Hits too close to home

Photo courtesy of Kathy Shorr for SHOT project

Paper Tiger

The survival rate for a gunshot wound to the head is 4.8% and 3% have permanent brain damage. I am on the margin of that statistic and sometimes wish I had brain damage, if only so I didn’t remember it so vividly.

If I had known what my lethality risk assessment was I never would have let him — Kenneth Fiaui, my shooter — or that gun into my home. THAT gun, the Kimber 1911 .45 ACP. It was made in Yonkers, NY; serial number KPE 0851. It says right on the Kimber website that few things are as American as the Kimber 1911 .45 ACP. He told me bought it at Walmart, in Arizona. An ATF trace told me a different story, that it was bought at a pawn shop in Provo, Utah.

Like most hot-blooded Americans I have nightmares about Walmart. The hollow-point I was shot with was bought at Walmart. He had left one bullet in the gun despite my pleading. If it wasn’t for Raja he would have shot me in the back of the head, survival rate .08% according to one study. (Raja survived too by the way, my best friend broke into my duplex and found her curled up in the sweater I had been wearing that day)

When I went back with my aunts to clean up my crime scene on February 21, 2010, Salena and Wilathi told me that crime scene clean up would be tens of thousands of dollars unless we cleaned it up ourselves. I was already footing the bill for the $1600 in damages in my apartment and could spare no expense. So we went in with cleaning supplies on a rainy February day. Taking out the putrid litter box and rotting meat from the fajitas in the pan I saw two rats floating in blood red water when I opened the trash can. Starkly contrasted by a gaping hole about a foot in diameter in the cab of Kenneth’s truck. I walked back in through that kitchen door, smelling the rot of a life I had lost. I recalled I had a two Primo lagers in the fridge and half a handle of Ketel One. I cracked a beer and thought better of it and handed each one to Wilathi and Salena, then chugged the bottle of Ketel in under 30 seconds. I was ready to do the worst thing yet. My jaw partially wired shut and broken arm be damned I could handle this.

I hunched over the yellowed linoleum in the kitchen with a rag of bleach when two hunting rifles and an assault rifle propped against the fridge and the wall caught the corner of my eye. I also found another assault rifle hidden inside my piano. After all was said and done the police recovered 16 guns from my one bedroom duplex . The only gun I had allowed in my house was the one he shot me with. The one he had a concealed carry license for. I didn’t want to argue about it anymore so I allowed it to slip into my life in October of that year.

A recent Kaiser study states that a mandatory domestic violence (DV) arrest exponentially increases the victim’s fatality risk later in life. I’m still not sure what the indicator is there. Another statistic I contributed data to shows that states that require background reduces intimate partner violence (IPV) homicide by 45% — I could say that because I was shot in California I survived, but that would be manipulation of the data.

At age 19, I left a long history of domestic violence and gun violence in Seattle for a fresh start with the support of my aunts Wilathi and Salena and my Grandfather Don.

At the age of six I was raped by a twelve-year-old at the park a block away from my house. At age nine my uncle shot himself with a .45 caliber handgun in my grandparent’s front yard after a lifetime of abuse at the hands of my grandfather, Judge James D Mccutcheon Jr, who was superior court judge of King County and had helped establish the first victim assistance program on the west coast. Along with his many accomplishments he also raped and terrorized my mother until she was 18. My grandmother had survived black foster care in WA state in the 20s and 30s and had met my grandfather working as a single mother and paralegal in 1942. She had run away from a horrific foster situation at age 15. When I was 15, I met a boy whose name I will not repeat who moved in with me after a month of dating. I was with him for three brutal years until he finally went to jail for punching me in the face during rush hour traffic and was mandatorily arrested because a third-party reported the incident. I apparently reminded him of his mother. When he was seven he witnessed his father who was a Couer D’Alene police officer, shoot and kill his mother and her new boyfriend after she had filed a protection order against him after she stated DV in her divorce proceedings, shortly following he shot himself.

My next boyfriend after that was determined to get me pregnant, and tampered with my birth control, resulting in two abortions. In the meantime while all of this was occurring in my personal life, I was a consummate professional and worked woman’s retail at bebe while attending Cornish College of the Arts for vocal jazz performance. At 19 I needed out; my father suggested I move to CA a day after my boyfriend was arrested. I jumped at the chance. I moved in with my Aunt Wilathi and spent the next four years establishing myself as blues singer.

When I met Kenneth I was a 22 year old singer living my dream as the resident blues chanteuse of Northern California. In 2009 I performed at 97 gigs and five blues festivals. I had set my sights on making 2010 a milestone year for my career.

