MOUNT VERNON — As children, they witnessed a horrible event. As adults, they feel incredibly lucky.
As children, some of their memories are fuzzy. As adults, they are still filling in pieces of the puzzle.
On Thursday, brothers Aaron and Jay Allard shared their story about surviving domestic violence. In 1992, 4-year-old Aaron and 3-year-old Jay witnessed the death of their mother, Karen, and 2-year-old sister, Rachael, at the hands of their father.
Jay relates that Karen had a relatively normal, stable childhood. Their father, Jerry, however, was abused as a child and went into the foster care system. He was abused by a foster family and moved between families.
“He got to an age where to be controlled by someone else by force is the way he thought you do things in the world,” said Jay.
Karen and Jerry met while still in high school, went to prom together, got married, and had Aaron and Jay. For a while they lived in Columbus. Jerry had trouble keeping a job; the couple separated for awhile, and after getting back together, had Rachael.
Jerry was dealing with depression, mental health issues, and was involved with the court system. The couple again separated one year after Rachael was born.
The marriage was dissolved in August 1991. Karen had custody of the three children. Visitations with their father went okay at that point.
“He was not really physical with my mom at this point, but he didn't want anyone else to have her. He became very jealous,” said Jay.
Jerry was angry when Karen began seeing someone else. He pushed her into a window and threatened her with a baseball bat. He became more forceful and felt slighted by her progressing relationship. When Karen told him she was getting engaged, that was the last straw.
“He lost it,” said Jay.
In the living room, Jerry forced Karen to take a handful of medicine while holding a knife to Rachael's throat. He then fatally stabbed Karen and Rachael multiple times.
“He used her concern for Rachel as a weapon to control her,” said Aaron.
The brothers ran into the bathroom, with Aaron pushing his little brother into the cabinet under the sink. Jerry followed them, trying to force Aaron to also take medicine. Jay recalls his father trying to cut Aaron, too.
Because a prearranged phone call from Karen to her mom didn't occur, Karen's mom became concerned. Law enforcement was called and broke into the house. Karen's mom also arrived. Jay relates that his father wanted to talk to his mother-in-law and tell her what he did.
“She went in and had a conversation with the man who just took her daughter's life,” said Jay.
Jay said he has three memories from an early age. After his mother and sister's death, he doesn't recall much. Aaron remembers more and testified at his father's trial.
Aaron said that in researching domestic violence as an adult, several themes kept recurring. Looking back, he sees those themes in his father's situation. Those themes include:
- History of mental health issues
- Abusive foster families
- Attempts to isolate victim
- Degrade victim's self-esteem
- Make victim financially dependent
- Victim has serious barriers getting out of the situation
“My father was a victim of abuse while in a foster family,” said Aaron. “It created the feeling of being powerless and no control.”
Barriers to getting out of the situation include economic (the victim depends on the perpetrator for support), control issues, and frequent moves that create space and distance between people.
“Being in Columbus put more distance [between my mom and her family], so some of these red lights, these flashing things, didn't come up because no one was around,” said Aaron.
“If you have any sort of place, even a crappy place, it's better than being out on the street,” said Jay. “It's essentially a systematic attack on your support network and your esteem, so you begin to think there's no other choice.”
Aaron said a perpetrator takes advantage of the positive or good in the victim: the victim's desire to work things out and to help the person. The perpetrator will also hold kids as hostages.
Aaron said that seldom is there a “straight line of escalation.” Rather, it's a cycle of violence and fights followed by remorse and apologies.
“It's not the pure violence,” he said. “Instead, it's the hope and optimism that this is just a passing phase.”
Healing and Growth
After the death of their mother and sister, Aaron and Jay lived with their maternal grandparents. The brothers said that in their grandparents' household, there was no fuss. But there was lots of love.
“I feel I am incredibly lucky and blessed for someone who lost their family,” said Aaron, who lives in San Antonio, TX, and practices as a U.S. Air Force lawyer. “Rather than see myself with an unfortunate loss of my mother, it's how incredibly lucky I am to have such love and support.”
“If things would have continued and we lived in that violent, controlling situation … I think it turned out better living with our grandparents than in that volatile environment,” said Jay, who lives in Athens, OH, works in telecommunications, and has a 2 1/2-year-old daughter.
Aaron said that his grandmother wrote letters to the boys' teachers, alerting them of their background. She also wrote to the judge on the case, law enforcement personnel who were involved, and others, updating them on the boys' progress. Through it, Aaron said that he learned “opening up is good.”
“The difficult thing is your memory processes what you've heard vs. what you actually remember,” he said.
“We're still getting pieces of the story,” said Jay. “It's a little confusing, but it helps with the whole big picture.”
Returning to Knox County about 10 years ago, Aaron said that he kept running into people involved with the case. They would tell him bits and pieces from their perspective.
“Victim advocates, law enforcement, jurors, court personnel, the medical staff … I don't think we think about all of those people. They all have isolated parts of the story,” he said. “It made me realize I wanted and needed to talk about this.”
“Everyone is affected by what happens to one person or two people,” agreed Jay. “How I feel about it is completely different from my brother.”
Jay said that he wonders why it had to be Rachael and not him.
“I was his favorite. I was untouched,” he said. “It affects your entire life. All of your relationships. You think you finally get a handle on it, and then something happens and you don't.”
The event and its aftermath, including the support and stability he received from the prosecutor's office and attorneys, led Aaron to become a lawyer.
“I wanted to be able to help and make things better instead of being the victim,” he said.
As a 14- and 15-year-old, Jay said that he was sensitive to anger in other people and thought it was an ugly trait. He went to the other end of the spectrum.
“I spent a lot of time rescuing people, because I wish someone had rescued me,” he said. “If I'm able to make other people's life better, I thought, 'yeah, I'm going to do that.' Without judging, without asking questions.
“I didn't become a prosecutor, but I spent my life being kind and helpful.”
Jay has advice to friends and family of someone in a domestic violence situation: “Don't judge them, don't tell them what to do. Be nice, help with groceries. Be someone they can trust and believe, and they will make their own moves to get there.”
Aaron said that the thing he is most left with was to have a good, stable family, moving from an alcoholic father to stable grandparents to having his own family. He and his wife have three children, ages 4, 2, and 12 weeks.
“The last piece for me is gratitude,” he said. “There are opportunities for good things to happen.”