by KIM HILSENBECK
Catherine Shellman of San Marcos has spent the last two years telling anyone who will listen to “Un-silence the Violence” of domestic abuse.
“It’s so hush-hush. Everyone is embarrassed to talk about it,” Shellman said. “So now I talk about it all the time.”
She even started a nonprofit group, Un-silence the Violence, committed to speaking out against domestic violence. She is not speaking as a victim of domestic abuse, she is speaking on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves, like her daughter, Tiffanie Suzanne Perry, who was murdered in 2010 by her abuser. She was 23 years old.
Shellman is now a passionate advocate. She speaks to Central Texas groups about her experience as a mother who knew something was amiss but did not know the depth of the problem. Her goal is to get people talking about abuse and stopping it before it’s too late.
At a recent event at Texas State University, Shellman spoke to a group of high school students from Austin, Hays and Comal school districts about her daughter’s situation and what to look for in an abusive relationship.
After her presentation, a 17-year-old Hays High School student came up and hugged Shellman.
“I had the same thing happen in our family,” she said.
The girl shared a story about her adopted stepsister who stopped talking to her family and grew apart from them because she was in an abusive relationship.
“She wouldn’t admit he was hurting her,” she said.
Her advice to other young women was, “Say something before it goes too far.”
Perry was a business student at Texas State University when she died; she was also a model and bodybuilder.
The boyfriend who ultimately took her life was Mixed Martial Arts fighter Kenneth “Kenny” Trevino. He was 26 when he shot Perry on Sept. 5, 2010, and then turned the gun on himself at an apartment in Austin.
But the story began several years earlier.
Perry and Trevino met in 2005. In 2007, they moved away from Texas to Las Vegas, taking Perry away from family and friends.
Shellman now knows this is a classic sign of a controlling and often abusive partner, to alienate the victim from her (or his) support network.
“She threw out a lot of crumbs,” Shellman said of her conversations with her daughter over the years, “but not enough to put the whole picture together in time.”
Shellman recalled an incident in 2007 where she, Tiffanie and a friend went out for a girls’ night in downtown Austin. Trevino showed up and dragged Tiffanie outside by the arm; Shellman jumped in front of him and started pushing his chest. He somehow manipulated a police officer on Sixth Street to think Shellman was assaulting him. While she was detained, Trevino led her daughter away.
Another sign that something was wrong in the relationship was a phone conversation where Perry told her mother she had to hang up and put all the window blinds a certain way before Trevino got home, a la the Julia Roberts movie “Sleeping with the Enemy.”
“I thought that was really weird,” Shellman said.
She also recalled that Perry could only talk on the phone while she was driving to and from work; times when she was alone and Trevino couldn’t hear.
But hindsight is always 20/20.
At one point, Shellman said she sent her daughter a questionnaire to help women determine if they are in an abusive relationship.
Shellman said Perry called her and said, “Mom, I said yes to almost every question. I need help getting out of this relationship.”
So in 2008, Shellman helped Perry move back to Texas and enroll at Texas State University. She thought her daughter was safe.
She later learned that Trevino moved back to Texas and was stalking her daughter, who by that time had met another man. But as in many abusive relationships, Perry went back to Trevino – either from fear or because she thought she could handle his controlling behavior.
In 2010, Perry tried to break things off for good.
According to Charles Vestal, spokesperson for the Hays Caldwell Women’s Center in San Marcos, that first 24 hours after the victim tries to leave for good is the most dangerous.
“The abuser may feel something has been taken from him and may take action to stop that from happening,” Vestal said.
Vestal said research shows that some abusers, in particular males, believe they “own” their partner so they may view the victim as a possession instead of a person.
Following the break-up, Shellman said Trevino followed Perry to Lake Travis; he waited for her then led her away from her friends. Later that night, police say he shot Perry then turned the gun on himself. Shellman said the toxicology report was negative for alcohol and drugs in Trevino’s system.
But police found that he had made an appointment with a psychologist in Cedar Park for the coming Thursday. He murdered Perry and killed himself three days before that appointment.
After the tragedy, Shellman’s other daughter, Becky, found a diary entry of Tiffanie’s that chilled their mother to the bone.
“It said every morning he would tell her, ‘If you ever leave me I will kill you, and if I can’t find you, I will kill your mom and dad.’ I didn’t know he had ever threatened her and our family like that,” Shellman said.