by Emily Armentrout
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. Southwood High School recently held a convocation for their students on abusive relationships. Speakers Laura Craig, an abuse survivor, and Debbie Norris, mother of Heather Norris, who was brutally murdered by an abusive boyfriend in 2007, were on hand to tell of their experiences with abuse.
Laura Craig is currently a nursing student at Indiana Wesleyan. Her story began when she was 16. Like most teenage girls, she started dating a guy who “started out nice. He was very flattering and supportive, but he started to become controlling.” Craig told the students she was never physically abused but the psychological pain began manifesting itself outwardly.
“I stopped eating. I lost 15 pounds in three months. I wore baggy sweatpants all the time, and I didn’t wash my hair for days. You could see circles under my eyes,” Craig told The Paper.
Craig shared that she had become suicidal. She began cutting herself and actually attempted to kill herself. Finally, she reached a point where she decided to fight back, which she said her boyfriend did not like.
“I was diagnosed with depression and fibromyalgia,” Craig said. “I could see my parents and friends were hurting. I had reached rock bottom, my breaking point. There wasn’t just one moment. I started fighting back and standing up for myself, and regaining the life I had lost. He didn’t like that, so he broke up with me about six months before our wedding.”
Craig shared that her Christian faith was a big part of her turning point and also the reason behind wanting to share her story with other teens. “God has so much work and I want to do more of His work in my life, and I could not do that in this relationship.”
“I prayed, thinking, ‘Lord, if I can help one person not go through what I went through, then all my pain will be worth it. If I can help one person to realize they are in a bad relationship and they are loved by a lot of people, then it’s all worth it,’” Craig said.
Debbie Norris, like Craig, believes that sharing her story is important and has the same hope that her tragedy can save the life of another.
Norris’ daughter Heather started dating a guy close to the end of her senior year in high school. She had been accepted at Indiana University and had her whole life ahead of her, until everything changed.
Norris says she knew from the beginning of the relationship that the boyfriend was not a good person. “I knew something wasn’t right about their relationship. He never wanted to come in the house. He would either pull into the driveway and she would go out to meet him or she would just leave and meet him somewhere else.”
Norris explained that Heather didn’t tell her for a long time that her boyfriend had been abusing her. At Heather’s request, her mother did nothing because all Heather wanted was to forget it had ever happened. “I ask myself today why I gave into that and all I can say is that I love Heather,” Norris said.
Norris went on to tell the students how the beatings continued, and how Heather finally decided she had had enough. The boyfriend was arrested, but made attempts to persuade Heather to drop the charges. Another beating followed, which she hid from her mother for days.
“It’s important that you know when she was with him, she was a totally different person. She wasn’t the happy go lucky girl that everybody knew,” explained Norris. “She would be so upset she couldn’t eat. She didn’t go anywhere. She distanced herself from her friends and family.”
“I’ll never understand what happened that afternoon when Heather walked out our front door, never to come home again. I didn’t know it then, but that was the day my life would change forever,” Norris said.
At 20, Heather was living at home after leaving college due to missing so much class time. She didn’t hold a job because her boyfriend didn’t want her to have a job or make new friends. From the day Heather left, she would keep in contact with her mother, but when that changed, Norris knew something wasn’t right.
When the police arrived at the door, Norris had family staying with her.
“We saw headlights and what looked like a police car. I worked at a police department; I thought one of my friends was checking on me until I saw our missing persons lieutenant and our chaplain.”
To this day Norris still struggles remembering much about the day she found out about Heather’s murder. “The one thing I remember is my cousin coming over, sitting in front of me and holding my hands, telling me that she wanted me to hear from her what happened to Heather before I read it in the paper or saw it on the news,” Norris told the students.
“He stabbed her, and then he took her body and stuffed her in a trash can. He poured gasoline on her and set her on fire. That wasn’t enough. He took a chainsaw and he cut her up in pieces. He put her in black trash bags and drove around the south side of Indianapolis, throwing her in dumpsters,” Norris tearfully explained.
Norris began pleading with the students in the audience. “You’re all at the age where you start to think you can handle everything on your own. Heather was like that, but where is Heather now? So here I am, standing before all of you, in hopes that I can make you understand, because Heather would want that,” Norris said.
“In telling her story, Heather lives on. She believed she was put on this earth to help people. By me being here today, she lives on,” added Norris.
Norris began telling the story of Heather’s murder not long after the tragedy happened. She believes Heather spoke to her one day, letting her mom know that she needed to share her story, that she was in fact “Heather’s voice,” which is how Norris’ webpage got its name.
Heathersvoice.net is a resource site that Norris set up for teens that are in abusive relationships. In an interview, Norris offered up advice for parents who think their teens could be involved in an abusive relationship.
“Talk to your kids; know where they are, what they are doing. I’ve had a mother come to me and say she has talked to her daughter until she was blue in the face. She couldn’t do it anymore. I looked at her and said, ‘What if something happens to your daughter? Is that what you want to do? You want to walk away from your child because you’re frustrated and you don’t know what to do?’ I told her to sit with her, talk to her. You never give up. You always let her know you are there,” Norris told The Paper.
Norris’ advice for all parents is to be involved, be in the know about what your kids are doing, and know the signs of abuse. Heather distanced herself from everyone. Her education was put on the back burner, her health and appearance deteriorated. For teens, she warns against falling for the phrases abusers use the most. “I’m sorry,” “I’ve changed,” “It’ll never happen again,” and “I love you.”
“They mean nothing,” Norris said.
Norris and Craig both share their stories with students to bring light to a very serious problem with today’s youth, in hopes of saving a teen’s life and keeping parents from ever having to go through the pain Norris and her family went through after losing Heather.