Hell and back: A survivor's courage to overcome domestic violence and abduction and inspire others

By Senior Airman Tom Brading | Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs | Nov. 20, 2013

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. — Editor's note: Certain details of this story, including names and locations, are being withheld for the sake of the individuals involved. The subject of this story requested we refer to her as "Airman Ebony."

"We were in a relationship for a little over six months when I broke up with him," Ebony said, thinking back to before her abduction. "You know, no one ever thinks their relationship will end with something as savage and frightening as being held at gun point, forced into a car against your will and being kidnapped ... especially not from someone they thought they knew fairly well."

And, why would anyone think something like that would ever happen to them?

However, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website, the fact is one in four women will be assaulted by someone they're in a relationship with at some point in their lifetime. In fact, South Carolina leads the nation in homicides as a result of domestic violence.

But this story doesn't start in South Carolina. Ebony's tale begins on a dusky evening in an apartment outside a U.S. Air Force base on the west coast.

"My ex had been verbally abusive during an argument with me that evening," said Ebony. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't fire back a few choice words of my own in defense of myself."
In hindsight, prior to the breakup, Ebony had noticed several red flags leading up to her abduction, yet she chose not to act for fear of distorting her good girl image around base and embarrassment. Certain incidents occurred, such as his short temper, physical and verbal abuse and his controlling behaviors, followed by his uncanny ability to apologize swiftly with flowers or gifts in an "it won't happen again" mantra in order to regain her trust.

"Eventually, once I made up my mind and built up enough courage to execute my exit plan, he realized he'd lost control of the situation, yet couldn't accept the fact it was over," said Ebony.

That's when the situation took a drastic downward spiral.

"Although he never said he was coming over that dreadful night, I knew something just wasn't right," Ebony said. "I called one of my close friends and told her I had a bad feeling. She said she'd call the police."

Panicked and scared, Ebony decided to take a shower and calm her troubled mind. But midway through her shower, she heard an explosion from outside the apartment. It was a gunshot, followed by an array of broken glass from the front door that sprayed and scattered across the living room floor.

Her heart sank.

Her ex-boyfriend kicked in the bathroom door and screamed, "You think this is a game?!"

Before she could answer, she felt his boot kicking her repeatedly as she cowered naked on the floor in the corner of her bathroom. She felt his fists as he repeatedly punched her, then the cold steel of the gun in his hand as he pressed the barrel firmly against her head. Even now, Ebony can't find the words to describe just how afraid, in shock and in utter disbelief she was. Her ex forced her outside with the gun pressed tightly against her right temple as she attempted to cover herself with a towel.

"If I see any police lights, I'm taking us both out," he forewarned.

At that point, Ebony's prayers went from hoping the police would arrive to praying they wouldn't so her life could be spared. Although her friend called the police three times, they still had not shown up. Ebony and her ex drove off into the night.

"During the drive, he was irrational ... screaming and ranting," she said. "Eventually, he mentioned going back to his hometown."
With the gun pressed against her hip and dressed in the clothes he provided (from his wardrobe), Ebony continued her silent prayers as they traveled down the interstate.
"I accepted that I would die that night," she said. "I prayed, 'Lord ... If I have to die tonight, please let my story save someone else's life.' It was in that moment, when I accepted everything, that I found peace."

As they traveled down the road, his cell phone wouldn't stop ringing. (Ebony's neighbor had alerted her friends who had alerted authorities to the kidnapping.) Mutual friends, her friends, and finally her parents kept calling his phone. He eventually allowed Ebony to talk to her family.

"It wasn't until I heard my mother's gentle, yet trembling voice that I emotionally broke down into tears. Her voice made the numbness and shock wear off." Ebony said. "I wondered why I hadn't gotten out of the relationship sooner, or more importantly, why did I let myself get into the situation to begin with when the warning signs were so apparent?"
As they drove at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour, Ebony didn't know if her death would come via a horrible car crash or from domestic violence. She pondered which would be worse.

"I had chances of being rescued sooner," said Ebony, thinking about the bystanders she had seen along the way. "We stopped once to use the rest room, and I made eye contact and tried mouthing the word 'help' to people, yet even though it was obvious I had been crying and my clothes weren't ordinary, nobody listened. It's so crucial that if anyone sees anything out of the ordinary, to report it to the police immediately. Your action or inaction could ultimately mean the difference between life and death."

Unbeknownst to her ex-boyfriend, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and local authorities had coordinated an effort to locate and rescue Ebony from her abductor. They had pinpointed their location through his cell phone. After the 12-hour drive, the two arrived at the hotel her ex-boyfriend had reserved for them, but the room-key didn't work.

"I knew something was weird when the room-key didn't work," Ebony said.

On the third try, the door opened and the hotel room was filled with police officers, each of them wielding a gun pointing directly at her abductor.

"It felt like the scene of a movie ... only this was my real life," Ebony said sadly. "As soon as he realized what was happening, he ran away like a coward. I held onto the wall, allowing its strong structure to be my crutch in case I fainted. By now, I was entering the next level of shock from the ordeal."

Her ex-boyfriend was caught and brought to justice. Today, he remains in prison.

According to Ebony, she feels extremely blessed that her life was spared and she is able to tell her story to the Air Force and to anyone who will listen in hopes it will inspire others to avoid or leave abusive relationships.

"I want victims of domestic violence to know they're not alone and that it is possible to leave, get assistance and recover." said Ebony. "I also want to encourage anyone that feels they may exhibit any sort of anger, temper or abusive tendencies to get the help they need as well."

Today, Ebony is now a productive member of the Air Force and is successfully progressing up through the ranks. She continues mentoring Airmen along the way that have similar testimonies as hers in hopes of changing lives for the better.