After losing their daughter to domestic violence in May 2018, Marshall pastor and Wiley College professor Dr. Tracy Andrus and wife, Sonya, have opened up two safe houses, in Harrison County, to provide victims a place of refuge.

The properties — appropriately named “Heather’s House” in honor of their 37-year-old daughter Heather Mouton — were dedicated on Saturday with a ceremonial ribbon cutting. Andrus was overcome with emotion as he thanked all in attendance for sharing in the special moment, which was also observed as a part of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“This house is something that has come to fruition that we’ve been praying about,” said Andrus, who is pastor of Edwards Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Marshall and director of the Lee P. Brown Criminal Justice Institute at Wiley College.

“My daughter lost her life through domestic violence, being shot point-blank range by her husband,” he said.

The tragedy occurred in Andrus’ hometown and daughter’s city of residency, Crowley, Louisiana. Crowley police recorded it as the town’s first homicide of the year, and dubbed it as a “deadly case of domestic violence.”

According to news reports, Heather tragically sustained two shots in the head. Sadly, the murder occurred just shortly after Heather, who was also a mother, had finally found the strength to leave her husband and file for a restraining order. Her husband, Demetric Savoy, had just been served the order the day he took her life.

Although painful, the Andrus family said they’re grateful to be able to bless others through the tragedy, by offering safe homes in Heather’s memory, through the Tracy Andrus Foundation.

A Safe Haven

Andrus stood beside a bouquet of purple balloons and a pair of Bibles, on Saturday, as he kicked off the ribbon cutting with a prayer of thanksgiving.

“It’s been a blessing because now I understand better what people go through when they don’t have a place to go and I understand more about domestic violence; and God put it on our hearts to do something for our community in memory of our daughter, Heather,” Andrus told the crowd. “This is what we came up with and purchased this property.”

“It’s in a very secluded area and we thought this would be the perfect place to build a safe house,” the father said.

The homes will be registered, as of next week, with the Texas and Louisiana Registry, in order to serve as an official safe haven for both men and women victims from East Texas and northwest Louisiana.

“If someone from Tyler to Monroe needs a place to get away, whether it’s for a few weeks or a few months, they can come over here,” said Andrus. “They don’t have to pay a penny. We will provide them with everything that they need while they stay here.”

The homes are already equipped with furniture and appliances to accommodate victims and their children’s needs. Andrus said they also plan to provide Internet access. Additionally, surveillance cameras will be added as well as a privacy fence to further provide security.

“We’re going to do everything we can to protect folk as much as we can,” said Andrus. “We just thank God for allowing us the opportunity to have the means to do what we’ve done. God has been very good to us and we’re going to make sure that we’re a blessing to others.”

Andrus’ cousin, Shonnetta Green, traveled from Crowley to not only share in the occasion, but to also give her own testimony of survival.

“It’s such a blessing to stand before you to be able to share a few words about this because I am a survivor of domestic violence,” said Green. “I had a protective order, still almost lost my life, but I’m here today because of the grace of God.”

Green stressed how important the role of a safe house is as it serves as a place of peace.

“It’s not just a place for somebody to lay their heads, but to lay their hearts, because when they’re going through something such as domestic violence, they go through every part of abuse that you could imagine – from physical, to sexual, to emotional, to verbal,” she said. “All those abuses are significant.”

She said whenever victims repeatedly go back to the abuser, things usually escalate. But to have a safe house to turn to as an escape from the bondage is a blessing, she said.

“Love is not abuse and abuse is not love. So everybody does not want to live in that abusive relationship,” said Green.

“Like me, I’m here in front of you today because I had the chance to start over,” she said. “But I didn’t have a safe house to go to, to start over. I had family and I had support; so to be able to have a safe house for somebody to lay not just their head but their hearts, to be at peace and to know that there is a way out and that there is sunshine after the pain, it’s a blessing.”

District 5 Marshall City Commissioner Vernia Calhoun said she was glad to be a part of Saturday’s ribbon cutting, as well. She said the resource is something that’s needed in the local community.

“We, as a community, we are so blessed to have you to provide this,” she told the Andrus family.

Calhoun said she has personally known domestic violence victims and she encourages anyone who is a victim to seek help.

“Any abuse, if they hit you once, it’s going to happen again,” said Calhoun.

“So if it happens, get out,” she encouraged. “Get help. It doesn’t make you any less. Don’t worry about what people say. You have to protect yourself, and especially if you have children. Get you and your children out of that surrounding because love does not hurt.”

District 2 City Commissioner Leo Morris also extended his congratulations on the program, noting how helpful it will be in the community.

“God is blessing you and you saw the fortitude to pass that blessing on, because the people that are going to have access to this program is going to be deserving of it and I’m sure that they will benefit greatly from your efforts,” Morris told the Andrus family.

Sonya Andrus said she, too, was grateful for all who shared in the occasion.

“When God allowed Heather to be delivered from her situation, he opened the door so that we can provide a blessing to provide deliverance to other women. So we pray that this safe house provides a refuge for women so that they can have an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with God, to build relationships, to build their self esteem and to know that there is restoration and hope,” she said. “That’s what we hope that Heather’s House will be.”

Dr. Andrus said his foundation has teamed up with law enforcement agencies and family services entities to refer victims to Heather’s House.

“If anybody needs help, or they have somebody that really needs to get away, they can contact us directly, or the police department would have access to getting here also,” he said.