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Legislator shares family tragedy to help others.

A hush fell across the Alabama House when Rep. Tom Hogan of Jasper took the floor in support of domestic violence legislation on March 9. Hogan, District 13, is the step-grandfather of Virginia Scott Deerman, who was murdered by
her 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'

Whenever 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 cheerleaders.

Childhood 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.

The 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.

Virginia 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.

But 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.

On 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.

That 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 home.

When 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.

At 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.

"Why 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."

"What?" Virginia asked.

"Kill you," he said.

When 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."

Early 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.

Ary 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.

During 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 father:

"Dad I love you, please try to keep my babies together in a good Christian home. Not an orphanage."

The 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."

When 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?"

The 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."

Editor's 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.

Reprinted from the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence Spring/Summer 2000 newsletter

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Poems of Hope
A Bouquet
There's a place for
battered women,
For this I should know

A place of peace and
tranquility,
A good place for the
soul.

I stepped in the place
with fear and fright
Then a smiling face said,
"Everything's all right"

The days and nights are
calm and serene
Much different from the home
where there were
fights and screams.

I thank God for the
people who help me
each day
It's for them, my life is
like a bouquet.

--by a woman who found shelter at Daybreak
Jasper, AL
My Silent Plea
All alone and frightened on the inside,
I say everything's fine, but have plenty to hide
Battered and bruised, but can't tell a soul,
I want out so bad, but he's got control.
Using threats and manipulation to keep me there,
Brainwashing me to think no one would care.
Robbed of my pride and feeling only shame,
He says it's my fault, so I shoulder the blame.
I'm so isolated from my family and friends.
If I ask for their help, he'll bring harm to them.
My heart is breaking, I need help so bad,
Yet I remain silent, lonely and sad.
No one understands the situation anyway,
Fear for my life is why I stay.
You'll never understand 'til you walk in my shoes,
So please don't condemn and say, "How can you…?"
I feel disgraced by your knowing looks,
We're women you know, your neighbors, or mothers
I want respect and love, just like you,
I'm tired of all the threats and abuse.
I feel so helpless, with no where to turn,
For protection and safety, I constantly yearn.
I want to live a life of my own,
Desperately wanting my plight to be known.
I hide the bruises behind make-up and smiles,
Hoping you'll notice, all the while.
Look past the smile, to my lifeless eyes,
Please notice the silence and the reason I'm shy.
Look at the way I limp when I walk,
Realize I won't look at you when I talk,
My movements may be awkward and slow,
I say I fell, but it's from last night's blows.
For every injury, I'll give an excuse,
But please don't turn away and say it's no use.
Notice he won't let me out of his sight,
Giving me no chance to reveal my plight.
Don't confuse his "doting" for love and affection.
Please see it as control, and give me protection.
I'm crying out the only way I know how,
Please reach out to me and help me now.
I long for your trust and the words, "It's okay"
Please reach out to me and show me a way.
To put an end to the fear and pain,
To get back my pride and self-worth again.
I'm desperately needing compassion and help,
I feel there's no one to rely on, only myself.
My frightened cries are longing to be heard,
Please look at the signs, my unspoken words.
Just open your eyes, all the signs are there,
And see my silent plea for someone to care.
For if you ignore my problem and wait,
"One Day" for me, may be just "one Day" too late.

Written by Peneleope House client, a
"Survivor because someone cared."

Reprinted with permission from The Penelope Post newsletter, March 2000.
Living with Mr. Attitude
You wake up happy for a moment or two,
Until he wakes up and snaps at you!
You drive up to say, "love and miss you,"
He turns your feelings quickly into, "The heck with you!"
Everything's wrong, whether it's this or that!
Or what you're near, or where you're at!
It doesn't matter what you say or do,
There's no pleasing "You know who!"

By a client at
Second Chance Shelter, Anniston

Reprinted with permission from 2nd Glance newsletter, third quarter, 2000.

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