JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Looking back, it's easy for Megan Hiatt to see that she was trapped in an abusive relationship. But two years ago, before her life was completely upended, she didn't recognize the red flags.
She didn't yet know what her boyfriend, Gawain Rushane Wilson, was capable of. She didn't realize the danger she was in until it was too late.
The Oceanway home the couple shared exploded in gunfire when Wilson returned to find Hiatt moving out Nov. 13, 2015. He shot Hiatt, her father James and the couple's twins, Hayden Rose and Kayden Reese, before killing himself.
Miraculously, Hiatt survived.
"I was shot seven times, literally from head to toe," she said Tuesday at a Domestic Violence Awareness event held at the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office headquarters. "...My children were in my arms, lifeless. I laid there thinking, 'How did it get to this point?'"
Court records show Wilson, 28, had a history of domestic violence. In 2014, a woman obtained a restraining order against him. The year before that, he received probation after pleading no contest to domestic battery charges following accusations that he choked a woman.
At first, Hiatt said, she was swept off her feet by Wilson, the man she was convinced would be her Prince Charming. Things happened so fast, she moved in with him two months into their relationship.
But even early on, she noticed things weren't right. "I was never good enough, pretty enough. I was never what he needed or wanted," she recalled.
Then she began picking up on the warning signs, particularly his short temper. She said he had a tendency to snap over trivial things.
"I remember one day we got in an argument because dinner wasn't done on his time, and he threw a coffee table at me," she said, noting it wasn't the first time he flung objects at her.
Less apparent to Hiatt was Wilson's controlling nature. She said he was always critical of her. Initially, she brushed it off as him pushing her to be a better person.
"If I left the house, I had to have my makeup on and a cute outfit on," said Hiatt. "We never left the house looking a mess. It was unacceptable."
That flaw became clearer after she had their twin baby girls. He constantly pressured her about staying in shape, particularly after giving birth.
"Three days after having the girls, he asked if I was going to lose the weight I had gained," she said. "I only gained 30 pounds with twins. I wasn't that big."
Hiatt, 23, now walks with the help of an arm brace, one of the scars she carries from the atrocity she endured two years ago.
But the episode also instilled her with a greater self-esteem, and vowed not to let herself or anyone she knows fall victim to abuse.
"I am strong now," she said. "I love myself. I'm surviving this aftermath. I will continue to fight for women and men who are in abusive relationships, fight for their freedom, fight for them to know what real love is, what a healthy relationship is."
October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To learn more about domestic violence or get help, the following resources are available:
- Hubbard House (Baker and Duval counties): hubbardhouse.org or (904) 354-3114
- Micah's Place (Nassau County): micahsplace.net or (904) 225-9979
- Betty Griffin House (St. Johns County): bettygriffinhouse.org or (904) 824-1555
- Quigley House (Clay County): quigleyhouse.org or (904) 284-0061