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Tonya's Story: Big Spring coach uses tragedy to spread domestic violence awareness

The Abilene Reporter-News logo The Abilene Reporter-News 10/16/2020 Stephen Garcia, Abilene Reporter-News
a group of people posing for a photo: From left, Cameron Allen, Emily Allen, Eric Tuttle, Lyndsey Tuttle, Kelsey Allen and Donny Allen pose with a framed photo of Tonya Allen during a wedding shoot for the Tuttles. Tonya Allen died as a result of domestic violence in December 2005. © Andrea Hill/Andrea Hill Photography From left, Cameron Allen, Emily Allen, Eric Tuttle, Lyndsey Tuttle, Kelsey Allen and Donny Allen pose with a framed photo of Tonya Allen during a wedding shoot for the Tuttles. Tonya Allen died as a result of domestic violence in December 2005.

BIG SPRING — Kelsey Allen couldn't quite grasp what she had seen the day she lost her mother.

The small child's memories of that Dec. 26, her mom's birthday, are "on and off," especially after the incident. Her stepfather had fatally shot Tonya Allen to culminate a saga of domestic violence.

"As we were still in the room and everything had happened, I kind of just asked him, 'Why?'" Kelsey said. "I may have been 7, but I understood to an extent everything that just happened."

While painful for the family, they say it's important to keep telling Tonya's story.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and every year Big Spring assistant football coach Eric Tuttle speaks to players about Tonya Allen in hopes of helping others in similar situations.

"I never got to meet Tonya," Tuttle said of his sister-in-law. "I've gotten to hear some amazing stories. But I feel like it's something that I can definitely shed light on. There is an emotional attachment because it is my wife's sister, and it is family. 

"It is an emotional situation to talk about, but it's one of my things that I can do: talk to people."

Post-Christmas tragedy

Lyndsey (Allen) Tuttle has a vivid recollection of her half-sister's 32nd birthday.

Family was getting together in Lubbock, a nice meeting place between Big Spring and Hereford, where Tonya lived in 2005.

Calling to make sure the plans were still on, Lyndsey's mom, Sandi Allen, raised alarms when Tonya didn't answer after numerous attempts. Finally, Allen was able to reach Tonya's mother, who lived next door.

Thirty minutes later, Lyndsey remembers her mom frantically running and locking herself in her bedroom.

a woman smiling for the camera: Tonya Allen was fatally shot in a domestic violence incident in December 2005 in Hereford. © Courtesy Tonya Allen was fatally shot in a domestic violence incident in December 2005 in Hereford.

"She starts screaming and she's bawling," Lyndsey said. "She's like, 'No, no, it can't be, no.'"

Worried there was an accident involving her dad who worked in the oil field, Lyndsey quickly got ahold of him and explained the scenario.

Rex Allen rushed home.

"He gets in the (bed)room, and they're discussing things," Lyndsey said. "My dad comes out and he says, 'Tonya's gone.'"

Disturbing pattern

Sandi Allen and Lyndsey immediately went to Hereford to retrieve Tonya's children — Emily, Cameron and Kelsey, the eldest. As the only eyewitness, Kelsey spoke to police and eventually testified at the murder trial at 8 years old.

Lyndsey said the initial questioning revealed a pattern of domestic violence within the home.

"She was questioned and other things came out of the bag while we were there," Lyndsey said. "It ended up being really crazy."

a group of people posing for the camera: Cameron Allen, Emily Allen, Lyndsey Tuttle and Eric Tuttle pose in domestic violence awareness T-shirts in 2019. © Andrea Hill/Andrea Hill Photography Cameron Allen, Emily Allen, Lyndsey Tuttle and Eric Tuttle pose in domestic violence awareness T-shirts in 2019.

For years, Kelsey knew the way her mother was treated wasn't right. The little girl just didn't know what to do about it.

"Everything with those memories is very on and off in what I do remember," said Kelsey, now 22. "I have random small memories of just different instances where I'd be coming down the hallway and I would hear a situation going on, so I'd kind of just run back to my room because it was just something obviously I didn't want to be around for...

"I felt kind of stuck in the situation, I guess, because it was one of those things as a 3- to 7-year-old you can't really do anything about it. Or at least I felt like I couldn't."

'What do I do now?'

Rex and Sandi Allen took in their three grandchildren.

Kelsey said she dealt with insomnia, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder for at least a year while trying to adjust to life without her mom.

"It was just a mixture of every kind of negative emotion you could think of," Kelsey said. "I just wanted to be a weird mixture of around everybody and at the same time around nobody. I just felt everything, as much as a 7-year-old could feel everything.

a man and a woman posing for a picture: Tonya Allen, left, poses with one of her best friends, Dawn Kahlden. © Courtesy Tonya Allen, left, poses with one of her best friends, Dawn Kahlden.

"It's just one of those situations where it's like, 'What do I do now?' In my head I was like, 'I'm going to have my mom forever.' That's what every 7-year-old thinks."

Cameron and Emily, the younger siblings, were too young to remember Tonya. Their family likes to share memories of their mom, who shows up in different ways through her children.

Kelsey's personality.

Cameron's walk.

Emily's hair.

Each is a constant reminder of their beloved Tonya.

The family carries a framed picture of Tonya to major events, such as the birth of her brother Donny's twins, or Lyndsey and Eric's wedding. Lyndsey said it's a way to remind others Tonya is still with them.

"She would just be so excited about everything going on," Lyndsey said. "...She's going to miss all those things, but we have to incorporate her in every single thing possible."

One supportive mom

a man standing in front of a brick building: Lyndsey, left, and Eric Tuttle pose with a yard sign in memory of Tonya Allen, Lyndsey's sister. Allen was a victim of domestic violence in December 2005. © Courtesy Lyndsey, left, and Eric Tuttle pose with a yard sign in memory of Tonya Allen, Lyndsey's sister. Allen was a victim of domestic violence in December 2005.