I had lived in Humboldt county for almost four years when he shot me. When I met Kenneth I thought I had successfully outrun my violent past. No one had ever taught me what a healthy relationship looked like. Definitely wasn’t brought up in health class. Those three and a half years in Humboldt I avoided long term commitments to focus on my one true love, music.

In 2009 I realized I was craving companionship. I had been dating with the intention of finding someone to be in a committed relationship with. I dated a customer who had been one of my regulars; after three short weeks things got weird and I recognized right away he was trying to manipulate me and make me feel crazy. I called him on it and told him to never attempt to contact me again.

One week later Maya, the girl who worked at the bar, Sidelines, next door to me at the Alibi introduced me to her friend Kenny, who was visiting from Utah.

Kenneth proposed to me on January 12th 2010 at the Carter House, the most expensive restaurant in Humboldt County. I was well aware of what our current state of finances looked like and was rather confused as to how and why he could justify the expense, but not wanting to ruin the mood I went along with it. I had never been proposed to before, and the feeling in my gut was sinister but he reassured me that I was just having cold feet and that my reaction was completely normal. The next three days he was acting very bizarre — little did I know that he was exhibiting the symptoms of premeditated murder. He was sick to his stomach, couldn’t keep down the ostentatious prefixe meal of bone marrow. On the way home from the Carter house he talked of the violence in his family and of his brother Jas who was carrying on the tradition by abusing his three daughters. Kenneth was furious and exclaimed while driving over the picturesque 299 bridge from Eureka to Arcata that the only way to fix the situation was to shoot and kill his brother. I was aghast. “You can’t just shoot and kill someone to solve a problem!!”

He argued his reasoning behind this choice, stating it was the only way. I pleaded with him to consider a more reasonable solution such as reporting to CPS and adoption. I told him that the way to truly heal and move on was to forgive his father and his brother so he could be free. The night before he shot me he talked to his dad for the first time in two years on the phone and told him he forgave him.

The day of the shooting I convinced him to apply for the IT position at North Coast Children’s Services. That day I awoke to him vomiting in the toilet at 7am; it had been a long three days and it was wearing on me. I desperately wanted space, needed it for my creativity and sanity.

The morning of January 15th 2010 I woke up to him impatiently shaking me at 7am. “Get up! Don’t be lazy! It’s time to wake up.” I didn’t respond and turned on the tea kettle to make my customary cup of Chai Spice tea. As a night time performer who didn’t end up getting home after load up until 3:30am I had no reason to wake up early. He had been doing this every morning upon his return and I knew he was doing it primarily because he was lonely and insecure.

I climbed out my bedroom window onto the roof of my duplex and sat myself down to watch the tail end of the sunrise without uttering a word. I was grumpy and knew better to try and argue my point of view.

It was crisp and clear outside. I loved Arcata in the winter. Fogless days like that day I would climb on the roof and look left to my west at the Mad River Bottoms half a mile away that spilled into Humboldt Bay; looking southeast I could see the twin palm trees that decorated the plaza. To the east, the Old Growth Redwoods stubbornly clung to the last remnants of the nightly fog that had drifted in from the nearby coast. My sweatpants were damp and the steam of the tea awakened my olfactory senses.

I was talking in the kitchen while making breakfast for us. Scrambled eggs with spinach and the co-op’s pork sausage. As I sipped my second cup of tea I was casually conversing with Kenneth and thought, since we were tentatively engaged, I ought to breach certain points of contention we may have. I brought our plates to the table and sat down to eat and he brings up the proposal.

“I would love to see you barefoot and pregnant, but we don’t even know if you can have kids, for many women nowadays have fertility issues, you probably don’t even need to be on birth control,” Kenneth said.

When Kenneth got up, I casually said to him, “Kenneth I have something to tell you if we are going to get married…”

In between shoveling food in his mouth he looks up at me with his raw umber eyes.

“Kenneth, I should tell you, I know I am fertile, I am very fertile, I’ve been pregnant before. I have had three abortions.”

Kenneth shrugged it off, “That’s fine, at least we know you’re fertile.”

That night we decided to go see the new Sherlock Holmes’ movie at the cineplex in McKinleyville. At the end of Sherlock Holmes, Kenneth grabbed my right arm suddenly during the final scene. Kenneth looked at me intensely, the grip of his hand too tight for comfort. On the screen it was overcast and grey. Robert Downey Jr. was wearing a period piece coat tail suit on the London Bridge.

“She kinda looks like you,” Kenneth said, Rachel McAdam’s Auburn hair, same color as mine, with the same throat chakra mole. Kenneth clenched my left hand so tightly I looked in his direction. It was the final scene of the movie. Tears streaming down his cheeks, I gazed to my left.

