SonJette White saw and felt all the signs — but ignored them.
White, 44, was shot 12 times, but survived. Her daughter, Keia Brionne Manning, who had turned 21 years old just the week before, was shot to death during the same violent encounter Aug. 10 in their Bacliff home.
Anthony White, 58, SonJette White’s husband, is charged with murder and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the shooting, according to court records.
White is free on a $450,000 bond and has yet to enter a plea in the case, according to the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office. He could not be reached for comment.
Attorney Michael T. Elliot, who is listed in court records as Anthony White’s legal counsel, did not respond to requests for comment made Friday and Monday.
The shooting began with an argument between the two women and White, according to a probable-cause affidavit Galveston County Sheriff’s Deputies filed in the case. But the volatile atmosphere that allowed that spark to explode into deadly violence had existed for a long time before, SonJette White said.
For the past four or so months, White has been grieving her daughter and recovering from 9mm gunshot wounds to the chest, abdomen, left arm, left leg and right heel. She has endured five surgeries and an extensive rehabilitation regimen, which will continue for a year or more, she said.
She’s had time to think and wants her experience to be a cautionary tale for others, she said.
SonJette White’s story describes an extreme example of domestic violence, but is similar in many ways to what many women, and some men, are living through, experts say.
They endure acts of domestic violence because they don’t know they have options. They often fail to report domestic violence because they lack the resources to leave, said Leigh Ann Fry, CEO at Bay Area Turning Point, a community based social service agency providing a variety of services, including shelter to families in need and public education/crime prevention activities in the Greater Bay Area and surrounding areas.
“It’s our hope that anyone who knows someone or is living with domestic violence can reach out to a local service provider to assist with safety planning, shelter and/or advocacy services,” Fry said. “This step can be lifesaving.”
Violence comes in many forms and includes abuse and types of control — physical, sexual, emotional, intimidation, verbal-coercion, threats, and blame, using male privilege and financial abuse, Fry said.
About 35 percent of women, 1 in 3 worldwide, report having been in at least one abusive relationship defined by a partner or ex-partner who “causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviors,” according to global estimates published by the World Health Organization.
In Texas last year, 136 women were killed by a male intimate partner, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence. Most, 65 of them, were wives; most, 65 percent, were killed with firearms; and most, 70 percent, were killed in their own homes, according to the council.
In the five years from 2012 to 2016, a dozen Galveston County women were killed in acts of domestic violence, according to a Texas Council on Family Violence report.
SonJette White, who had been with her husband for 18 years and married for five, knew she was in a bad relationship and should’ve left, she said.
“He was abusive emotionally and financially,” White said. “He wanted me with him and only him, but said it was because he loved me. He would tell me not to work, and that he was going to take care of me. Now, I know it was only to control what I could and couldn’t do financially.”
A search of publicly accessible criminal records found none lodged against Anthony White for domestic violence or anything else before the Aug. 10 shooting.
SonJette White said she reported only one incident of being struck. Her husband was arrested, but she later dropped the charges, she said.
She didn’t report incidents because he would apologize and promise not to do it again and then shower her with gifts, she said.
“I shouldn’t have settled and ignored the signs of control and called it ‘love,’” she said. “In hindsight, I really don’t know if I had the tools or the understanding of what I should’ve been expecting from a man. So, when he promised to take care of me and my children, I thought I’d found my knight in shining armor.
“I wish I could trade places with my baby. I would rather it be me than her since I was the one who chose to be with this man.”
White’s younger sister, Ricshonda “Nickie” Milburn, of League City, also is dealing with regret and hindsight, she said.
SonJette had called her Aug. 10 and the two were talking when the shooting started, Milburn said.
“’I’m dying,’ were the words SonJette said to me before the phone hung up,” Milburn said.
Milburn always thought her sister’s relationship was unhealthy, she said. She regrets telling herself to stay out of it, she said.
“I wish I had stayed in her business and in her face about the unhealthiness of their relationship,” Milburn, a nurse practitioner, said. “He always wanted her to do what he wanted her to do and nothing else with no one else.”
People who suspect their friends or relatives are in abusive relationships should act, Milburn said.
“Talk to your siblings, children, mothers and ask specific questions,” she said. “Don’t ignore the signs. Stop saying, ‘I’m staying out of it,’ and get in their business to save their lives.”
People in abusive relationships need to know help is available to give them the tools and understanding SonJette White worries she lacked, said Selah Tacconi, executive director of the Resource & Crisis Center of Galveston County.
“It takes incredible courage for victims to come forward to seek assistance, and we, as service providers, stand in solidarity with them,” Tacconi said. “As a society, supporting and believing survivors encourages healing for individuals, holds perpetrators accountable and promotes justice for all citizens.”
Victims of domestic violence can also get help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org, Tacconi said.
The Galveston County Criminal District Attorney’s Office Victim Assistance Unit also provides crisis intervention, follow-up and support services, personal and justice advocacy, education for crime victims about the criminal justice processes, and more, said Linda Telfah, chief of the victim assistance unit.
“Anyone that works to isolate you from others that care about you doesn’t have your best interests in mind,” Tacconi said. “If you or someone that you know is being abused physically, financially, sexually, and/or verbally, you’re not alone.
“There are advocates here to help you with resources, options, and to assist with safety planning.”
Community support came pouring in for White while she was still in the hospital, much of it in words of support posted using the hashtag #JetteStrong, Milburn said.
“After reading so many messages with the hashtag, I thought let’s do something with this,” Milburn said.
“I was thinking about my sister’s financial needs at the time and came up with the T-shirt fundraiser after speaking with her and my cousins. Once the orders started coming in and all of the support was being shown for her, God revealed to me through prayer and speaking with a select few individuals we have to speak out.
“This is bigger than a fundraiser, this is a movement. This is a time for us to use our voices so that my niece’s life won’t be forgotten.”
The money raised has been to take care of financial needs and medical bills that SonJette has incurred since the shooting incident, Milburn said. SonJette will need more in the future, however, she said.
But although the financial support is welcomed, empowering people in violent, abusive relationships to get help is what’s important, Milburn said.
“We want to help at least one person not have to bury their child due to an act of domestic violence,” Milburn said.
SonJette White said the cost of her new understanding has been steep.
“I’ll never get to talk to my baby girl again; and it’s all because I chose the wrong man to share my life with,” she said.
“Unfortunately, now I know I shouldn’t have totally depended on this man, or any man, to take care of me and my children.
“When someone has a mission to control your mind, you won’t see it coming. Listen to the signs. Don’t allow anyone to take away your independence; stand on your own two feet. Lastly, love and respect yourself enough to walk away.”
She’s also discovered some things she didn’t know she had, she said.
“I’m so overwhelmed with gratitude from the love and support my community has shown me,” White said. “I feel so blessed to have so many people, most I know and some I don’t, stand up for me and what is right.”