ex-boyfriend in February. Her murder instilled in the Walker County
legislator greater urgency for domestic violence legislation, notedly
the holding period bill on domestic violence arrests. "Virginia might
be alive today if there had been a 'cooling off' period for the
offender [in jail]," he said. After Hogan spoke, heated arguments
ended; the House passed the bill overwhelmingly.
"You can't describe
that pain; it is almost beyond words," Hogan recalled of the morning he
received the call from his son-in-law about Virginia's death. "I've
never had anything that has had that much impact on me."
"The first thing I
thought about were her children, and what would happen to them...It's a
total loss, without any good. It's such a feeling of helplessness and
frustration. When I think about what could be and what is, it's enough
to make a grown man cry."
Hogan hopes some good
can come from the tragedy--that sharing Virginia's story will move
others to help protect victims, a conviction her father, Ralph Scott,
shares. "If we just save one woman and keep children from not losing
their mother, it will be worth it," Hogan said. "If it helps get a bill
passed on domestic violence, it would be worth it."
'She always had a
smile on her face'
visitors came to her first-grade Sunday School class, Virginia was the
first one to get up, greet them and make them feel welcome. Outgoing
and big-hearted, Virginia--or "Ginger"--as she was known to her family
and friends, was the kind of person who always had a smile on her face.
Even as a child of six, her warmth and kindness was exceptional, her
Sunday School teacher remembers.
In a black and white photo from the family
album, smiling six-year-old Virginia, wearing a long dress with
ruffles, stands next to her father, who holds the basketball trophy for
the church team he coached. Her childhood friend stands in front with
her, wearing a hat, and holding a stuffed toy rabbit. The team stands
behind them: Virginia and her friend were their small but enthusiastic
innocence and ruffles, big smiles and cheers however, can end
tragically years later in a nightmare of fear, sorrow, and horror. At
age 31, Virginia Scott Deerman was murdered by her abusive ex-boyfriend
in her home in Berry on Feb. 10. Her three children, ages 9, 6, and 4,
now face life without their mother.
day before her murder Virginia had signed a warrant against James Ary,
her ex-boyfriend, after he threatened to kill her. He quickly posted
bond and acted on his threat, killing her the next morning.
had a nearly storybook childhood, growing up in the affluent Vestavia
Hills suburb of Birmingham, as an only child. She wore ponytails to
church, taught her friend the song, "Do Lord" and kept a journal of her
favorite hymns. "Seeking the Lost" topped the list for some time. She
and her childhood friend enjoyed church picnics and youth retreats.
Virginia played flute in the award-winning school band, was a Girl
Scout, and later played softball in the city's recreational league. A
graduate of Vestavia Hills High School, she attended the University of
Alabama for two years, where she played flute in the marching band. She
then married and quit school to work and support her family. After a
divorce a few years later, Virginia and her three children moved to
Berry, a quiet Fayette County town of 1,200, not far from her father's
home. She eventually got a job with the local lumber company, and was
commended for excellence in grading lumber. A hard worker, she always
kept going; last fall she went back to work one day after breaking her
leg. Her children were her priority. Last year, Virginia returned to
church, took her children to Sunday School, and broke up with Ary. She
was getting her life "back on track," her father said.
Ary would not leave her alone. A friend of Virginia's recalls that he
constantly drove by her house, continued to abuse her, followed her
around their small town, and even jumped in her car when she stopped at
a stop sign. Her car, which she needed to get to work, was vandalized.
One car was destroyed because sugar was put in the gas tank. On another
car, two sets of tires were slashed; her power steering cut. Her
children's trampoline was destroyed. Tired of the harassment, Virginia
and her father talked to a judge last fall, who suggested she try to
get "proof" that Ary was the offender, suggesting she keep lists, get
witnesses and videotape his actions, her father said. She signed a
warrant for harassment against Ary in December.
Feb. 9, in the courthouse for a hearing on the harassment charge, Ary
threatened to kill Virginia. She signed another warrant against him.
Ary was immediately jailed on $1,000 bond and ordered to "have no
contact with Virginia Deerman in any manner." Just over an hour later,
he posted bond and was freed.
evening, Virginia went to her best friend's home to borrow her
camcorder to get "proof" of Ary’s harassment. "She was frightened,"
recalled her friend, who asked not to be named. Sensing her fear, her
friend offered to bring her children and spend the night at Deerman's
Ary began driving by the house at 7 p.m., her friend said, Virginia
called the police. The police chief did surveillance on her home until
9 p.m., her father said.
1 a.m., the women and children screamed in terror as Ary broke into the
home, shot a hole in the roof and "our nightmare began," her friend
recalled. Ary had a 12-gauge shotgun, ammunition, a rope and knife,
which he had used to cut the phone line so they could not call for
help. The tragedy of Feb. 10 was compounded by the last horrifying
hours of Virginia's life, as she, her best friend and their five
children were held hostage for five hours. "We knew we were going to
die," remembers her friend. One of the children tried to escape through
a window, but Ary stopped him. Her friend recalls the questions
Virginia asked Ary, and his reply.
are you here? Why are you tormenting us? Why don't you leave us alone?"
Virginia asked. Ary pointed the gun at her and said: "I told you what I
was going to do."
you," he said.
Ary pointed the gun at the children, Virginia's friend grabbed it,
trying to wrestle it away. Ary began beating Virginia until her friend
loosened her grip, then he beat the friend in the head with the gun.
During the dark hours, with only the television for light, the women
asked to write farewell letters. Virginia's friend also wrote
instructions for her funeral. "It was terrifying," she said. "We didn’t
know what would happen from one minute to the next."
in the morning, Ary set the gun down and Virginia quickly grabbed it.
Both women struggled with Ary for it, yelling for their children to get
out. Virginia's four-year-old wouldn’t leave her mama; one of the older
children carried her out. The children ran to a neighbor’s house and
Virginia’s six-year-old son called 911.
got the gun back and screamed at Virginia to write a retraction of the
harassment charge. "I'm not going to jail," he said. As Virginia tried
to get away, he shot her in the back and killed her. Ary shot at the
friend, but missed. Then he killed himself. The police chief heard
shots, according to his report.
the long night, Virginia had asked Ary not to kill her. "You know my
babies don't have anybody but me to take care of them," she told him.
In her farewell letter to her children, her ‘angels,’ she writes: "I
love you with all my heart." She concludes with a message to her
I love you, please try to keep my babies together in a good Christian
home. Not an orphanage."
violence and terror of that tragic night stays with them all. "I don't
sleep at night," says Virginia’s friend, who had recited Psalm 23
during the ordeal. "She was the kindest person I've ever known. She
would do anything for you."
Virginia's four-year-old daughter spent the night at her grandfather’s
house, she asked, "PawPaw, I'm not going to have to sleep by the window
am I? No one is going to be shooting through the window are they?"
Earlier, her oldest son had asked: "PawPaw, why are people so mean?"
children live with the shattered tragedy of the past and the
uncertainty of the future. Their grandfather is too ill with life-long
polio to care for them full time. They spent this Mother’s Day together
putting flowers and balloons on their mother’s grave. As they released
an "I love you" balloon into the air, her oldest said: "You know,
PawPaw, that balloon won’t reach heaven."
note: Virginia Deerman's murder was the second domestic violence murder
in Berry in five days. William "Joey" Simmons, 38, was charged with the
Feb. 6 strangulation murder of his wife, Janet Marie Simmons, 36. On
May 12, he pled guilty to manslaughter; he was sentenced to 20 years.
from the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence Spring/Summer 2000