I wanted to share our story hoping that our message would get across to others to speak out against family violence and domestic abuse. We cannot let our mothers, sisters, daughters, parents, children, friends, and neighbours suffer from physical, emotional or verbal abuse anymore, they must not die anymore. Laws have to change, government programs have to change. There should be a safe place for everyone who needs to be in a safe place. My family and I want to help change that and maybe our story will motivate someone to speak out; or help make changes. Reported statistics of all forms of domestic and family violence are disgustingly high, and we can assume that these numbers are much higher since so much of it is not reported. We are more aware through media and television of the many types of abuse running rampant through our society and around the world. This is one story of what is becoming an epidemic in our society today.
My daughter, Jessica Ryan Martel, was murdered by her common-law husband James Urbaniak on April 29, 2009.
When my daughter first started dating James about 11 years ago, I had an uneasy feeling about him. I had heard about his abusive behaviour from friends and family and had questioned Jessica about it. She assured me that he had changed and was treating her well. Things went along and I started noticing small things that bothered me; he was very rude to her, put her down a lot, was drinking and smoking pot frequently and he couldn’t seem to keep a job. I questioned her again. She assured me that things were okay. They moved in together and things got worse. He lost another job and stopped worrying about it. Jessica had a job so he figured she could support him for awhile. His drinking got worse. They would argue constantly. She told him that she was going to leave and he hit her for the first time. The police were called. He had also assaulted my uncle because he had gone to see if Jessica was ok before anyone could arrive. Jess and James lived in my uncle’s basement suite at the time. James was put in jail for the night to sober up, then let out. He begged and pleaded with Jess not to leave him. And she stayed. She was young and naive and thought she could help him change. Her love was never enough. She had compassion for him because he was a victim of family violence. But family violence that is not reported, hidden or denied by the abusers has devastating effects on the abused. They often become the abuser or the abused. Patterns repeated. In fact Jessica was repeating my own mistakes. I too had lived with an abuser which I escaped in my first marriage. I knew the signs. I kept an eye on her constantly. I visited her daily, often helping out financially because she was having trouble supporting them both. He convinced her to move away and told her he had a job and that things would be better and they moved to Hinton with his mother. He wanted her away from me.
Things went from bad to worse and Jessica left him for the first time. She came to live with my husband and I. He kept calling and calling and I begged her not to go back. She found out she was pregnant. They got back together for the baby and things did change for a while. He found a job and they moved into their own place. He was still verbally abusive with her. He was very controlling and would often stop her from seeing friends or participating in courses or activities. I questioned her again. I was really starting to worry about her. He was very manipulative. He was keeping her broke, stealing her tip money to buy what he needed, often leaving her without money for diapers and milk. She would call me embarrassed and sad because she needed money again. He was extremely jealous, accusing her of cheating with fellow co-workers. He called her every bad name imaginable. He broke her spirit. She loved her children and was an amazing mother.
She basically raised her children alone because he was too selfish to give up his own needs than help her out. He never attended his children’s events. He barely ever came to family functions and often made it difficult for her to enjoy them. He took the joy she had for her children from her. She was often overwhelmed by the behaviour of the children. From years of witnessing family violence, a pattern was forming. She was very concerned about them and was considering seeking help but he wouldn’t allow it. She was an amazing singer and writer but he would criticize her so much she lost joy in it. We begged her to leave but she was frightened not only for herself but for us as well. She did not want to report him because he would use her children as threats to keep her quiet. She felt scared of what he would do to her if he found out. We contacted Women’s Shelters only to be told that there was a 6-8 week wait to get into one. We made many phone calls often hitting one road block after another. She couldn’t have him charged because she couldn’t prove the physical abuse. He got good at being able to hurt her where people wouldn’t notice and she got good at not saying anything. The last straw for Jessica came during a fight about James’ mom and her upcoming birthday and also their daughter’s birthday. He did not want to go plus he did not want her to go. The argument continued for weeks and finally erupted. James left home with one of the kids and was threatening her. She was told not to call the police or else. She was hysterical and called me. I rushed to her house and was trying to calm her down and decide what to do. I could see James driving up and down the street and looking at my car. After about 20 minutes he calls Jessica and I can hear him in the background screaming “tell you mother to get the f#$#$ out of our house or I’m not coming home.” He said many more things that made Jessica feel threatened and she begged me to go. I did not want to but she was persistent. She wanted her child back. We didn’t feel we could call the police because what would they charge him with? It would only make him furious. We began to make a plan and I left and he returned home. I drove up and down the street for a very long time. She called me and told me to go home, she was ok. She begged me to keep quiet for now. I was already thinking of ways to get her out. I took Jessica to our family doctor and I secretly told as many people in my circle as I could about my fears. I was trying to figure out where I could hide her and the kids to keep her safe. He knew where all my family members lived so we did not feel safe taking her there. He had threatened my dad before. I was becoming very uneasy and wanted her out.
