WHEN ABUSE TURNS DEADLY - THE AUDRA AND CAROL SAUNDERS STORY


Five years ago my life was changed. Today, I remember my friends Audra and Carol Sanders, and Carol's brother, Tom Fitzpatrick who lost their lives at the hands of an abuser.

"It all ends now" the foretelling words of a tyrant to his terrified wife and daughter, 51-year-old Carol Sanders and 14-year-old Audra as they cowered on the ground, according to a restraining order petition filed by Carol in October of 2013.


Michael Sanders was depicted as a man who was as erratic and prone to violent outbursts, but I knew him differently.  I knew him personally.  In the beginning, I had no way of knowing that he would be a murderer.

Carol and I met in the kindergarten parking lot of our daughters elementary school.  She was quiet and intelligent and never seemed overly emotional. On the contrary, she was bold and she was stoic and strong.  Her husband Mike seemed like a doting father.  He was at every game, every school play, every drop off and pick up from school and he would bring the family dog in tow.  By all appearances they had a normal, healthy and happy family life. Appearances can be deceiving.


Behind closed doors, there was a very different story. Carol was fearful for her life. On one occasion, Mike raged at his wife because she purchased some fish at the grocery store and forgot it in the car. According to Carols' account in a court document, when she arrived at home, Michael Sanders screamed expletives at her, threw the remaining groceries around the house and punched several holes in the wall of the family's garage. Later that day, he told his wife that she had "30 days" to get money from her mother to pay off the home or he'd "burn it down with her in it. He was preparing for something.  He didn't work and lived off of Carol's income.


As the years progressed, his control and violent antics increased and she finally opened up to myself and her closest friends and told us she needed to get out because she was afraid for her life. 

Someone might ask why she didn't leave sooner, of why she would have any difficulty in leaving at all...Unfortunately, many women stay because they are in fear for their lives or the lives of their children.  Women stay because they are reliant on the abusers income.  Women stay because they hope he will change. Mike threatened to kill Carol if she left.  He told her that if she left, she may get away but he would kill her mother and her family. So, what does a woman do if they find themselves in that situation?


Carol had money, she had good friends, and after enduring over ten years of abuse, she even had a plan...

Here is what Carol did:

1) She told her friends

2) She went to a psychologist 

3) She planned her escape

4) She told her family

5) She moved out of the house in the middle of the night with her daughter

6) She got a restraining order

7) She was open about the abuse and control to her legal advisor

8) She kept her daughter by her side at all times

9) She went to court to set up child visitation rights and the court allowed the father visitation with court appointed supervision only.

- she then let her guard down...

10) After the court appearance, she went to ice cream with her daughter

11) Carol went back to her home with her daughter and her brother who was armed with a shotgun to get the rest of her belongings.


On that same day, Carol's estranged ex husband Michael Sanders fatally shot Carol, Audra and Carol's brother, 49-year-old Tom Fitzpatrick at their home in northeast Phoenix, police said. He then turned the gun on himself. Mike had contacted a neighbor and asked them to contact him if they saw Carol at the house.  He told them he needed to speak to her, and without the neighbors having any idea of the heinous plan he had for his family, the neighbor made that fatal call.


The victims were found scattered throughout the property. Carol Sanders was found on fire in the backyard, Audra Sanders was found dead inside the home from a gun shot wound to the back and Carol's brother was found in the front yard dead from a gunshot wound to the chest. Later, Michael's body was found in the alley behind the home, dead from a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Just seven hours before the killings, Michael and Carol Sanders appeared at an order-of-protection hearing in a Maricopa County courtroom at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Michael, an unemployed Phoenix man, was challenging the restraining order his wife got in October. She had filed for divorce Oct. 14, citing domestic violence.


The judge declined to lift the order, Carol's attorney Leslie Satterlee said. Another judge that day had just authorized supervised visits between Michael and his daughter Audra.

"After the judge entered the order, there was nothing to indicate that he would react in this way. He did not blow up. He did not storm out. There was no indication that this was coming."

At around 4 p.m. Tuesday,  reports of shots being fired in the residential neighborhood, started to come in. Police dispatchers could hear gunshots in the background while the neighbors were on the phone. Investigators uncovered that Michael Sanders forced his way into the home as his wife was removing belongings with Audra and her brother.


By 4:15 on Tuesday afternoon, All of them were dead. The family labrador suffered burns to his nose and face as he tried to help his owner, Carol as her body lay burning in the backyard.

What could or should Carol have done differently to protect herself and her family?  According to Dr. Maria Guerrera from The Sojourner Center in Phoenix, AZ,, Carol or any woman in conflict with an abuser should never return to the home without a police escort. "Once a women gets away, she needs to stay away and create as much distance as she can between herself and the abuser.". At the first signs of abuse, which begins with control, get out...and stay out." Dr. Maria explains.

There is HELP FOR YOU. 

- Tell someone

- Call a local shelter or The National Hotline for Abuse 1-800-799 SAFE

- Make a plan

- Realize you are not alone and there are many people who want to support you

- Get out

- Stay out

- Seek professional counseling if you can 

- Never, ever go back, once you have left an abusive situation

- Never feel shame

- Never feel blame


Note from Editor -

One in four women in America will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime.  If you or anyone you know is being victimized, please get help right away.  Don't wait.  Call your local women's shelter or the National Abuse Helpline and get help as soon as possible. 1800 799-SAFE (7233) 24/7.

 - I love you, I really do. Please get help.  I want your beautiful light to shine. - Syndeelou


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