Vigil speaker recounts violence in relationship
A nightmarish series of events forever altered the life of 1998 Lansing High School graduate and police officer trainee in ways she had never imagined.
Those events came to a head when Jennifer Rodriguez was shot by her ex-boyfriend just before he killed himself last March, after months of harassment via phone calls and e-mails. The gunshot to her abdomen left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Rodriguez spoke about at the 11th annual Candlelight Vigil for the Alliance Against Family Violence, held Saturday evening in the Leavenworth Justice Center, 601 Third St.
"It's something I never thought would happen to me. That's why I wanted to share: It can happen to anybody," she said.
Rodriguez's talk was the emotional locus of the event, and she received a standing ovation from the crowd of about 50 upon finishing.
Rodriguez had known the man who eventually shot her for five years, she said, and they had been in a serious relationship for about a year, she said. He lived in a Chicago suburb, and they had met online. They met when Rodriguez went there for a convention, and they lived together the summer of 2003. Soon afterwards, she broke it off with him.
Rodriguez said she soon realized the two couldn't be friends because the ex-boyfriend became controlling and jealous of her male friends.
In March 2004, the situation became more serious when he left her a telephone message that said, "How dare you not call me back," Rodriguez said.
"That summer, things got so bad, I told him I didn't want him in my life anymore," she said.
He then began leaving disturbing messages on her answering machine and cell phone voicemail, Rodriguez said. She filed a police report in November.
She said she changed her home and cell phone number several times over the next eight months, but each time, he would somehow manage to find her phone number and the calls would resume.
During that time, Rodriguez was training to be a deputy at the Leavenworth County Detention Center.
"I couldn't concentrate," she said. She encouraged the man to go to his parents for help.
But the calls persisted, and after the ex-boyfriend called Rodriguez's then-boyfriend, she called him and he told her, "Do you want to see me blow my brains out?"
Rodriguez called the police department in Indianhead, Ill., the town where the ex-boyfriend lived, to report his suicide threat.
"It was all I could do," she said.
She later said she had assumed the police there would have taken the man to a hospital for a psychiatric examination because that had been the procedure in Wichita when she worked at the police department there. They didn't.
Rodriguez realized in February 2005 that the ex-boyfriend had somehow gotten access to her e-mail account and her cell phone account, which was how he continued to find out when she changed phone numbers. She filed a second police report about his actions.
She spent nights at her mother's in Leavenworth and learned about the possibility of getting a judge-issued order, protection from stalking, filed against her ex-boyfriend. She was able to have one signed immediately upon her presentation of evidence.
Then, two days later, "on March 11, my worst fears came true," Rodriguez said.
It was a day like any other, she said. She had been driving to her mother's when she saw a car on that street turn around, though she said she didn't see the driver's face.
She went to her home in Leavenworth with her dog to get ready for work, and the ex-boyfriend was inside her house when she arrived, stepping out of her bedroom. He had broken in through the back door.
Rodriguez said they struggled physically and then he put the gun down.
"The whole struggle is a blur," Rodriguez said.
Eventually she went to her room to retrieve her own gun, but he stopped her. They faced each other and the ex-boyfriend shot Rodriguez in the abdomen before putting the gun to his head and pulling the trigger.
"The only thing I remember is thinking, 'I'm not going to die,'" Rodriguez said. She made it to her phone and called 911. Seven minutes later, paramedics arrived.
Rodriguez said later that although filing a protection order against the ex-boyfriend didn't do any good in her case - she said she didn't think he even knew of it when he confronted her just two days later - she thinks that if she had filed one earlier it might have. Rodriguez said his knowing of the order might have been enough to keep his behavior from going out of control.
She said one message she wanted to give other women in situation like hers was not to wait to ask for help from authorities.
"I wish I'd followed my instincts," she said. "I didn't even know AAFV existed."
Before Rodriguez, local civic leaders spoke: Leavenworth Police Chief Lee Doehring; Leavenworth County Sheriff David Zoellner; Kansas State Rep. Candy Ruff; and the Rev. Michael Munro, pastor of St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Leavenworth.
Ruff said that as the wife of a police officer, she understood the importance of having police officers trained to deal with domestic violence. She said domestic violence calls were often some of the most dangerous for police officers to respond to.
Munro told the gathering, "I know you (the Alliance) need money, but I see a day when you don't need money. I know you need these meetings, but I see a day when we don't need meetings."
Munro said he envisioned a day when domestic violence awareness campaigns would be read about in history books because they would no longer be necessary.
A fundraiser to help pay for Jennifer Rodriguez's rehabilitative needs is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 19, at Lansing High School.
There will be a pancake breakfast and a silent auction from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., an art camp for students in third through fifth grades from 9 a.m. to noon, and a dodgeball tournament from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Art camp students must be pre-registered by Nov. 11. Cost is $35. To register for the camp, call Tracy Schmidt at 727-3357.
Donations can be made to Jen's Spinal Cord Injury Rehab Fund at Citizen's Savings and Loan Bank, 312 S. Fifth St., Leavenworth 66048.