On April 29, 2009 Jessica decided it was time. We discussed our plan for hours on the phone. We were very scared that he would find out but we had to do it. My husband and I were going to pick her and the kids up at 8:00 pm and pretend they were coming for a visit. We were going to carry on with our day and not raise his suspicions. But he came home and found out she was leaving. I had tried to call Jessica again in the afternoon but she did not answer. I had a feeling in my stomach that wouldn’t go away. I went to work but I was having trouble concentrating. Around 7 pm I heard Jessica’s voice yell out to me. It seemed so real that I left work to go to her house. Halfway there I returned back to work and said this is ridiculous, just stick to the plan. My uneasiness just grew so I called my husband. I knew as soon as he answered the phone that something horrible had happened. I asked him what was going on and he said “Lynne, please just get over here to Jessica’s.” We only lived 5 minutes away but I think I was there in two.
The scene that awaited me was from something movies are made of. Part of me was thinking this is not real. Part of me was already screaming. Police officers were everywhere. I noticed a coupleof ambulances too. Then I saw Lawrence talking to a police officer. He came towards me and wrapped his arms around me. He is telling me he is so sorry but Jessica is dead. James killed her. I started yelling that it was not true as I tried to get inside to see her. They wouldn’t let me in. Lawrence was gently trying to pull me away. My husband was telling me how he had gotten a call from James’ mom and she told him to get to Jessica’s right away, that Jess and James were fighting and he should intervene. Lawrence rushed over only to walk in and find our daughter severely beaten and strangled to death just feet from the front door. I can’t even imagine what a horrible experience that was for him. He will see that picture for the rest of his life. I started to panic because I could not see the children. Lawrence had found them huddled in their rooms with blood on their clothes and in shock. He had carried them out to the car to wait for me. I will never forget the look on their faces as they sat crying in my husband’s car. It will be a look that haunts me forever. They were extremely horrified and frightened. They kept saying “daddy killed mommy, is daddy gonna get us too?” They had witnessed their mom being savagely beaten, stabbed and strangled to death. No child should ever have to witness that. James was still in the house with the police. What a coward, he had tried to harm himself. At that point my memory is very foggy.
The next time I would see my daughter was at the funeral home. There was so much damage to her face it was hard to cover with makeup. Her lips were distorted and looked like she had suffered immensely. I did not know how I was going to make it through this let alone help 3 very traumatized children. Our lives changed drastically for my husband and me. We were left to pick up the pieces. Our dreams had to change. We have adopted our grandchildren and we hope that being in a positive environment will help them heal. My youngest daughter has been truly impacted as well. She no longer has a sister, a confidant. She no longer has the same relationship with me, no more special mother-daughter moments because I have no time. I am consumed with healing Jessica’s children. Family and friends are affected. The whole community suffers. The statistics for domestic abuse are already alarmingly high in our community. Sadly statistics only count the cases that are reported, not the ones suffering in fear and silence. Abusers torment not only women, but children, who are too young to defend themselves, or are made to see things they should not see.
In the past 2 years we have felt like we live in an abusive relationship ourselves, often being abused by our grandchildren. We have not slept well, often awakened by screams. It took us 18 months to get them to sleep in their own bed. Sometimes I would wake up to hands around my neck, my grandson having a horrible nightmare, screaming “stop daddy, stop”. They are gripped with anxiety and fear. They do not trust. They have difficulties doing the things that most children love. It will take many years to help the children heal and overcome their fears. We are all receiving help in many ways. It will take years to unlearn the behaviours that were modelled for them. For my husband and me, we need to take the time to heal ourselves too. Sharing our story is a way for us to do that. Also, with the help of family and friends, we would like to start a memorial foundation in Jessica’s name. Our hopes are that this fund will help families leave their abusive home with some funding, knowledge and a safe place to go. We would like to educate ourselves, family, friends and our communities on how to come forward and offer safe options to families living in fear. We would also like to educate teenage girls about the signs of domestic abuse, where they can go to talk to someone about it or to get help. And our big goal is to build a Women’s Shelter in our county.
Jessica did not deserve to die. She had a right to live her life in peace and happiness. To enjoy her children and watch them grow. It is a shame that she feared for her life and those of her children and family. I know there are people out there who are ready to judge Jessica. “Why didn’t she leave him?” “Why didn’t she call the police?” “Why have more kids?” etc. Heck, I asked her some of those questions myself. But it is not so easy to judge. We are not the ones living in constant fear and turmoil. Wondering how do I get myself and my children out safely. Until we are in their situation do we begin to understand.
I beg you now to step forward and help victims speak up. Let’s show them that they are not alone, and that safety is within their reach. If you know of or have suspicions of abuse being committed, reach out before it is too late! Do not be reluctant or afraid. It will make a difference.
– Lynne Rosychuk