SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Just about everyone knows someone who has been a victim of domestic violence, and we here at WSAV are no exception.

Six years ago today, my aunt was taken from us by the hands of her husband, someone we all thought loved her. Here’s her story.

Sarah Marie Smith was born on Sept. 1, 1969, in Rembert, South Carolina, to Willie Mae Razor and Thomas Smith. She’s the third born of six children and, like her mom, said to know Sarah was to know love. 

“When they say people are loved by everyone, she was one of those people that was truly loved by everyone,” said Vivian Prevost, Sarah’s sister. “Everyone in the church loved her.  Everyone at her job loved her. We all loved her. All of her in-laws loved her. All of the guys just loved her.

“They always thought she was a guy’s gal because she loved to play sports. She loved cars. She liked talking trash with the boys. So, you know, she was just a wonderful, wonderful person.”

Sarah had one daughter and she was married to a man she knew from childhood. She loved her career as a nurse manager at the VA, and she was truly thriving in aspects of life that were shown to the public.

But no one around her really knew what was going on behind closed doors. 

“We met Sarah. She introduced herself as the nurse manager of Two West. I can remember her just seeming to be a genuine, strong person, really caring.  She really embodied what nursing is all about,” said  Laquana Williams, Two West nurse manager at Dorn VA Hospital. “I learned so much from Sarah.  There really wasn’t anyone who did not stand to learn anything from her. She was just a wealth of knowledge. Very experienced. She wore her heart on her shoulders. 

“She taught me so much. I don’t think that I would have went into leadership had I not met her.”

Sarah’s daughter, Whitney Teamer, said her mother always told her she could accomplish her wildest dreams.

“Growing up, she was able to put herself through school and still managed to be, you know, a high GPA.  She achieved her master’s degree, and all doing this while still balancing taking care of me and a full-time job,” Whitney said. “And, you know, I’m seeing that as an example as, wow, she can do that. I think I could do that, too. You know, one from the outside looking in would be like, wow, this is an amazing person that deserves everything. They deserve the love and support. 

“And unfortunately, I don’t think that she ever got that in the partners that she saw out and that your accomplishments and your self-worth is something that shouldn’t be accountable on someone else to value.”

On Oct. 26, 2017, Sarah’s family received a call and their lives were forever changed.

Part 2: The unthinkable

“I was actually at home in Atlanta, Georgia, and my baby brother, Anthony, called me and said,  you know, I heard people were saying that Chris, which is my sister’s husband, has a murder there. And I was like, Oh, that can’t be true,” said Sarah’s sister, Vivian. “I said, ‘Find out what’s going on and then call me back.’ So he did some research, and then he called me back and said, ‘Yeah, Chris murdered Sarah.’

“When I heard that news. My heart dropped, my soul broke, because I could not believe that her husband would murder her like that. Murder-suicide.”

Vivian continued: “So her husband murdered her while she was sleeping, is what we were told.  And then he committed suicide. So, you know, we just it’s just a lot of unanswered questions.”

Sarah was only 48 when her life was taken from her. Her family never knew anything that was going on in her home.

Weeks before her death her co-workers reported strange behavior from her husband. They say he exhibited forms of control by refusing to let her drive to and from work and keeping tabs on her whereabouts.

But, let’s go back to the beginning, and the signs that were there from her spouse that she chose to look past in hopes of her being the one who can change him. 

“Despite my mom having all these amazing qualities, all of these strengths, all these achievements, all of these goals, anyone from the outside looking in would be like, ‘Wow, this is an amazing person that deserves everything they deserve.’ The love and support. And unfortunately, I don’t think that she ever got that in the partners that she saw out” said Whitney.

Sarah’s husband was married four times before her and he had three domestic violence charges on his record, but Sarah chose to see the good in him and build a relationship anyway. Even though he never physically abused her, no one knows what other types of abuse she faced .

“Instead of sharing with her family, she chose to stay silent in fear of seeming weak.”

“I wish she would have, you know, confided in someone that she didn’t feel safe,” she continued. “I feel like maybe her own independence kind of got in the way of seeking help. And I know that she was so good at painting herself as to being this invincible, strong woman.”