I was overcome with a deep feeling of dread. Kenny looked at me the same way you look at a beloved family pet when you are putting it down. Transfixed by his gaze I couldn’t look away. A feeling washed over me that was new, a feeling that something was definitely wrong on a guttural level. The credits had long stopped rolling and the lights were on. The attendant was cleaning around our feet and said something that equated to our departure.

Kenneth still motionlessly gaped at me. I broke the silence.

“Kenneth??? Baby??? What’s going on? It’s time to go, the movie is over.”

Still nothing.


He spoke.

“I just love you so much, you are so beautiful.”

I paused.

“I love you too… but honey?? It’s time to go.”

He got up gripping my hand as we exited the theater.

We got home and I took out a flank steak and started slicing it for fajitas. Kenneth had been physically ill for days now.

“We don’t ever need to go back to Vegas.”

“I’d like that Kenneth, but we need to leave by Sunday morning for your hearing.”

“No, we don’t need to go, it’s taken care of.”

I looked up at him from the frying pan.

“Things like that don’t just disappear.”

“No I think someone took care of it.”

I look at him incredulously.

“Kenneth, your hearing is Monday, you need to take responsibility for what you did.”

“It’s handled. Stop being so negative Courtney.”

“I’m not being negative, I am being realistic!”

“If it wasn’t for you that never would have happened in the first place.”

I feigned indifference and disregarded his last comment and dished out the fajitas. We sat down at the table and we began eating. He promptly spat out the food in his mouth and I looked at him aghast, but I refrained from speaking. He ran in the bathroom to vomit.

He walked over to my laptop in the living room that was plugged into the BOSE speakers and started blasting Bjork’s “All Is Full of Love” on repeat.

Kenneth had been so rigid and closed off. I even introduced him to yoga the day before at Om Shala.

He walked over to the table and started furiously jotting something down on the yellow notepad, tore the paper and affixed it on the fridge. Brushing my teeth, I read the abstract poem while he told me how selfish and negative I was:

Self Help, Helping Self

The most selfish of loves

The love of self

I give you this offering to right the universe

A love and union that is wrong

The only way is death

The ultimate expression of love

It’s hard to be positive when my right inner ear has been hurting non-stop for the past four days. I remember as a little girl I would get this pain whenever something would change.

I stoically cleared the table. Kenneth grabbed me and began furiously kissing me. I let him have his way with me. I silently hoped this would quell whatever resistance he had to reality. Afterwards I told him I needed to go see my friends and that I was going to go see Moo-Got 2 at the Jambalaya.

“You know that means game over right??!”” Kenneth shouted from the living room.

“WHAT?!” I yelled as I pulled my teal shirt with the agate collar over my head in the bedroom. I was wearing my ink wash Level 99 skinny jeans tucked into my chocolate Charles David wedge ankle boots. “All is Full of Love” was still echoing throughout the house. I walked into the living room and turned it off.

Kenneth waltzed into the bedroom as I made my way into the bathroom to do my makeup. Grabbing the door frame with his left hand he reiterated in a calm quiet voice.

“In the Mormon religion abortion means game over, no repentance, there is nothing you can do, you are going to hell….”

“So are you saying I am going to hell?”

I replied nonchalantly as I put on my feather earrings. I walked back into the bathroom and heard our neighbor Pete flush the toilet on the other side of the wall.

I opened the medicine cabinet and grabbed my NARS’ Paper Tiger eyeshadow and gazed into the warped mirrored. My right inner ear was throbbing. I heard some rustling in the bedroom.

(You can read the play-by-play of the next six hours here.)

He shot me point blank in the face, through my right arm when I covered my ears and crouched. He pointed the gun down at my crouched body and the hollow-point shattered my right ulna, my right upper maxillary, 5 teeth, lacerated my tongue diagonally, shattered the left half of my mandible, eventually abscessing in my neck.

I ended up needing three blood transfusions by the time I got to UC Davis. I awoke shortly after a 16 hour surgery and 8 hours sleep on Sunday, January 17th in the morning at 8 am. After 12 days and 27 hours of surgery split into three I was released back into my life. From January 2010-January 2012, I had 13 reconstructive surgeries — technically 14, but I am rounding down. I moved back to Seattle in 2011 because Arnold Schwarzenegger had cut all domestic violence funding 4 months prior to my shooting and I needed follow up surgery, housing, and all the other necessary infrastructure to restart my life. I lived in a domestic violence shelter for three months in 2011 that allowed me to get on my feet again and get an apartment in Ballard. I got one year of weekly PT, OT, and speech pathology to rehabilitate my voice in 2013. I have had four years of EMDR therapy. I’ve had over $750,000 in medical treatment. I like to think I am a nice three-bedroom house with an ocean view.

