The following tribute was presented by Tara Creighton at the Silent Witness Project at the West End Cultural Center on April 24, 2013. Tara’s sister Jennifer, was the victim of a Domestic Violence Murder on June 20, 2002.
“I’m here today to speak about my sister Jennifer Creighton. The picture you see up on the screen was taken a year before she was murdered. She was 26 at the time and 27 when she died. I would like to not only speak about what an amazing woman she was, but to also honour her by having her remembered as not just another statistic. My hope is my story will touch someone here today that is struggling through a domestic violence situation to walk away before they too become a statistic.
First and foremost, the Justice system needs to change. Quoting Justice Oliphant “The killing of Jennifer Creighton has to be one of the more brutal offences of this nature I have seen in my 19 years as a judge.” You would think with a statement like that, a lengthy sentence would’ve been handed down. Locked away for a lifetime, at least one would hope. But no, he’s out on parole not even 10 years after he killed her. What a complete and utter disgrace. The taking of my sisters life amounting to 10 years?!? How could this be?
I guess my bigger purpose here today is to bring some awareness to how this all began. If there’s anyone here today that is currently in a domestic violence relationship please don’t delude yourself into thinking he’ll change. It starts out with small things like her spending most of her time with him, slowly separating her from friends and family. He starts picking away, questioning and belittling her self-esteem. He makes her believe no one else could ever want her.
I was blind to all the warning signs that were clear now looking back, and my first dose of reality came at 2:00 am, 7 hours before I was to write a final exam in university. The call was only two sentences. “Come and get your sister. The police have been called and are on their way.” And then a click as the phone disconnected. I was half asleep. It didn’t make sense. The police are on their way? I tried calling back, but there was no answer. I flew out of bed, got dressed and sped over to my sister’s apartment not knowing what had happened. Not knowing if she was okay. When I got there the police already had him cuffed and in the back of the cruiser. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I walked into complete chaos. Furniture overturned and broken, mirrors smashed and blood on the floor. It looked like something out of a horror movie, except that this was no movie, it was reality. I took one look at my sister. She was crying but was telling me not to blame him. They were fighting she said, and it got out of control. Out of control? I couldn’t believe what she was telling me? Her face was bloody, her lip split and her eye was swelling. I took her to the bathroom and asked her to look in the mirror. I was so angry that this happened to her. I said to her, “no one has the right to hit you, no matter how heated things become. Promise me that you’ll leave him, move back home for a while and never see him again. You’re worth more than that.”
I was in shock. Our family never had a history of domestic violence. I was blind to all the warning signs, lies, and cover-ups before that evening. It was a rude awakening into this world of domestic violence. It’s often shrouded, as I was soon to find out, in secrecy and humiliation as was the case with my sister. How long has this been going on I asked her, but realized without her saying a word looking back, that it had been going on for a longtime. You see, when you don’t come from a family of violence, you are oblivious to the signs. The 1st time she came to visit my parents with a black eye, I remember joking with her. Nice shiner, I said. Did you run into a door? I was clumsy she said. I tripped. You know me… Also looking back I remember bruises on her arms and legs. Again I asked, what happened? Again, an excuse. “Oh come on Tara,” was her response, “you know I bruise easily. It’s nothing.” Hmm, I brushed it off. Two red flags that seemed like nothing but trivial things at the time.
She did move back home after that, but unknown to almost everyone she started seeing him again, and dropped the charges against him. He was never allowed to set foot in my parents or any of our homes again.
I asked her once after I found out she was seeing him again why she went back to him. I’ll never forget her answer. She said “he’s had a really horrible life and childhood and that nobody understands him like I do. He says he loves me and that he’ll never hurt me again. No one gives him a chance. I can’t give up on him, he’s got no one.” She was wrong! He did hurt her again and last time there was no recovery, just death.
Just before things went from bad to worse, she was trying to find a home for her 2 cats and dog. She knew she was leaving him, but didn’t want to leave the animals behind in fear that he would hurt them. You see that was the thing about my sister. She was always wanting to help. She’d rescue strays, always look at the bright side in any situation, and was quick to forgive and love. A peacemaker, good friend and non-judgmental listener.
