Heather Featured in the Arizona Republic

June 10, 2012

Paradise Valley Woman Finds Joy Despite 2 Abusive Marriages

Editor's note: Heather Grossman is a Valley woman who experienced domestic violence in two marriages. She was shot in the neck in 1997 by a man hired by her first husband after their divorce and custody fight; the injury paralyzed her from the shoulders down. She is now an activist for victims' rights and a frequent speaker. She told her story to Republic reporter Megan Finnerty, who transcribed these excerpts and added background; those explanations appear throughout the story in italics. If words were added for context, they appear in parentheses.

Even with all she endured, Grossman's message to any woman in a violent situation is simple:

Leave. No matter what.

Heather married her first husband, Ron Samuels, in 1988.

We had dated for about a year, and the abuse didn't start until after we were married. Ron was very charismatic, kind, compassionate. He had this facade; people liked him. He played this person that was just so perfect.

(He) had thrown plates of lasagna at me, picked me up and thrown me against a wall, (and) grabbed me, leaving bruises I had to cover up. And once, when I was pregnant with the twins, he held a gun to my head and said if I left, he would kill me. But then he would say, "I am so sorry, I promise I'll be better. I don't want to hurt you; I love you. I just don't want you to leave me."

I had a beautiful home, beautiful children, and I was absolutely miserable ... no one should ever stay in a situation where they fear for their life and their children's lives. I felt trapped, like I was suffocating. He was changing me, making me feel like possibly my actions were causing what he was doing to me, or that I was bringing on his temper.

I knew I had to leave (him) when I went to Minnesota in 1992 to visit my family with my son Ronnie, 3, and my twins, Lauren and Joe, who were 12 months old at the time. We spent two weeks there visiting my parents, and we were all so happy. And I wasn't afraid about what I was saying or making a mistake that would upset Ron, and I wasn't living my life on eggshells.

I remember on vacation Ronnie crying to me, saying he didn't want to go back to Florida. And I really didn't want to, either. So my parents and I found a lawyer in Pensacola and I made plans to divorce (Ron). Meanwhile, Ron was in North Carolina, asking me to fly there to our second home and spend time there with the children. But I kept trying to put it off because I didn't want him to know what I was planning.

My nanny, Susan, and I flew back to Pensacola, and I left my children with my parents. I met with my lawyer, and we put together and filed divorce papers and a protective order that talked about the abuse.

I was terrified to even attempt this. I knew I only had a little window to do this before he would become suspicious and would fly to Minnesota, or come to Florida. (Susan and I) rented a U-Haul, and I packed up my clothes in bags, my children's clothes in garbage bags, the twins' cribs. And that night, I lay on the couch, and I literally held a knife against my chest (for protection) because I was so convinced he would be flying in that night. He was calling my parents and they weren't answering their phone, and I wasn't answering my cellphone. And he kept calling the house in Pensacola; the phone just kept ringing.

We left (the next) morning at 6a.m. and we drove straight through. I was terrified. I just wanted to be (back) with my kids. Susan and I kept switching off, and I would be so tired, but I knew I had to get home. I had my heart in my throat. (Ron) was the kind of person who could just charter a plane and be there in the middle of the night to my parents' house; he was a wealthy businessman and had a lot of connections.

Ron fought the divorce; he kept sending me flowers and cards and letters and jewelry and gifts. And I kept sending them back. I left in June of 1992, and my divorce was final in March of 1994. I was scared of Ron because he was abusive to me. But I also felt sorry for him. He played his pity party for so long -- he wanted me back for so long and he wanted the kids back and he wanted to be a family -- he just knew how to word things.

But there was no way I was going to go back to him. I knew I couldn't raise my children in an abusive home.

Finally, when the divorce was over, the children lived with me during the year, and we'd switch holidays and stuff. The children were still very young at this time. We'd have to fly them back and forth from Minnesota to Florida, where Ron still lived, and it was hard on them. He would play mind games with the children, try to make them feel bad that he had to drop them off.

And Ron accused us of child abuse. He would take the kids into the police station to report supposed abuse instead of taking them to the airport. Then he sold his businesses and put his money in the Grand Cayman Islands so as to be able to stop paying child support. There was just one thing after the other. Anything he could do to make my life miserable, he did.

Child Protective Services investigated Heather, her boyfriend at the time, John Grossman, and her parents in Minnesota and found no evidence of abuse. A friend had introduced Heather to John during this time, and he dated her for a year before meeting the kids.

Heather and John Grossman married and moved to Boca Raton, Fla. CPS later investigated that home and found no evidence of abuse.

Heather and John started getting death threats.

We started getting calls in the middle of the night. We'd answer the phone, and someone with a voice we didn't recognize said things like, "You're dead. You're going to be dead. You're going to be shot dead. Watch out."

In 1997, Heather took Ron to court for more than $36,000 in back child support.

I had the hearing, and I literally pleaded. I told the judge we were getting death threats. I told the judge that Ron swore that he would kill me. As I am saying this, in tears, Ron is (in the court room) laughing at me, as I am saying that I fear for my life.