Tonya's absence was especially felt during a recent football game.

Cameron Allen, now a senior at Forsan High School, was nominated to the homecoming court. Mothers usually accompany their sons during the presentation, but Lyndsey had to fill in.

"It was so hard being on the field," Lyndsey said. "I should've been on the track taking pictures of my sister and her baby. I shouldn't have been the one escorting him out. And it was so hard to look up in the stands and see all of our family there, except his momma and his grandma."

Lyndsey said Tonya would've been the "loudest one in the stands" at Cameron's games. That's how supportive she was. That's the way Kelsey remembers her mom, too.

Along with picking sunflowers and practicing spelling words, Kelsey said her favorite memory with her mom involved selling her "artwork."

"I was painting on that poster board all day, and I think it just ended up being a weird arrangement of colors all over the paper," Kelsey said. "Of course, my mom convinced me that it was like absolutely amazing. And I was convinced that I needed to sell this painting...So she let me stand at the corner with this painting, seeing if anyone wanted to buy it. She convinced one of our neighbors to come buy it for like a quarter. And I thought that I had just got put in a museum.

"She was just very encouraging...She was the mom that was like, 'You can do it. You're going to be great.' You know, a mom."

a person standing posing for the camera: Tonya Allen and her daughter, Kelsey, pose together at the Miss Texas Pageant. © Courtesy Tonya Allen and her daughter, Kelsey, pose together at the Miss Texas Pageant.

A 'voice' for Tonya

Kelsey said her mom was the "kindest," taking time to help others, no matter what was on her own plate.

Helping others is at the forefront of why domestic violence awareness is so important to Coach Tuttle.

One in four women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by a partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Tuttle said that prevalence is another reason he continues to speak out.

"I just try to be a voice for her, because there are so many people that are in that situation," Tuttle said. "There's so many people that are in that that just don't know how to get help, don’t know what to do. I just want to be that voice before it's too late and they can't help other people to get out of the same type of situations."

Big Spring will wear purple ribbon stickers on their helmets for domestic violence awareness, and Tuttle annually collects money for Victim Services of Big Spring. He said he hopes to match the $700 he raised last year.

The Big Spring football team will wear purple ribbon stickers on its helmets for domestic violence awareness during October. © Courtesy The Big Spring football team will wear purple ribbon stickers on its helmets for domestic violence awareness during October.

Tuttle said knowing the local resources is key to escaping an unsafe relationship, and he encouraged victims to speak out. Kelsey said it's important to remember "somebody out there will help you."

"If you wouldn't want your daughter treated like that, don't stay," Lyndsey added. "Love doesn't hurt."

Also the girls basketball coach, Tuttle said he's spoken to different groups around town about domestic violence. He became the family's unofficial spokesperson when Sandi Allen died in 2013. She had previously taken lead in telling Tonya's story, as other family members were uncomfortable speaking in public.

Tuttle's passion to be Tonya's "voice" and spread domestic violence awareness is not lost on her family, either.

"I'm so grateful that he's stepped up and he's spoken for someone he's never met," Kelsey said. "It's one of the greatest feelings, and I'm so blessed to have him in my family now."

Tuttle is family now because of Lyndsey. She said it "means the world" that her husband is so driven to spread awareness in her sister's memory. And she couldn't be more thankful.

"I just know that he was sent to me by (Tonya)," Lyndsey said. "I know God put him in my life for a reason. There's multiple reasons, but he's my rock when I can't be strong."

Domestic violence resources

Noah Project of Abilene

Callahan, Eastland, Haskell, Knox, Jones, Shackelford, Stonewall, Stephens, Taylor, and Throckmorton counties.

325-676-7107 or 1-800-444-3551; crisishelp@noahproject.org

Haskell County

940-864-2551 or 800-444-3551

Victim Services of Big Spring

432-263-3312

Texas Council on Family Violence

512-794-1133

National Domestic Violence Hotline

800-799-7233

Texas victims of domestic violence

These are 2019 statistics provided by the Texas Council on Family Violence.

Women

  • 150 women in 53 counties were killed by a male intimate partner (there also were 31 men, and one woman and three men killed by same-sex intimate partners).
  • Harris County led the way with 29, with 21 in Dallas County.
  • There was one such homicide in the Big Country, in Callahan County:

More: Abilene man charged in killings of woman, infant Saturday evening in Callahan County

  • There 20 related victims killed and six others injured in the commission of these homicides.
  • Since 2010, the women killed by a male intimate partner ranged from 102 in 2011 to 174 in 2018..
  • 75% of these homicides were at home
  • 29% of perpetrators killed themselves as well.
  • The youngest female victim was 15 years old, the oldest 87; most common were ages 30-39.
  • Most common victims were wives (70), with girlfriends second (50) and ex-girlfriends third (27).
  • 63 percent were killed with a firearm; statistics show the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
  • The top risk factor, at 35%, is ended relationship; the victim ended or made attempts to end their relationship.

Men

  • 31 men in 23 counties were killed by a female intimate partner.
  • Harris County lead the way with 6.
  • 81% of homicides occurred at home
  • Two perpetrators killed themselves
  • The youngest male victim was 17 years old, the oldest 93; most common were ages 50-59.
  • Most common victims were boyfriends (16), with husbands second (12) and ex-boyfriends third (3)
  • 68% were killed with a firearm
  • The top risk factor, at 35%, is ended relationship; the victim ended or made attempts to end their relationship.

The TCFV also posts a story about each fatality: http://tcfv.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/2019HTV_Narratives.pdf

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Tonya's Story: Big Spring coach uses tragedy to spread domestic violence awareness

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