“That, I think, hindered her, her desire to seek, you know, advice because she was always the one to give advice,” Whitney added. “But yeah, I wish that she would have been a little bit vulnerable with me and told her coworkers or her family and friends, someone, and just got out of the echo chamber of your own head, and I think that would have made her leave sooner.”

Part 3: Sarah’s legacy

“Everybody who knew Sarah loves and miss her,” said Willie Mae. “It made me feel great to know she was loved by so many people.”

“We just try to keep her memory alive by speaking about it and talk about the great things she done and impacted a lot of lives she came in contact with,” Vivian said. “Just the other day, I posted something on Facebook and one of her colleagues reached out to me and just said how much he loved her.”

“I lead every day with a little bit of her right here instilled inside of me,” said Laquana.

Laquana took over Sarah’s position at the VA after her death. She says she made sure Sarah’s legacy was never forgotten and that everyone who walks on her floor will know the impact she had.

“The first thing that I put on my agenda was to make sure that everybody, once they walked onto West, they remembered her and just her beloved memory and that she’s forever here,” Laquana said. “Some of the things that we still do, October, we definitely dedicate to her.”

“We do a walk…for breast cancer and domestic violence awareness. So we do that every October,” she continued. “We also take a pledge to speak up. And also if anybody’s going through anything, any domestic violence awareness situations, we encourage them to just to speak up, let us know what’s going on so that we can definitely get them some help.”

“I think I would be more upset if something like this happened and it brought about no change, you know, a tragedy like this,” Whitney said. “So, I really have to give all the props to my mother’s lovely coworkers and team because they really put in the strides to bring awareness for domestic violence.

“It warms my heart to know that she was cherished not only by her family but by everyone she worked with and friends. And I think that just all the more it highlights her impeccable character. The strongest of us, you know, are fighting battles sometimes in the background.”

Part 4: A message to women

“You shouldn’t always seek a partner to fill in gaps or holes that you feel like you might be missing,” Whitney said. “that is always going to be ultimately responsible on you.”

“It’s OK to realize, you know what? This isn’t working. You know, just a fall and break that complacency. And to also realize that you’re not a rehabilitation center, you cannot fix everyone before you can fix yourself and you can’t fix two people at the same time,” Sarah’s daughter continued. “So even if that means just focusing on yourself and realizing the partner isn’t the pinnacle of all accomplishments to complete your life, that’s one step forward.”

Whitney wants all women to know that you always have to put yourself first, no matter what, and when things aren’t working — leave. Don’t be complacent.

“I feel like that we are taking compromise way too far. You know, compromise doesn’t mean overlook, and compromise is something that has to happen 50/50,” she said. “So if you’re finding yourself constantly meeting someone else 90% of the way and they’re only putting 10% of the effort, that’s not compromise. That’s just pure sacrifice.”

“People can change,” Whitney continued. “But that doesn’t mean that you have to be a part of their journey for that change. You know, you have to let people learn to let people go and they can learn how to be better without you involved and without you getting hurt and without you  being in the crossfire of that journey, whether they improve or not.”

She also wants women to listen to each other and pay attention to the red flags when dealing with a partner.

“We have to stop thinking of ourselves as the exception to the rule,” she said, “he’s proved himself in several occasions and relationships of what they are capable of. I feel like we put too much of our own selves on a pedestal when we really should be, you know, looking at it as a sisterhood, like, you know, these women went through it before. What makes me think that I will and what makes me what course of action do I think will be different?”

Her last piece of advice is — talk. Talk to anyone who will listen to you, so your story is heard and you can get help.

“It’s scary,” Whitney said. “I can’t even fathom the amount of fear when it comes to feel like your life is threatened. 

“But just know that there are people out there and there are resources out there who are willing to help you and it doesn’t reflect poorly on you for reaching out for help. If anything, the strongest thing that you can do is ask for help in an extreme dire time of need.”

If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, help is available.

If a victim is in immediate danger, call 911. Help is also available 24/7 via the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233, online chat or by texting “START” to 88788.

Visit here for a list of local resources.