I talked with Kenneth’s uncle Jason over the phone shortly after I was released from UC Davis. He told me twelve days after I had been shot that the only reason he didn’t post Kenneth’s $500k bail is because he was afraid that Kenneth loved me so much and was so intent on apologizing to me that he’d track me down and accidentally kill me because he loved me so much. On this phone call his uncle also told me Kenneth had tested positive for cocaine and PCP. I didn’t believe him at the time. “There must have been some mistake!” I reasoned.

Kenneth had chickened out of suicide and tried to commit suicide by cop unsuccessfully, resulting in a multiple-officer stand-off in a neighbor’s yard up the street. He even shot a police officer, grazing him I would find out later. The officer, Anthony Fox, told me when he came to question me that they wanted to “get him” and that’s why they didn’t shoot him. His uncle hired him the best defense attorney in town, Neal Sanders, who rumor has it had brain cancer along with getting off some of the worst rapists in town– according to the whispers in the largest building in Humboldt County.

In the end I begged his attorney to take the plea bargain so I would stop being subpoenaed, so I could move on with my life, my music, and stop being tortured. On November 18th 2010 Kenneth finally caved and was sentenced to 10.6 years — four years for assault with a firearm causing serious bodily harm, four years for assaulting a police officer with serious bodily harm, and three years resisting arrest. The attempted murder charge was dropped.

In his statement at this sentencing he called me a gypsy voodoo blues goddess who had cast a spell on his heart, a positive tour de force that could not be broken, the love of his life — in short a forlorn love letter.

Kenneth was initially sent to San Quentin and then was transferred to a Vacaville California Medical Facility. He has been residing in a for-profit prison in California City for the past year. Rather than pay a dime towards my restitution he has chosen not to work or receive money on his books while incarcerated. Which tells me he blames me entirely for what happened. He may have told the police it was an abortion murder, but that’s not why he did it.

He will be released from prison on May 31st 2019, less than four years from now. I feel like a marked woman. I have tracked over 500 shootings, and have been volunteering on the WSCADV fatality review since March. I helped pass House Bill 1840 and Initiative I-594. I take solace in every shooting and fatality I scrutinize— this woman had a life, she had passions, she had dreams, she was like me, she just wanted love, she just wanted to leave when it wasn’t working anymore. She just wanted to be free. When the love stopped growing. When it was hurting. Domestic violence deprives both the abuser and the victim of ever achieving true intimacy. Even if the abuser is aware of this fact, they sacrifice intimacy for short-term gains that the power and control dynamic foster.

It wasn’t an isolated incident, he didn’t snap, he didn’t lose his temper, she didn’t deserve it. “I’ll find out why he wanted to kill you,” I tell myself. Motives run from everything to burnt macaroni to imagined infidelity. It wasn’t an abortion murder. They blame you for everything. Society blames you forever. Irreparably damaged and no accountability. He didn’t have a brain tumor, he wasn’t mentally ill, he was himself.

I remember his face moments after he shot me point blank in the face. It was haunting because it was his face, he was fully himself. Violence is a conscious choice. He had planned it for days, weeks, maybe even months. My hope is that by the time he gets out I can afford to leave the country and hire a personal investigator to track his every move. His friends still think it was an accident, that it was brought on by a fictitious brain tumor and that he didn’t mean to do it. Almost every man interviewed by David Adams told him that it was an accident and or mental illness. Coincidence? I think not. The police wouldn’t take the murder-suicide note on the fridge as evidence. They said it was too abstract and wouldn’t hold up in court. My Aunt Salena brought it out to me on Summer Solstice 2011; she said she had been holding onto it and didn’t know if I wanted to keep it. I reread it and decided to burn it in the firepit:

Self Help, Helping Self

The most selfish of loves

The love of self

I give you this offering to right the universe

A love and union that is wrong

The only way is death

The ultimate expression of love

People tell me I’m lucky, blessed even. Most of the time I go along with it so they stop talking crazy. I’m not lucky or blessed. I am merely a product of the lethal coincidence of domestic violence and firearms in a household. I’m that statistic on a government chart. In a country where 52 women a month are shot to death by a current or former intimate partner. More often than not when they have left or are attempting to leave. Kenneth knew he had lost me before I did. He wanted to exercise the only thing he had control over, my life. His release date hangs over my head like a death sentence. I have dedicated my life and my music to raising awareness and understanding violence. I hope that is my legacy.