‘That’s when they realized that I wasn’t dead’: Domestic violence survivor shares her story to help others

The police body camera video is jaw-dropping.

You can feel the urgency, as Jacksonville police sneak three young children through a window of a Northside Jacksonville home as quietly as possible so their father can’t hear what’s happening.

Moments later, police barge through a door and arrest the children’s father — who had just stabbed their mother 17 times.

“They had to do emergency heart surgery on me because he had stabbed me so many times,” Barbra Walker said, recalling the near-death confrontation with her estranged husband about two years ago.

Walker said nearly all of her internal organs were damaged, and she remembers almost everything — so do all four of the couple’s children, who were in the house during the attack.

The oldest child escaped from the home and ran to a neighbor’s house for help. That neighbor called police and officers arrived at Walker’s home just in time.

Barbra explained in detail her estranged husband’s every move.

“He would go to the living room and sit on the bench facing me, sit there for a second, and then get back up and come back to me and say some more things and stab me and cut me,” Barbra recalled. “It was a cycle that probably went on close to 30 minutes.”

She said it felt like “forever” before police busted through the door, arresting Austin Walker without further incident.

There was so much blood in the room, the police thought Barbra was dead.

“I hear them, ‘Put your hands up! Stand up!’ And the first two officers step over me,” she said while illustrating with her hands. “And as they’re stepping over me, I raise my hand, ‘Help me! Please help me!’ And that’s when they realized that I wasn’t dead.”

Warning signs ignored

Austin Walker was sentenced to life in prison without parole more than a year later — leaving Barbra wondering in retrospect how nearly 11 years of marriage got to this point.

Barbra said she finally realized the early warning signs she ignored, foreshadowing their toxic relationship. Now she hopes others will learn from her experience and avoid going down the same path.

Barbra said despite a decade-long marriage of verbal, mental and emotional abuse, she stayed with her husband because she had committed to their marriage and their young family.

“It just kind of solidified it even more,” she said urgently, “that if I just try harder, if I say the right things, he’ll be happy and he’ll be happy with us.”

Walker said that as the abuse became more frequent and intense, she was making excuses for her husband and managing to protect their children; one warning sign she ignored.

“I was saying, ‘We’re going through a rough patch. Daddy had a bad day. Let’s just give him space. Let’s let him watch TV and calm down.’ And it became our norm,” she said.

Barbra said when her husband started showing aggression toward the children, she took half the money from their joint account, took the children, and left. But because he hadn’t physically hurt her the day she left and went to the police, she said there was little that officers could do.

Relationship red flags

As she plans her public push promoting more protection for domestic violence survivors, Barbra is sharing even more relationship red flags, saying that right from the beginning, her relationship with her husband moved too fast — all because of him.

Barbra said he made all the decisions and dictated everything, including deciding when he should move in with her.

“‘Oh, I’m here [at your place] two or three nights a week, or I was here three or four nights this week. Why don’t I just go ahead and move in and I can help pay some bills?’” Barbra recalled him saying.

Barbra said she went along with another one of his decisions. He proposed on July 4, pushing to get married right away.

“‘Well, what do we need to wait for?’” he told her. “‘My friends will be there. We’ll go ahead and have them as witnesses, and we’ll do a big wedding later when we have more money set aside. We’ll save for it specifically.’”

She described him in hindsight as manipulative.

She said that while everyone goes through a rough patch in a relationship, the difference in an abusive relationship is that one person makes self-improvements, but the other doesn’t.

“I think if you find yourself constantly trying to change your actions and your behaviors to try to please someone else to try to justify their behaviors, to try to fix the problems — when it’s not a mutual change; when it’s not a mutual understanding — it’s not a mutual relationship,” Barbra said.

She said at one point, she found safety at a friend’s home.

“I was always trying to communicate my fear, trying to tell people, ‘Hey, I’m really afraid. I don’t know what’s going to happen,’” Barbra said.

She said that once they were separated, she filed an injunction for protection — a restraining order — against her estranged husband at the Duval County Courthouse. But Barbra said he violated the order half a dozen times, including the night he almost killed her.

That night was eight weeks after the injunction was granted.

Finding safety

For others experiencing domestic violence, shelters and safe spaces like Hubbard House in Duval County can be a lifesaver. The nonprofit has trained advocates available 24/7 to help survivors escape their situation and work on a path toward stability without relying on an abusive partner. The support continues even after they leave the shelter.

A leadership team member and survivor’s advocate at Hubbard House took us through the facility for a rare look inside, reenacting what a client would experience when they walk in looking for help.

We had to be extremely careful not to videotape any windows or doors, and we had to turn off our cellphones because they have GPS on them — all to protect the people who have come there for help and safety.

You can watch that video and hear the answers to many survivors’ questions HERE.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

County-by-county help

Northeast Florida

Duval and Baker counties: Domestic Violence Services, Shelter, and Safety – Hubbard House

Clay County: Quigley House

St. Johns County: Betty Griffin Center – St. Johns County Support Services for Victims of Sexual & Domestic Abuse

Nassau County: Micah’s Place

Putnam County: Domestic violence center in Palatka (leeconleehouse.org)

Alachua, Bradford, Union counties: Peaceful Paths | Domestic Violence Agency | Gainesville

Southeast Georgia

Camden and Charlton counties: Camden House

Ware County: Magnolia House

Glynn County: Glynn Community Crisis Center

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