The night she was killed I got in the door from my baseball game around 11 pm. I had this strong urge out of the blue to call her. I picked up the phone to dial but quickly glanced at the clock and realized it was too late to call. She’d be sleeping as she had to work in the morning. I hung up the phone and went to sleep myself. Well, I never got that chance to speak with her again. I often wonder what would’ve happened if I had called her that night like I wanted to and trusted that instinct. Could I have saved her life? I realized there’s no point in should’ve as you can’t change the past, but if I’m being honest, it stills haunts me sometimes.
The next day at work I got a garbled voicemail message that sounded like my dad crying. I replayed to message a few times and tried to piece together what I was hearing. “Come home now. He killed her.” I dropped the phone and ran blindly through tears and disbelief to find my husband.
I didn’t go to the trial. I didn’t want to see him, or hear of the horrific things that he had done to her. I begged my parents not to go as well. I didn’t want them to have those memories. I avoided the media and newspapers and grieved silently remembering all the great times we had together growing up. Our camping trips, playing baseball, Barbies, swimming and our time at the lake. Also, our mutual love of animals and her sense of humor. She could make anyone laugh and lighten any situation no matter how tense.
It was hard. I never attended any memorial events. Everyone grieves differently I suppose. I lived in denial and anger for a longtime. This is the first memorial in the 11 years since she passed that I’m attending. It’s the next part of my healing process I suppose. My other sister who is here today asked me to speak. Perhaps she knew it was time I stopped hiding from it. Thanks, Pam. I have to give her credit. She was a champion. She went to the trial, followed all the parole board hearings and went to all the events. I’m proud of you sister.
My family became a shell of who they once were. Family Christmas’s and functions were a nightmare as my mom would leave the room crying and my dad would become silent and get a faraway look in his eyes. Nobody really knowing what to say. We were all grieving. I managed fairly well over the years until I got a couple of calls and texts as I was headed out of town to celebrate my wedding anniversary with my husband a few weeks ago.
A Free Press reporter decided to write a feature about a woman who married my sister’s killer and found out slowly that she had been conned.
Against my better judgment I read the article. It was a puff piece that should’ve never been written. As any journalist knows, the meat of the story is put at the beginning as people often skim the first few paragraphs and rarely ever read to the end. I was outraged that he would print the lies that my sister’s murderer told his soon to be wife about my sister. He said she was a drug addict and tried to shoot him. What? Are you kidding me? My sister was neither. It wasn’t until more than ¾ of the way through the article that he cleared her name, saying there was no drug use and no shooting, It was all lies and that she was the innocent victim of an awful crime. Bad journalism. Period. This brought my family to its knees again for no reason except to sell some papers. No ethics, morals or consideration for the victim’s family.
I’m sick of the media focusing on the graphic details of crime and murderers. Does that type of crap sell papers? Yes. Does that make it right? No. We have a choice as a society to make better choices. We show the media what we want to view and watch. Unfortunately, people have become desensitized by watching violent movies, the news, crime shows like CSI, and cage fighting events. The levels of violence being depicted has not only escalated but has reached extreme levels. Nothing shocks people anymore. I ask you to choose differently. Show them you will not tolerate violence of any kind. Money talks, it always has, it always will. Stop watching the negative crap, the ratings will fall, advertisers will pull out and invest in other more popular positive interests. There’s power in numbers. Let’s make those numbers strong. Actions always speak louder than words.
There are a few things in closing that I would like to touch upon. One is that there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of my sister. The best way I can honor her memory here today is if this story and message touches just one person in this audience and sparks change.
Secondly, the justice system needs to change. Less than 10 years for a crime a judge with 19 years on the bench calls one of the most horrific?!? What a sick joke. The power and rights need to be shifted back to the victims and their families, not the criminals. One thing besides longer sentences with less leniency is a change to the victim impact statements that are read at the trials. This really irks me. You can tell the criminal about how he’s hurt you and your family, but you can’t say what you really think; that he’s a low life, selfish scumbag. Give me a break! Who are we empowering here; psychopaths that feed off the attention. Oh, I hurt you and your family? Hmm, so what? I’ll be out in no time, to con, abuse and create havoc in society again. Sorry you’re hurting, life isn’t fair.
And lastly, to that one woman in this audience that my sister’s story is mirroring right at this moment. He won’t change, don’t believe his lies and promises. He will hurt you again. Don’t become the next statistic. Your life is worth more than that. You need to remember it’s not just your life he takes, but your absence will be felt for a lifetime by those that are left behind after you’re gone. They are the one’s that have to go on, pick up the pieces and try to carry on with life.
Run, and don’t look back. Ever.”
Author: Tara Creighton