Nicole’s Story – A Script On Domestic Violence
It’s not often I post my newspaper articles unless I think they need to be shared with a wider audience. Nicole’s story is one of those:
Nicole Hernane would be the first — among many — to tell you she has no idea why she is alive. “I guess God isn’t done with me yet,” she said in an interview.
After nearly 10 days in the hospital, she is trying to recover from a savage beating inflicted on her from her live-in boyfriend, who used two baseball bats on her.
Nicole’s story, which she agreed to share to help other women, is the classic script for those involved in a domestic abuse situation. Experts in the field, knowing only the outcome, could have written her story.
On the evening of Feb. 4, 32-year-old Nicole was sitting on her bed watching television at her house in the East Newnan community. Her boyfriend, David Bennett and 16 years her senior, was at a friend’s house getting a seatbelt on their car fixed.
And that’s about all she remembers.
Investigators with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office believe Bennett came back sometime around 9 p.m. The beating apparently began in the bedroom. More than two weeks after the attack, Nicole went back home to pick up some things. She said her headboard was shattered — “I think that’s where it started.”
Nicole said she “had a faint memory of running outside, just trying to get away and yelling for help.”
Investigators found a bloodied bat in a neighbor’s yard, thrown in the bushes. A pool of Nicole’s blood was on the driveway. Authorities say Bennett apparently dragged her back in the house and beat her some more. Another bloodied bat was found under a coffee table.
It’s unclear where Bennett went after the attack. What is known is around 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 5, he used Nicole’s cell phone and called a neighbor, Dondra Davis.
“He said you all need to get over here and check on your d— friend and you’d better do it right d— now,” Davis recalled. Her husband, Billy Ray, and 15-year-old grandson, Dylan Caldwell, rushed over to the house.
“I was traumatized about what I saw,” Caldwell remembered. “Her face was smashed in on both sides. Her whole face was black. I don’t see how anyone like that could be alive.”
Bennett made several calls while driving toward Atlanta that day. Dondra Davis said he called her several times, threatening to “get (them) next.”
“Dabo (Bennett’s nickname) called my sister and threatened to shoot her in the face,” Nicole said after she spoke to her sister days later. “He told her he hurt me real bad and left me in the house for dead.”
Authorities were able to track down Bennett by pinpointing his cell phone. He was captured in an Atlanta neighborhood later Feb. 5. He remains in the Coweta County Jail on charges of aggravated stalking, possession of narcotics and possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute. Investigators are looking at other charges, including terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
“No one thought I would make it,” Nicole said. “He bashed my face and head in so bad.”
Nicole and Bennett were together about eight years. This was not the first time the relationship had turned abusive, but never to this degree.
“He shoved me once… broke three bones in my wrist,” Nicole recalled. “He broke my nose once. He’d choke me and pull my hair.
“He always said if he couldn’t have me, then no one could,” she added.
Once, Nicole had enough. Bennett was choking her and she grabbed a mirror and threw it at his feet. It shattered and Bennett had to get stitches.
“I just wanted him to know you can’t keep beating on me,” she said about the mirror incident. “I’m going to fight back.”
Their last big fight was over a year ago.
But a couple of months ago, Bennett accused Nicole of stealing $12,000 from him.
“That went on for more than a month,” Nicole said. “Sometimes I’d go to friends to stay when it got bad, but I didn’t want to keep involving them… so I’d go back.
“I had no idea where his money was,” she added. “He’d lost money before. He’d hide it and forget where he hid it and we’d tear down the house looking for it.”
Nicole said Bennett’s temper would get worse after drinking or doing drugs. He began verbally threatening her more and more.
“I still have no idea where his money is,” Nicole said. “I got beat for nothing… he ruined my life.”
Nicole’s upper body is kept together with countless staples, metal plates and plastic.
Both her arms were broken. There’s an eight-inch gash held together with staples running from her elbow up to her shoulder. Her right wrist was shattered. Nicole said there aren’t any bones left in it.
The same holds true for her right elbow. It’s gone. Doctors put in metal plates and rods to replace the bones. There are more staples running up her left arm.
Her nose was crushed in, as was her right eye. She’s already visited a specialist, who’s prepared her for the fact they probably will have to remove that eye.
Two of her fingers were broken. She has two large gashes — also held together with staples — on her forehead.
But the most disturbing thing one notices is a row of staples. They start at one ear and go straight up, tracing her hairline. The staples end at the other ear. Nicole said doctors literally had to pull her face back to remove all the skull fragments that lodged into her brain.
“Never in a million years did I ever think he would do this,” she said.
“He had two guns. I don’t know why he used those bats. Why didn’t he just shoot me?”
Anyone reading about domestic violence always asks the same question — why stay?
“He was my first real love,” Nicole said. “I thought I could stop him. I thought I could teach him that we could argue but we don’t have to hit.
“You’re embarrassed to tell anyone because this person is supposed to love you,” she added. “It’s my fault. I should have gotten out a long time ago. I’m just embarrassed.”
Nicole plans to erase every memory she can.
“I can’t go into the house again,” she said. “The smell of him in there makes me sick. I’m going to sell everything… I don’t want any memories.”
Nicole is not looking forward to the trial.
“I don’t want to see him,” she said. “I don’t want him to see what he did to me… I saw his mug shot in the paper. It was like he was sort of smiling, like he was proud of himself.
“I hope he dies in jail.”
Nicole is still unsure of her next steps. She has months of recovery. She may still lose her right eye.
But she is determined to do something.
“Maybe I can help other women like me,” she said. “Abused women just don’t say anything. I know.”
Nicole had some advice for others:
“If you see red flags or get a bad feeling, get away,” she said. “It will happen again and it will only get worse.
“I don’t know why God saved me, but He did. And if I can help some other woman out by telling my story, then I will,” Nicole said. “I guess God’s not done with me yet.”