Every year some 500 women kill their abusers in domestic relationships. The story of how Barbara Sheehan shot and killed her husband Ray with his own two loaded guns, and the her ultimate acquittal at trial, dominated headlines for months. She told her story only as she testified for her own freedom. Until now. Thursday, Barbara Sheehan took PIX11 News into the home she shared with her family, where she suffered untold abuse, and where she ended the torment in a hail of bullets.
“The abuse was horrendous. It just didn’t stop the black and blues, the black eyes the bruising. It was just horrible to have a gun put to your mouth to your head on more than one occasion,” Barbara Sheehan can lay it all out now, three and half years after the abuse stopped. Sheehan had endured 17 years of verbal, physical and mental abuse. Both of her children testified in her defense at her murder trial; she was acquitted of shooting and killing her retired NYPD Sergeant husband Ray, escaping a 25 years to life sentence. It all ended here, in the family’s Howard Beach home. 24 hours of intense fighting between the two came to an explosive conclusion in February of 2008.
“He was screaming he was going to kill me, I’m f’ing going to kill you. And I picked up the gun I had and I shot him. I don’t know how many times I shot,” she says, with a look on her face as if she is back there, in the hallway, outside the bathroom, facing what had just happened. In just moments Barbara used two of Ray’s loaded guns, firing 11 bullets, bringing her husband’s life, her marriage, and ultimately her torture–to an end.
“All of a sudden it was over and I was still standing up and he wasn’t and he was no longer threatening me.”
Barbara says looking back, she saw the signs that Ray wanted to end her life, “I knew the end was near and that he was going to kill me.”
For years he kept her abuse secret to make the Sheehan family life look perfect from the outside. Lying to cover up the bruises, threatening her with wiping out her entire family to keep her quiet. “He would tell me if I told anybody he was going to go down in glory he’s not going down easily and he would take everyone out before he left.”
The night before the shooting, Barbara and Ray visited son Raymond at his Connecticut college. It was then that Barbara stood up to him–saying she would not go to Florida the next day on a planned vacation. It unleashed his fury. “I put my foot down and said I’m not going to Florida tomorrow. I’m not, I can’t, I’m afraid of you. And he broke my nose in the car. This white t-shirt I was wearing was full of blood, and he took his gun out and held it up to me and said he was going to kill me if I got blood in his new car.”
She needed to go to the hospital, and ended up walking, but could not escape his threats. “He was texting me all night while I was in the hospital and threatened me and said if a cop car shows up here I am going to go down in glory and he was going to take out my whole family, my kids, my father, my brother and then was coming back to get me, and I knew he was going to do it. I knew he had the guns and the extra ammunition.”
And it wasn’t over the next morning, when they should have been leaving for vacation. “He dragged me out of bed, dragged me down the stairs and threw me out on the porch.”
Left in the February rain, in her pajamas, she hid under their deck, ashamed to ask for help, terrified to go back inside. “I was so afraid, I knew he was going to kill me, I knew. 17 years. You just know.”
Barbara had called an abuse hotline just weeks before; they told her to accumulate some cash, and get ready to flee. She decided she would go for good, but telling Ray she needed to run to the store.
“His face was totally blank, his eyes were glazed over they had not emotion. He opened the door and had a gun in his hand and pointed a gun at my head and he said he was going to kill me if I left the house, that I couldn’t leave the house.”
But she knew she couldn’t stay either.
She recounted the horrific moments of the shooting, “I ran down the hall, and got my money and that’s when one of the guns was lying on the bed. So I said in order to get out of the house, I needed to pass the bathroom and get down the stairs. If I have a gun in my hand, then maybe he won’t shoot. Cuz he’ll see that I have a gun and he won’t use his. “He came at me with the gun he had, and I picked up the gun I had and I shot him. I don’t know how many times I shot.”
Barbara had just emptied Ray’s .38 caliber fully loaded pistol, the weapon he usually wore strapped to his ankle. 5 bullets tore into Ray. But a second gun, his NYPD issued 9mm glock that he kept with him as he showered, had slipped from his hands and was on the floor between them.
Sheehan continued the blow by blow narrative, “I went to the bathroom to actually help him, I felt so bad. He kind of slid down, was in the sitting position, he was trying to get up, use his hands to push himself up and reaching for the gun next to him and he was screaming I’m going to f’ing kill you, wait till I get up you’re f’ing dead, I’m going to f’ing kill you. So I grabbed the gun that he was trying to reach. / He was a lot bigger than I am he was going to catch me. So I was backing out of the bathroom and I shot that gun too and I shot it until he wasn’t threatening me anymore and he couldn’t get up and I ran down the stairs.”
Barbara unleashed a total of eleven bullets, killing Ray, ending the abuse, but not the guilt.
