Daughter, Sister, Mother, Friend…
…you’re in the arms of the Angels,
may you find some comfort there….
Melissa was my sister–my baby sister (there are/were 12 years between us). She was the most genuine person I’ve ever known. From the time she was a little girl, she was a nurturer, a little Mommie. She was very sensitive–never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings, and when you were her friend–you were truly her friend. When she loved you, you knew it, because she didn’t do anything halfway…and Melissa loved her children. She was so proud of them and worked so hard to show people that although she was very young, she was a good mother. She was devoted to Maddy and Drew–she rarely asked our parents, or anyone to babysit them. She read to them, sang to them, talked to them. She wrote daily in a journal that she created for each of them…She loved her children.
~~~~~~And she loved Matt Hart.~~~~~~
As a teenager, Melissa stuggled with the things we all struggle with…boys, school, independence from Mom and Dad…At age 14 she met Matt, who was 16. Matt was someone Melissa could love and take care of, and who loved her in return. They had the normal ups and downs, as most teenage relationships do. Matt started to become possessive of Melissa; he wanted her to spend her time with him, and only him. Her world was to be centered around him.
A year later, Melissa became pregnant. And we learned that Matt was not 16, but 19. Madison was born and Melissa dropped out of high shool her sophomore year to raise her daughter and make a family with Matt. Matt and Melissa struggled–money was tight, Matt worked off and on (more off than on) was out with his friends most of the time, leaving Melissa home alone. Melissa was depressed and lonely. She wanted to leave Matt, but he convinced her that he would change and that they needed to be together for Madison’s sake.
Melissa started independent study courses to get her high school diploma–she wanted to go to cosmetology school and become an esthetician. Again she tried to leave Matt…but by then she was pregnant with Drew.
My dad and stepmother were beside themselves–Here was Melissa, 18, with a 2 year old and another on the way….Matt had become persona non grata in their home and didn’t want Melissa to spend time wth her family. They loved Melissa and wanted so much for her to make the right choices and most of all to be happy. It was so hard for them to see Melissa struggle, but she had determined her path.
Seven months pregnant with Drew, Melissa moved back home with her parents. Finally–the first step away from Matt. And on June 10, 1999, she graduated from high school–on time, with her class (making up almost two years of course work in one year), and with honors. I had always promised Melissa that if she accomplished this goal, I would be there to watch her graduate. And I was; I drove 5 hours to get there and was so very proud of her. I sat in the audience and applauded and cheered when her name was called. It was the last time I saw my sister alive.
On November 2nd, their daughter’s birthday, Melissa told Matt that she wanted to end their relationship–that he was Maddy and Drew’s father and that although she wanted to maintain that parent-child relationship, their relationship with each other was really over. She wanted and needed to move on with her life. Matt’s response was, “Well, you know what I have to do now…I have to kill you”. Matt also threatened to kill himself. Missy called Matt’s mother–they were very close–and told her that Matt had threatened suicide…that he needed help. His mom called the police, who went to Matt’s apartment (that he and Melissa had shared until recently). There they found several shotguns, handgun, and knives, which they confiscated (Matt didn’t have any gun permits, and several of the weapons were illegal). The police then took him to the psychiatric ward of a local hospital where doctors admitted him and put him on a mandatory 72 hour hold for observation.
On Friday, the fifth of November, after determining that Matt wasn’t a danger to himself or anyone else, hospital administrators released him after only 48 hours. Matt then went to a friend’s home and stole a handgun. When the friend discovered the gun missing, he reported it missing to the police and told them that he believed Matt had stolen it. Later that day, Matt called Melissa and asked if he could come over and talk to her. He told her that the psychiatrist had told him that he needed to put closure to their relationship so that he, too, could “move on”, and that if he could just talk to her and say goodbye, then they would both go on in different directions. Melissa agreed to a meeting later that evening.
Melissa had told her family and friends about her concerns about Matt–she called me several times that week and even that afternoon, to tell me what was going on (silly me, I thought a restraining order would make things better). Melissa’s mom (my step-mother) had gone out that evening with some friends. Worried about Missy, she had taken Missy’s pager and told her to page her if she needed anything. Our dad was out of the state on business. Missy called her friend Chris and told him that Matt was coming over “for a few minutes” and that she would call him when Matt left so they could watch a movie and eat their favorite ice cream…Melissa never called.
On November 5th, 1999, Melissa was kidnapped at gunpoint from her home by Matt Hart–her estranged boyfriend and father of her children. She was at home with her 2 year old daughter Madison, 3 month old son Drew, and was babysitting our 3 year old nephew Anthony, when Matt arrived at about 9:30 p.m. with a gun. He threatened to kill her and the children but Melissa pleaded with him and finally convinced him to take her and leave the house. She locked all the doors, so the babies couldn’t wander outside, and left with him. Taking our father’s car, Matt drove Missy to a neighborhood lake/recreation area. Along the way, he used our dad’s cellular phone to call the police and tell them to go check on his kids because he had their mother was going to kill her.
At approximately the same time, Melissa’s friend Chris had been repeatedly trying to call Melissa and got no answer. Knowing that Matt was headed to her house, Chris became worried since Melissa hadn’t called and decided to go see if everything was o.k. Chris arrived at the house at the same time the police did–finding Melissa’s children and nephew locked inside and crying. Knowing that Melissa would never leave her babies alone, Chris knew something was very wrong. Noticing that one of the vehicles was missing and with Chris able to give them a description of the car they were likely in, the police located the vehicle–abandoned–in a parking lot across from a lake and park. With help from the Sheriff’s Department, the police located Matt and Missy using infrared equipment and managed to surround them on the ground while the Sheriff’s helicopter monitored them from the air. Noticing that Matt had a gun, the police on the ground ordered the helicopter to illuminate the area with the spotlight. When they did, Matt put the gun he had stolen earlier that day to Missy’s head and pulled the trigger. He then shot himself. My baby sister died on the way to the hospital; Matt lived for a few hours longer and then died.
My parents are now raising my niece and nephew… Because of a single act of violence, Madison and Drew no longer have a Mommie or a Daddy. They don’t have her to hold them, sing to them, bandage skinned knees or kiss them goodnight. She won’t be there to sing “You are My Sunshine” to them as she puts them to sleep, like she did every night.
My parents have lost their youngest child. Part of their hearts and souls died when Melissa died. Their grief doesn’t dissipate as the time goes on; the wound only deepens as the magnitude of their loss becomes more apparent as each day without Melissa passes. How do they one day explain to Madison and Drew what happened to their mother, and why it happened?
My brother Michael, sister Jennifer and I have lost our baby sister and our friend. Jennifer and Melissa were best friends, partners in crime, confidants–they were each one half of the whole. And now Jen is only one…trying to fill the void in all of our lives.
Michael and I, well, our grief is really secondary to our parents’ right now. As the adult children, we’ve been trying to be strong for our Dad and Debbie. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem right for them to be comforting us. But trying to help long-distance isn’t easy, and we worry and grieve from afar, and wonder how Dad and Debbie will be tomorrow, wishing we were closer in case they need us.
As time goes by, the media fury that surrounded Melissa’s death is subsiding. The reporters no longer call us at home and at work wanting a comment or more details about Missy. It seems that the “murder-suicide that rocked Kern County” is fading…in fact, Melissa’s murder was mentioned as a statistic in a report published in The Bakersfield Californian, that heralded a decline in the number of homicides in Kern county. 25% of all murders are committed within the family; 13% are committed by a spouse. It can happen in YOUR family.