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Grayson woman breaks silence on abuse

LAWRENCEVILLE - Parish Parker has a daily reminder of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband - a thick, dark purplish scar running across her neck where he sliced her throat open with a meat cleaver.

That wound has healed, but Parker is still nursing emotional trauma that makes her do funny things. She gets up during the night to check the locks on her doors and windows, even when the alarm system is set. Fearing an attack from behind, she never sits with her back to a door.

The 38-year-old Grayson resident couldn't have foreseen that her marriage would spiral into violence and domination when she met her future husband, James Weaver, in 1995. But subsequent police reports and medical records document the escalating violence, leading up to attempted murder and suicide.

When she met Weaver, Parker had just joined the U.S. Army and relocated to San Antonio, Texas, from Virginia with her 8-year-old son. In a new place, isolated from her friends and family, Parker welcomed the attention he lavished on her.

Weaver, who was a medic in the Army, left little gifts on her desk, called her dozens of times a day and took her out to lunch. They began dating, and within six months, he moved in with her. Weaver was attentive, smart and good-looking. There was no sign of abusive tendencies, Parker said.

Seven months later, the couple was married in June 1996. The first red flag would come within days.

While Weaver was on the phone with his brother discussing the wedding, he joked, 'Well, yeah, now I've got a license to beat her,' Parker said.

When she confronted him, Weaver laughed and said he was just playing.

"He was like, 'You know I'm never going to hurt you,'" Parker said.

"Two weeks after that, he pushed me into a wall."

Overshadowed

The beatings continued with disturbing regularity after that, about once every week or so. Parker kept the bruises a secret, even from her closest friends and family.

It wasn't too difficult to do, since Weaver had begun systematically cutting her off from the outside world. He stayed home all the time so he could monitor her activities closely. He often wouldn't let her answer the phone.

"At first it was cute because he loved me so much he just wanted to be there with me," Parker said. "I didn't look at it like jealousy at that time, but now that I can look back at it and see clearly it was jealousy and possessiveness. There was just so many things going on that I didn't even recognize."

Weaver would often start a fight with her and leave the barracks, taking her car keys and the phone with him so that she was stranded. Fortunately, Weaver never struck her in the presence of her son or became violent with the boy, Parker said.

Fed up with being under her husband's thumb, Parker asked the Army to transfer her for a year to a military base in Hawaii. She requested a "dependent restricted" transfer, meaning Weaver wouldn't be allowed to accompany her.

"I was praying then when I leave hopefully he won't want me when I come back," Parker said.

When Parker returned to San Antonio in August of 1998, she moved back in with her husband. But after spending five or six weeks back home with him, she decided to end their marriage on Sept. 24, 1998.

Weaver did not take the news well.

One life lost,

another life renewed

Parker turned to walk into the house from the backyard, and that's when Weaver came up behind her with a plastic chair. He cracked the chair over her head, and she fell forward into a glass door, breaking it.

Parker, feeling the blood on her head, looked up and said, "James, what are you doing? I'm bleeding."

"He said, 'I'm gonna kill you,'" Parker said.

He went inside and came back with a dull cake knife. Weaver took several swipes at her, but the blade wouldn't break Parker's skin. He dropped it and went back into the house.

Parker seized a chance for escape and began running toward the fence, hoping she could jump over it to seek help from a neighbor. But while she was distracted trying to dial 911 from a cell phone, Parker slipped and fell.

Then Weaver was on her again.

This time Weaver had grabbed a meat cleaver, which he used to slice her throat from one side to the other. The assault severed Parker's esophagus and came to within a half an inch of both the carotid arteries and vocal chords. At some point during the struggle, Parker tried to grab the knife, and the blade also severed a tendon and a nerve in her hand.

Fortunately, a neighbor saw the struggle and called police.

By the time officers arrived and Parker was taken to a hospital, she had lost almost nine pints of blood - just a pint shy of the total amount in an average human's body.

"The doctors thought I wasn't going to make it," Parker said. "I was in the hospital for 35 days, and they didn't think I'd be able to swallow again."

Even after being discharged, Parker had to be fed through a tube for 6 months. She also underwent three more surgeries on her neck and two on her hand.

Weaver fled the scene after the attack. Seven hours later, while police were still out looking for him, Weaver's car ran off the roadway into an embankment on Interstate 10 in Texas.

Officers who arrived to assist saw Weaver step out into oncoming traffic. He was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer.

A sympathetic ear,

a strong voice

Nowadays, Parker is helping other women confront the demons she once faced. After moving home to Virginia for six years, she relocated again to Grayson in 2004 when her son graduated from high school.

Parker began volunteering with the Partnership for Domestic Violence (PADV) crisis hotline in February. She recently began working full time as a shelter advocate. Parker listens to tales of abuse and helps women develop a safety plan to extricate themselves from

danger.

Mainly, she advises women never to tell their intimate partner that they want out. Instead, Parker recommends the victims leave while their batterer is gone and go someplace he will not know about.

"If I knew then what I know, it wouldn't have happened because I would've been more prepared," Parker said. "I never thought that he would go that far."

Developing a safety plan is the single most important thing a victim of domestic abuse can do, said Susan Berryman Rodriguez, director of community relations for the PADV.

Parker is also scheduled as one of three speakers today at the Domestic Violence Speak Out held annually at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. The event is held every October to commemorate National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and is hosted by PADV.

Although she has some jitters about speaking in public, Parker knows her story is powerful and important.

So does the CEO of Partnership Against Domestic Violence, Cathy Willis Spraetz.

"It is unfathomable that in this day and age, women like Parish are experiencing brutal violence at the hands of someone who had promised to love and respect them," Spraetz said. "Despite her life-threatening injuries, she was one of the lucky ones because she is alive today."

Last year, more than 80 women, children and men were killed in acts of domestic violence, Spraetz said.

If you go

•What: Domestic Violence Speak Out

•When: 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. today

•Where: Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center at 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville

•Cost: Free

By the numbers

•93 people in Georgia were killed because of intimate partner violence between Aug. 1, 2004, and Aug. 31, 2005.

•In 2002, there were 61,355 occurrences of family violence in Georgia, and nearly 80 percent of the aggressors were male.

•About 5.3 million intimate partner victimizations occur each year among U.S. women. This violence results in almost 2 million injuries annually.

•Estimates indicate more than 1 million women and 371,000 men are stalked by intimate partners each year in the United States.

•Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44, more common than automobile accidents, muggings and cancer deaths combined.

•Half of all women will experience some form of violence from their partners during marriage, and more than one third are battered repeatedly every year.

•Each year, an estimated 3.3 million children witness their mothers or female caretakers being abused.

•In the United States, researchers estimate that 40 to 70 percent of female murder victims were killed by their husbands or boyfriends, frequently in the context of an ongoing abusive relationship.

* Information provided by the Partnership Against Domestic Violence. If you are experiencing abuse at the hands of a loved one, call the agency's 24-hour crisis hotline at 770-963-9799.