Eight days later, I was going to lunch with John. I went to pick him up at the office. I didn't know that Ron had people stalking us, waiting for us at John's office. We stopped at a light. The shooter was an ex-Marine, in the back seat of a car. He had a sawed-off deer rifle. The bullet came into the back driver's-side window and came into the back of my left neck, on the left side, and blew out the right side of my neck. I died at the scene. The driver and gunman that (Ron) had hired drove around to make sure that they had shot me, and (then) they shot John in the chin.

I was revived by a paramedic who was getting lunch at a Publix grocery store; he was two minutes away. John was grazed. We were in separate ambulances and were brought into the hospital. They thought that I was going to die again. My children were at school. I woke up two days later, and the first thing I thought was, "Did somebody pick up the kids from school?"

There wasn't a question of whether I knew if Ron did this. It was more like: "He finally got me."

I tried so hard to get help, and I tried to tell so many people that I knew it was going to happen. And I felt like they thought that maybe I was hysterical, that I was not thinking right, but I really knew it was going to happen.

The bullet left Heather paralyzed from the shoulders down, making her reliant on a wheelchair, a ventilator and 24-hour nursing care for the rest of her life. She recovered in the intensive-care unit for five weeks while the police tracked down the shooter, driver and an informant. At 1a.m., in police protective custody, Heather and her family were flown to a rehabilitation center in Colorado.

I went under the name Kauffman, because Ron was looking for me and the kids. We put the kids in school there while I was trying to recover and learn how to be a quadriplegic. I had to learn how to swallow, how to eat, how to drink, how to sit up.

The night before I was shot, I ran 6 miles. I came home and I was lying on my daughter's bed, and she was saying, "Before we go to school, would you put a bun in my hair?" Of course, that (next) day, I woke up late and didn't have time to put her hair up. That was the last time I had hands to do her hair, and I didn't have the time.

In 1999, the Grossmans moved to Paradise Valley, partly because it was where John's father lived, and partly because of the warm climate; Heather's body cannot regulate its own temperature.

It was after the shooting that Heather said John Grossman also became abusive. She said he spat on her, slapped her, locked her in a room and threatened her children. He isolated her, and she became estranged from her parents and distant from friends. She estimates that more than 30 nurses or aides quit because of the stressful and frightening environment John created.

She said she endured the abuse from 1998 until June 2002, believing John when he told her that if she left, he'd put their children in foster care and her in a nursing home, where it would be nearly impossible to get the minute-to-minute care she needs. Exacerbating the situation, John's millionaire father paid for Heather's care; at the time, it cost about $400,000 annually. If she left him, John promised she would lose that money.

But with a confidante, a few secret calls from her parents, and finally a call to 911, she said she escaped abuse for a second time. John was removed from their home; Heather changed the locks and pressed charges.

The Paradise Valley Police Department turned over about 680 pages of findings alleging the abuse, but the Maricopa County Attorney's Office declined to prosecute the case, saying there was a lack of evidence, among other reasons. Heather pursued a civil case against John, but she settled out of court and the case has been sealed. Their divorce was final in 2004. John died of a heart attack in 2005.

My case is one of the worse cases that can happen in a domestic-violence situation, and I am fortunate that I lived, because there are so many women in this country who end up dead. And although my life is very hard -- it's not easy being a quadriplegic, and being on a ventilator, and having to rely on nurses and people to take care of you, and it's financially draining on your whole family -- I am thankful that I lived.

I get up every day and I have a plan, and my nurses, who become my friends, literally help me move throughout the day. I am a very active quadriplegic -- I go grocery shopping, I go to the pharmacy myself, and when my kids were growing up here, I went to every sporting event and was very active in their lives.

Today, Heather lives in her Paradise Valley home with her parents and a rotating team of nurses and assistants. She is a consultant for the U.S. Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime and a frequent victims-rights speaker and advocate for victims of domestic violence. She shares her story with judges, police officers, legislators and members of support organizations. She also mentors people who have recently become quadriplegics. She is writing a book and working with the Lifetime network on a movie.

In 2003, Ron Samuels was extradited from Mexico after serving five years in prison there on unrelated drugs and weapons charges. In 2006, he was convicted of the shooting and sentenced to 120 years in a Florida prison without the possibility of parole.

Heather was given seven years to live but has survived for 15.

I am so fortunate, because I've had 15 years to live and enjoy my life with my family and my children and being able to see them grow and being involved in their lives. It has been such a joy.

My faith gave me the strength to say, "I deserve better, even in my wheelchair, and so do my children." Nobody should ever have to put up with someone degrading or abusing them. It was such a hard decision for me, but it was just something I had to do.

I didn't want to be a victim; I wanted to be a survivor. I had so much to lose, but any woman can do it.

Article Source: The Arizona Republic

How You Can Help

Heather Grossman's ex-husband hired a man to kill her in 1997. He was not successful in his attempt to take her life, but the gunshot wound left Heather paralyzed from the neck down. Heather was just 31 years old with three young children. During the years since the incident, Heather's family has been doing everything they can to keep her alive and well, but expenses are high, and they need as much help as they can get.

Since Heather's new website launched on September 21 with the Paypal Donation Options, Heather's family has received donations from quite a few generous people. Please take a moment to see who has donated to Heather's family so far.
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