In 2002, Lisa Tyler was a victim.
Now, she is a survivor.
Tyler, a Mount Hope resident, will be presented with the Geneva Foster Award during the Seventh Annual “Operation Reach Out” today. Operation Reach Out is a crime victims’ awareness and crime prevention fair conducted yearly at the state Capitol complex, and it is sponsored in honor of this week’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. She said she will receive the award in front of Gov. Joe Manchin.
Tyler is being presented the award for her two-and-a-half years of speaking to law enforcement and state Division of Corrections inmates and staff about an experience from which she is still scarred — in more ways than one. She now uses her experience to reach out to others, trying to keep them from walking in her shoes.
Tyler was married to Robert Kenneth Legg, now about 40, for 10 years. The cycle of violence, she explained, begins with a “honeymoon phase” and ends with an “explosion.” As time progressed, the length of time between “honeymoons” and “explosions” became shorter and shorter.
In October 2001, Tyler said Legg held her at shotgun-point while she was pregnant with her daughter, now 5. Legg told her he would kill her and her parents if she called police. Her husband left for work — and she called police. Tyler then obtained a Domestic Violence Petition (DVP).
Not long thereafter, Tyler said she second-guessed herself, believing the incident was her fault. She dropped the DVP and let Legg come back. For about four months, she said she tried to be “submissive,” in an effort to see if things really were her fault.
She said she then realized the situation with her husband was not her fault at all.
An “explosion” happened on a Sunday, Tyler said. She was delivering a tax return to someone, and Legg busted a TV set with his fist. She tried to ask Legg why he would not change, and he said he could not. She then realized she could live with the situation or get out.
Feb. 14, 2002, Tyler said she went to Raleigh County Magistrate Court to obtain a DVP. A magistrate, she said, told her that her husband had done nothing yet to warrant it. A woman she knew not only helped her get the DVP, but also urged her to stay at the Women’s Resource Center’s shelter in Glen White. Tyler fled to the shelter with her then-5-year-old son and daughter, 9 weeks old at the time.
That evening, State Police said Legg gained entry to the shelter, a secure facility. He had followed a tenant after a WRC worker opened an electronic gate in the building’s rear. He then attacked Tyler with a metal pipe-like object. Another tenant intervened, and Legg beat her with the object as well. Two other women were also injured in the attack.
Legg attacked her about an hour-and-a-half after she arrived at the shelter, Tyler said.
The attack left Tyler permanently disabled, Tyler said. She was struck approximately 40 times — and five times in the head — with an object that turned out to be a steel post that horizontally holds up a fence. Her injuries included a broken leg and nerve damage.
“I was pretty much black and blue from the neck down,” she said.
During the attack, Tyler said her main concern was her children. She found her son soon afterward — but she could not find her daughter.
“I remember hearing her cry and my little boy cry — then I no longer heard her cry,” she said.
A window near her daughter’s crib was broken and glass had fallen into it, Tyler said. She then found her daughter after discovering a woman at the shelter had taken the baby up the street — so Legg would not hear the baby’s crying. She noted her daughter was not even scratched by the broken glass.
Legg pleaded guilty in May 2002 to charges of malicious wounding, domestic battery and nighttime burglary, according to a previous story in The Register-Herald. The following month, Raleigh County Circuit Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick sentenced Legg to one-to-15 years in prison for nighttime burglary, two-to-10 years for malicious wounding and 12 months in jail for domestic battery. Legg was also ordered to pay all court costs. The sentences were to run consecutively.
Kirkpatrick, at that time, said there are husbands and boyfriends who believe the shelter can be stormed, and if “victims can be beaten and dragged out with little or no legal ramifications, then chaos will ensue.”
Tyler said her now-former husband remains incarcerated at the Denmar Correctional Center in Pocahontas County and was, for the third time, denied parole in December 2006.
Tyler described the time after the attack as a “twilight zone” for her. She said being thrust into the legal system was a whole new world, a system she did not understand. Not only was a criminal case pending against Legg, but she had also immediately filed for divorce after the attack.
After Legg was sentenced and things began to settle down, she said she was very close to suicide.
“Part of it was because of the physical pain, which was quite extreme,” Tyler said. “But there was emotional damage done.
“...Even today, there are still sights, sounds and smells that are reminders.”
Making matters worse for her is that not only her son had witnessed the attack, but this was done in a place she believed would be safe, Tyler said. She soon believed she would never be safe — anywhere.
“I struggled with that, constantly, for the longest time,” she said. “I can walk into a department store that I have never been in — and I can tell you where all the exits are. Because I was in a secure location, this took away my ability to be secure.”
But even while she was still hospitalized, she realized she had to share her story.
After 160 sessions with a therapist, Tyler said she began healing and learning to cope with the situation. She was never afraid of talking to people — it came naturally to her.
She said she first worked with the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, but two-and-a-half years ago she was then asked to speak to both inmates and staff at facilities run by the state Division of Corrections. The first group she addressed was at the Anthony Correctional Center in White Sulphur Springs, a facility for young adult offenders ages 18-21.
When making that first speech, she said she was horrified, but Tyler became more focused as time went on.
“It’s unbelievable, the response I get,” she said. “I can’t talk to them as a social worker or a psychologist, but I can have a personal conversation with them and tell them what they need to do to help themselves.”
Tyler said she speaks with both male and female inmates at facilities ranging from work release centers for nonviolent offenders to the Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County, which houses all female inmates — some serving life sentences.
When speaking to female inmates, she noted dry eyes in the room are rare — because a high percentage of incarcerated women are domestic violence victims. The women will often tell her what has happened in their lives, as well.
Some of her most memorable speaking engagements, Tyler said, were ones in which she addressed male inmates.
“The men are very, very amazing,” she said. “Men are, for the most part, appalled.”
Once, a male inmate told Tyler his sister was in an abusive relationship, and she said the inmate wanted to help his sister. She told him he needed to support his sister and relay her to a domestic violence shelter — but he could not confront the abuser himself. She informed him that if that happened, particularly in a violent situation, the first one to be in trouble would be the inmate because he was a felon.
When speaking to inmates, Tyler said she dresses very casually because she wants them to see her on their own level.
“I want to be where they are when I am talking to them.”
Laughter helps often, she noted. Talking about her children or life in general often breaks the tension. Also, she makes sure never to “preach” to people because she will not be received as well.
“The first thing I say is that I’m not here to judge you. That’s not my job,” she said.
Tyler said she still has peripheral neuropathy and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the attack. While her daughter is “normal as can be” due to being too young to remember the attack, her son, now 10, is being treated for pediatric PTSD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
“If anything still makes me angry, it’s watching him suffer,” she said of her son. “For a very long time, he wouldn’t let me out of his sight.
“...He felt it was his fault because he was unable to protect me, even though he was only a child.”
But her son is learning to cope as well — feeling much more safe and secure. He is even at the point where he can discuss that night in 2002 openly and honestly.
Tyler said she wants to write a book and plans to broaden her speaking audience. She may speak in Asheville, N.C., to a group of battered women. There, a man gained access to a shelter — then shot and killed his wife. She also addresses law enforcement agencies, and she may later address the FBI.
With her continued work, Tyler said she hopes she reaches more people — and the process has helped her heal.
“The more I talk to people, the more it helps my healing,” she said. “I also hope I give people something to walk away with.
“...I personally hope (those in abusive relationships) can educate themselves — by talking to someone at a battered women’s facility and locating information so they can understand where they are. Then, they do not need to wait until it escalates to the point where they are in physical danger or their children suffer.”
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In 2002, Lisa Tyler was a victim.
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