. 

I deeply appreciate the support of the community – including my beloved online community of fellow parents of kids with developmental trauma.

Our journey towards healing and understanding will be long and arduous, but I have much to be grateful for.

Here’s an op-ed I wrote for the Charlotte Observer on this incident.

Here’s a WBTV interview with Officer John Juhasz wife.

Here’s the WBTV interview my sister did about the importance of active shooter training.

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