TERRE HAUTE —
In April 2007, 20-year-old Heather Norris was brutally murdered at the hands of an abusive boyfriend.
While she is physically gone, Heather’s voice can still be heard. She speaks through her mother, Debbie Norris, who created Heather’s Voice, a nonprofit organization that educates teens about dating violence and domestic abuse.
Debbie Norris told her daughter’s, and her own, heartbreaking story Tuesday night during Indiana State University’s annual Take Back the Night rally.
As Norris began, she told the large audience of college students that they reminded her of her daughter, who had once been a student at Indiana University. “A part of me never stops thinking of Heather,” she said.
Then she explained to them, “I’ve lost Heather. She was murdered. Murdered by her abuser.” The word “murder” doesn’t seem harsh enough to explain what happened to her child, she said.
Norris said it’s hard to talk about it, “but I feel it’s important that I’m blunt and I’m straightforward.”
She described her daughter as a “wonderful young woman” who was smart, athletic and beautiful. Heather was a great friend and loved her family.
Heather started dating the young man who later took her life right before they graduated from high school. Norris said she knew something wasn’t right because the boyfriend never wanted to come into the house.
While it took a long time, Heather eventually told her mom the boyfriend was beating her. “My heart sank, and my emotions ran wild,” Norris said. But Heather asked her mom not to do anything. Norris said her daughter just wanted to forget about it, for it all to go away.
Heather was 18 and an adult, though she still lived at home. Norris said she was caught “between a rock and a hard place” when it came to laying down the law when Heather returned to the boyfriend. “I wanted to keep her close, protect her and let her know she always had a safe place to come home to,” Norris said.
Norris described how the beatings and cycle of violence continued, even after her daughter went to IU, where she had a scholarship. Her daughter eventually left school — and she lost control of her life because she was in an abusive relationship.
Norris then described the day her beautiful 20-year-old daughter walked out of the door of their home and never returned.
Norris said she had no reason to be concerned that day — but then the calls and texts stopped. Eventually, she reported to police her daughter was missing. “That’s when everything went black,” Norris said, with emotion.
She described the night a police car drove up her driveway and she learned the terrible news.
Her daughter had been murdered. The abuser had stabbed Heather; he put her body in a trash can, poured gasoline on her and set her on fire.
“That wasn’t enough,” Norris said, as members of the audience began crying. “He took a chain saw and he cut her up in pieces. He put her in black trash bags and drove around the south side of Indianapolis, throwing her in Dumpsters. He threw my daughter away like she was trash.”
In tears, Norris told the audience, “I’ll never hold her again. I didn’t get to say good-bye. I did not get to look at her and tell her I loved her.”
Heather would always tell her mom not to worry about her, that she could take care of herself. “I’m her mom. I was supposed to protect her. Now my life is a nightmare that I never wake up from,” Norris said.
“So here I am standing before you … in hopes that I can make you understand,” Norris said, “because Heather would want that.”
By telling Heather’s story, she said, “Heather lives on.”
And then, Norris gave them some advice she wants them never to forget. “If you are in a relationship and you are hit, and you do not turn around and walk away for good, you are guaranteed to be hit again. You have just given them the okay to hit you,” she said.
The abuser will always say, “I’m sorry. It will never happen again. I’ve changed. I didn’t mean to. I love you,” Norris said, describing those as an abuser’s standard words.
She told students if they are in a relationship and someone strikes them, “Walk away — and never look back.”
For more information about Heather’s Voice, go to heathersvoice.net.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.