Clutching a photograph of her daughter with tears rolling down her cheeks Dhanraji Murray is the picture of a broken woman and seconds into a conversation with her one quickly realizes that the pain she feels is more profound because of guilt.
Davendra Ramdial has been charged with the murder of Murray’s daughter Shanett Savory, but the 55-year-old woman longs for closure as her daughter’s body has not been recovered. And if and when that closure comes, Murray, a mother of two, believes the guilt will be with her forever.
Her guilt is not because she introduced her daughter to her alleged killer as she never met the man, but she now believes that Shanett’s exposure to the horrific abuse she suffered at the hands of her father might have been the reason she endured the abuse of her paramour silently.
Murray was not privy to her daughter’s relationship, but during an interview with the Sunday Stabroek she shared how the father of her two children abused her for some years and while she eventually left she believes that it impacted her daughters more than she imagined.
“He use to drink and he would beat me… He would work in the bush and when he come out I never use to see he, is people use to see he at the [house of ill repute] and come and tell me. When he come home no money and when I talk he use to beat me,” Murray said, still holding her daughter’s framed photograph.
Shanett was the older of Murray’s two children; the younger girl, Vanessa, has been at the forefront of the search for her sister who has been missing since August 30, 2016. Looking back, Murray said she wished she had a closer relationship with both of her children. That chance with Shanett is lost forever but she hopes to be given a second chance with Vanessa.
She finally met a man—Albert Murray—who treated her as a woman should be treated, but the damage was already done to her two daughters even though she had not initially recognised this. She migrated with her husband to the United States in 2004 and since neither of the girls “talk much”, if Shanett was in an abusive relationship she never knew.
She returned to Guyana last month with activist Dianne Madray, of the Let the Women Speak, formerly Caribbean American Domestic Violence Awareness, and it was with her assistance that she met Crime Chief Paul Williams who ensured that the investigation into Savory’s disappearance and suspected murder was reopened. Less than two weeks later, Ramdial was charged.
“It was not easy. I was just studying all the time where she was and all I want now is closure and to find her body, but I am still happy that somebody get charged,” she said.
She shared that Shanett had been married and had a 19-year-old daughter who now lives in Canada but had separated from her husband. While she was not sure of what caused the separation, according to her, it was not because of abuse. When she left Guyana both of her daughters were leading different lives and Shanett was living alone.
Murray, who struggled at times to speak during the interview, recalled that she “work all over the place” to raise her children and the jobs included domestic work.
“It was not easy as a single mother,” she said in tears.
It was at this point in the interview that she revealed, “Honestly, he use to beat me a lot,” in reference to the children’s father.
She had seen him as a ticket out of a very difficult childhood but apart from her two daughters all he gave her was years of misery.
“He use to drink a lot and he was a sweet man to. And one time we use to live in the Pomeroon and I had no family and friend there and he use to beat me and when I talk his mother use to get upset. One day he left for work and I just pack my suitcase and left with my children,” she said.
But he followed her and after “begging me I start back with he because you know we had children” but the abuse continued until she said enough was enough. Shortly after, he kidnapped the girls and took them to Essequibo and she had to follow him to get them returned to her custody.
He is now dead but the damage he did to his children has never been erased and while Murray said she has moved on, the pain was still evident when she spoke of those years.
“He was a man who never use to talk a lot and is just like that my daughters are; they never talk a lot so even if they going through anything they never tell me as their mother,” she said with a sad shake of the head. She added that they were close as sisters.
And while her early adulthood was hard, Murray shared that her childhood was no better. Her mother took her life by drinking poison when she was just about six years old and shortly after her father died when he was struck by lightning as he worked in the backdam.
Her father’s death resulted in her living with her some of her aunties before one of her older brothers took her in.
“But my sister-in-law, God rest her soul, never use to treat me good. It was not easy I tell you,” she said.
She left her brother’s home when an older sister secured a live-in domestic job for her; that brought its fair share of hardships, Murray said, but she stuck it out until she was 19 years old when she met the father of her children.
At that time, she believed she was moving to a better life but instead it was “worse than before. And now I know them years might have damaged my children,” she said.
“But she use to work hard as a mother, she work hard to take care of her children,” an in-law who was present during the interview commented after Murray lapsed into silence.
Madray noted that the impact of witnessing their mother’s abuse on the lives of Murray’s children is what many do not investigate. While a research study she recently conducted looked at children, who are victims of domestic violence homicide, pointed to the psychological effects, Madray said the same can be said for children whose mothers were abused but lived.
She said the support and counselling for children who witness domestic violence is so important because without intervention the vicious cycle continues.
Madray and a colleague Tiffany Jackson, an advocate and former victim of domestic violence, began to track affected children and provide support and referrals, finances, supplies, mentorship, counselling and ensured that extended families petitioned the courts for legal guardianship or adoption. This was necessary, especially for younger children less than three years old.
They have seen children between the ages of 15 months to 21 years old, who are the silent victims rarely heard about in the news. Some of them were exposed to domestic violence that likely preceded the murder.
“They have either seen actual events of physical abuse, heard the threats and sounds of loud arguing and fighting, and observed the aftermath of physical abuse such as blood, bruises, tears, torn clothing, broken items and even death of a parent by their father’s or mother’s partners,” Madray pointed out.
The children interviewed thus far, Madray said, looked fine to anyone from the outside, but on the inside, they are in pain.
“It has been noted that the children who are preschool age and younger can exhibit disrupted developmental milestones such as language development, toilet training, and motor-skills acquisition,” she further said.
She gave the example of two older children who were interviewed and who displayed some emotional and identity problems. From the time of the murder of their mother to present there was no intervention or counselling services provided as a preventative measure. “In this instance, the male child seems to exhibit more aggressive behaviour, depression, severe anxiety, low self-esteem and impaired social competencies. At age 16 when questioned he does not understand why he behaves as he does,” she said.
“I believe more needs to be done for children who have witnessed domestic violence,” she maintained.