Shayna Richards never thought anything like this could happen. She never imagined she would have to bury her 19-year-old daughter.
Shayna now knows it was a textbook case of domestic abuse and murder. There's nothing she can do now for her daughter, Liz, but she desperately wants to keep this from happening to any other young woman.
Liz Richards was an adorable little girl. Home movies of her when she was just two years old, show her angelic round face, big brown eyes, and soft red curls.
"She had the biggest smile. Filled the room. She was a joy," said Shayna.
After watching the videos, the similarities are profound in Liz's two-year-old son, Jay. He has the same round face, same big brown eyes, and a hint of the family's signature red hair.
The last time Richards saw her daughter was a routine day on Jan. 5, 2018.
"She was going out the door, actually. She'd run home and was going out the door and I just - she was in and out quick. I just said, 'Goodbye,'" Shayna said, fighting tears.
"I didn't even get to hug her," she said, tears finally breaching the guarded, strong exterior of a mom now raising her grandson. "I wish I could've just hugged her one more time."
The next day started out normal, too. Shayna was taking down her Christmas tree.
It was Jan. 6, 2018. Liz was 19. She'd been living with Shayna since leaving her boyfriend, Jay's dad.
Liz wasn't responding to texts. So, Shayna called Liz's friend and learned Liz had gone to drop Jay off with his dad that morning. The whole day passed. Worry built through the day and by 5 p.m., Shayna was so concerned, she had to do something.
"I just wasn't getting any answer and I was texting everybody and finally I just decided to go over there," she said.
A friend drove her to Liz's ex-boyfriend's parent's house, which is where he was living. As they pulled up to the home, a sense of panic started to set in.
"I just saw all the police cars and caution tape and I knew. I knew right then when we rolled up something had happened. I knew it was bad. I just knew," said Shayna, gazing as if her mind was taking her back to that day.
Something awful had happened. Liz had been found, her arms and mouth bound with duct tape behind her back. She'd been shot in the head.
Little Jay was near her body. He appeared unharmed. No physical injuries, at least.
Jay's dad was arrested. Charged with murder. Prosecutors said he'd recently purchased the gun and bought duct tape the day before. They said he planned this.
A Classic Example
Experts called this a textbook case of a domestic violence homicide.
"70 percent of the female victims that are killed by their intimate partners are killed as they're attempting to leave the relationship or have already left. That's the most dangerous time for a victim in a domestic violence situation," said Lupe Silva, a social worker from Rose Brooks Center.
Silva spends half her time in the Domestic Violence Division of the Kansas City Police Department.
She said victims can be any age, but the most common age group affected is women ages 18 to 24. Silva said if Rose Brooks Center is involved, they can sometimes help a victim get away safely.
"We advise them not to tell the partner that they're in the process of leaving because this is even more dangerous because this is when the abuser starts to lose power and control over the person and that's when the violence seems to escalate," said Silva.
She said sometimes young women will even refrain from filing an order of protection because it can escalate the situation before they can make sure they're safe. Even then, there's no guarantee.
From 2010 to June 18, 2018, KCPD has written 38,562 reports about domestic violence in Kansas City. That's approximately 4,500 reports a year.
This is not the number of calls they get, this is actual police reports written. The number of calls would be much higher.
81 homicides in that time frame are known to be cases of domestic abuse. The data indicates about 10 people a year - most of them women - are killed in our city by an abuser.
In some cases, violence escalated over time. In others, there was no indication of abuse before the murders.
Shayna said Liz and her boyfriend had fought before. According to Shayna, Liz had filed a police report late last year for abuse and had moved back home with her mom.
Shayna was concerned, but never imagined it would come to this.
"Not in a million years," she said, adamantly.
She still has a hard time believing it really happened, even five months after the fact.
Shayna said Liz was proud of getting out of what she called an abusive relationship and that Liz would be standing with her today to raise awareness and warn others if she could.
"They can keep telling you how much they love you but if someone loves you they don't hurt you. They don't. And they don't keep hurting you. If it happens once, it's going to happen again. You gotta get out the first time. Don't wait," said Shayna.
The Path Forward
Shayna works at a local school as part of the kitchen staff. She spends her days working to make sure Jay is happy and healthy. She is unsure of what the future holds. She is unsure how she'll afford the legal fees as she fights to get justice for Liz. She is unsure of how she'll afford all Jay will need as he grows. She isn't sure how she afford the work her van needs right now. But she is sure of one thing - that her purpose in life now is to make sure Jay is okay.
"I hope that he is happy and healthy and vibrant and continues to keep his mom's attitude and love life. and be able to get past this," said Shayna.