“I couldn’t believe this had happened. this is what I did. It was a terrible, terrible thing to live with.”
She was found not guilty of murder on October 5th, and is now appealing one guilty charge for weapons possession. Out on a million dollars bond, secured by four of her family members houses, she is physically free, and for the first time in decades, mentally freed as well.
“I know I’m safe now. I can go to bed at night, and put my head on my pillow and not worry about what will happen.”
Barbara will be sentenced in two weeks for possessing the gun she used in the shooting, but should remain free on bail through her appeal, which could take a year. The department of education, where she is a secretary, has notified her they will fire her since she is now a convicted felon. She’s hopeful she will win the appeal, and ultimately her job back. Despite all those obstacles, she’s thankful, and hopeful. Tomorrow at 5, she shares how she’s rebuilding her life by trying to make other lives better.
Barbara Sheehan has become the unintended poster child for Domestic Violence. Her story grabbed national headlines after she was found clutching two guns on her Howard Beach living room floor, admitting she’d shot her retired cop husband in the family bathroom.
The story that was revealed during her murder trial was heart wrenching–a woman who’d been abused for 17 years by a man who was obsessed by twisted sexual fantasies.
For the first time since she beat the murder charge and went away for nearly 2 weeks to Riker’s Island Jail, Barbara Sheehan is telling her story exclusively to PIX 11.
“I knew I needed to do something. I knew the end was near I knew he was going to kill me,” Barbara Sheehan can now state matter-of-factly.
The mother of two is weaning herself off anxiety medicine, and sleeping pills, the hangover from years of panic attacks as she coped with the aftermath of shooting her husband.
It all ended in February, 2008 with 2 guns, 11 bullets, and Barbara being the only one to walk away. 24 years of marriage for Ray and Barbara Sheehan came to this explosive conclusion after years of abuse according to Barbara.
She had married her high school sweetheart at just 22, despite seeing early warning signs. “He was very possessive of my time, didn’t want me to go out with my friends,” recounts Barbara of their early dates. But they reunited after a break up and eventually wed. And once married, more clues slipped in once Ray started to slap her around
“He came from an abusive home. He was abused, verbally, emotionally, physically,” all at the hands of his mother. Soon as a child he was venting his silent rage on animals.
“That’s another first sign of an abuser. Another sign to get out if people are telling you how they abused animals as a child,” said Barbara and eventually he turned all that anger on her.
She sums it up in one terrible sentence. “It was a house of Horrors,” she says.
The violence escalated after their second child, son Raymond, was born. But Barbara never told anyone, never called 9-1-1,
“He’d hit me with the receiver and say go ahead and call them, you think they’re going to take a police report from a sergeant, you think they’re going to believe you?” taunted Ray, according to Barbara.
“Being a cop he knew where to put the bruises. On your back, the top parts of your arms on top part of your legs, places where people don’t see them.”
She still bears the scar from having her head split open and stitched up after Ray smashed her head against a hotel room wall while on a Jamaican vacation. Ray would blame Barbara for the cuts bruises, calling her a clumsy. And Barbara’s shame pushed her to secrecy as well. “You learn how to cover things up. You don’t see them for a week while the black eye is healing. You have a cold, you can’t come out. You wear a turtleneck because you have marks on your neck,” she remembers.
The relationship took its ultimate violent turn for the worse once Barbara stumbled on Ray’s true secret while on the family computer.
Barbara recounted, I would log on and these people would start talking to me. Originally I thought it was a woman he was having an affair with but then there was no woman. He went with transvestites. He would meet up with these young people he would dress up as a woman; they would dress up as a woman. He wanted to act as a baby; I don’t even know what it was called. Infantilism? He was into that, wearing diapers. I knew for years. It had been at least 10 years since we had any sex,” Barbara spelled it all out.
“You knew all the dirty nasty little sexual secrets that he was embarrassed by that he was shamed by?” asked reporter Kirstin Cole, “You think that’s part of the reason why you had to go?”
“I knew too much,” said Barbara.
Barbara’s most basic instincts kicked in, and sent her a message. “I could see and sense he was losing his mind, he was losing control of himself and it was going to end and he was definitely going to kill me,” she says ominously.
The District Attorney’s office tried desperately to prove Barbara manufactured the abuse allegations, trying to discredit her own testimony as well as that of her children who witnessed so much of the abuse, and friends who vouched for the cuts, bruises and verbal abuse. Ultimately, the jury believed Barbara and that she was justified in shooting her husband in self defense.
The scenario she describes is all symptomatic of domestic violence. It happens behind closed doors; victims are silent and are so scared the abuser may hurt other family members they often choose to suffer in silence, as Barbara did.