La'Shea Cretain is a Moms Demand Action volunteer who survived being shot 5 times by her ex. This Domestic Violence Awareness Month, here's what she wants you to know about gun violence.
When young people graduate from high school, they typically enjoy a fun-filled summer before heading off to college in the fall. For me, the summer after my senior year was filled with fear and intimidation from an abusive dating partner, who ultimately shot me five times, leaving me with lifelong physical and emotional wounds.
I grew up in Opelousas, Louisiana, a small, tight-knit community. It was a happy childhood, though as I got older I saw glimpses of abuse at school and around the neighborhood. The response from bystanders was always the same: shrugging it off and eventually forgetting about it. I now know that response is all too common in many communities across the U.S.
By high school, I had grown into a tough, headstrong country girl who did what she wanted. I played competitive basketball for the school team and football on weekends with my friends. In 10th grade, I met my ex-boyfriend and gave birth to my first child, a son. One week after graduating high school, in May 1996, I had my second child, a daughter. But my relationship with my children’s father — my ex-boyfriend — had grown more and more physically and emotionally abusive since we’d met sophomore year. And I didn’t tell anyone.
Instead, I made every possible effort to separate from him the summer after graduation. I didn’t live with him or accept money from him to support the children. I started working part-time at McDonalds, making $4 an hour. My family supported me and my babies, all while not knowing I was trying to remove myself from an abusive relationship. But my ex's behavior grew more dangerous and concerning.
He started stalking me at work, hovering outside the restaurant and staring me down. I once saw him pull a gun on someone, so I suspected he was armed, and I already knew he was not above physical violence towards me. At 18, I was living in silent fear, every day, alone, with a two-year-old and a newborn.
By August, I went to the police. I told them everything: That my ex was terrorizing me. That he had been abusive and I didn’t know what to do. They told me they’d talk to him, but that was that. It was the only time I ever asked for help in Opelousas, and they reacted exactly the way I predicted they would: by shrugging it off and forgetting. So I tried to forget too.
And then October 3rd arrived.
I was at my aunt’s house with my babies when my ex showed up. He asked me to leave with him, and I refused multiple times. He came back a few hours later with a gun, demanding I go with him again. And at 2:48pm, he shot me five times in front of our children before shooting and killing himself.
I was in a coma for several weeks following the shooting, but I can vividly remember the relief — even when I was unconscious — when my children were brought to visit me in the hospital room. They hadn’t been shot, and nor had my aunt or my ex’s mother who was also there that day. Any one of them could have been in the hospital like me or killed because my ex had access to a firearm.
I know that my story is one of far too many in a country where gun-related violence towards women continues to devastate lives. This can and does happen to anyone, at any time, at any age. Abusers with access to a gun are five times more likely to kill their female victims, and nearly one million women in the U.S. alive today have reported being shot or shot at by an intimate partner. I also know first hand that guns can be used as tools of fear and intimidation to terrorize, coerce or control people.
The road to physical recovery was long and hard, but I was motivated and resilient. Emotionally, I poured myself into creating a peaceful, happy childhood for my babies. In 2000, we relocated to San Diego and began a new life. I made sure my kids lived in a warm, loving home, and when I was ready, I got a bachelor’s degree for business. Every year, we would go to Louisiana and spend time with family there. I would also bring them to visit their father’s grave. But I never told my story — until nearly 20 years later when my daughter was heading off to college herself. She was 18, the same age I was when I got shot. She asked me about her father, and I didn’t lie.
With her support, I began sharing my story publicly for the first time. I joined Moms Demand Action in 2017. Now, I use my voice to empower survivors of domestic violence across the country. I advocate for commonsense policies that support and protect all survivors of domestic violence, including non-married partners, by preventing abusers from possessing firearms. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to elevate survivor stories and ensure that victims have access to resources to discuss domestic violence and to seek help. For me, this October will mark 26 years since my shooting, but I’ll also be walking down the graduation aisle again — this time, with my Masters of Business Administration.
I still live with the five bullets inside me, but they don’t have power over me. Instead, I named them after the five elements that help me as I continue to heal — FIGHT, FAMILY, FAITH, FORGIVE and FORGET. By sharing my story, I hope other survivors or victims of domestic violence understand that they’re not alone. Trust the strength of your voice, and know that there are people out there who are fighting for you and are here to help you when you’re ready. It’s what I wish I knew.
La'Shea Cretain is a Moms Demand Action volunteer and a Senior Survivor Fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, available 24/7, for confidential assistance from a trained advocate. You can also find more resources on legal assistance in English and Spanish at WomensLaw.org.