The terrifying final moments of Tensia M. Richard's life -- being ambushed by her husband in a strip mall parking lot in Cottage Grove and gunned down Thursday before he killed himself -- ended several years of a relationship scarred by rage, obsession and abuse.
"She thought there could be a snapping point with him," said Craig Woolery, Cottage Grove's director of public safety, describing a June 2011 police encounter with Chevel C. Richard, in which it took several officers to subdue him after his arrest for fifth-degree assault.
That snapping point came about 3:35 p.m. Thursday when, Woolery said, Chevel Richard lured his wife out of the Anytime Fitness center in the 7700 block of Harkness Av. S. He then began shooting at her with a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun, chased her through the strip mall parking lot, then killed her as she sought refuge in a Jimmy John's sandwich shop.
He then shot himself in the head and died several hours later at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. They were both 22. Their two children, boys 3 years old and 5 months old, are in the care of her parents.
"I'm hurting. That's my only boy," said Dale Richard, Chevel Richard's father. "He had no reason to do that to her," he added. He said his son was driven to violence by all-consuming jealousy because the woman he had loved since they were teenagers at Park High School was leaving him for someone else. "'If I can't have you, nobody will' -- that's what I think he was thinking," the father said. Police said she was considering a divorce. She was living in Cottage Grove; he lived in Eagan. Dale Richard added: "I didn't have a clue he was going to do this."
Tensia Richard's father, Juan Martinez, said Friday that the family didn't want to talk.
Jacalyn Galloway, a friend of Tensia, remembered how excited she was when pregnant with her second child. "She was just so focused on those kids," Galloway said. "She was such a good parent."
A vigil to honor Tensia will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday near the Jimmy John's, Galloway said.
The husband's jealous anger had shown itself in the incident last year. Tensia Richard described it in an affidavit seeking a court order for protection. "Chevel has threatened physical harm towards me and has been emotionally abusive," she said in the affidavit. "He has driven into oncoming traffic where I had to grab the wheel to prevent an accident. He has threatened to kill me and take away my child and also threatened to kill himself in front of me. ... I am scared that since I called the police he will be angrier with me."
In two earlier incidents, he held a knife to his own throat and sliced his own arm open to the muscle. "I was really scared so I just cleaned up the blood and didn't know what else to do," she wrote.
That morning in June 2011, the affidavit said, he found a text message on her phone from a male friend and tore her from her bed. He hurled their son's playpen against the wall, then grabbed the boy while screaming obscenities, threatening to take him away. When she tried to call 911, he grabbed the phone and smashed it.
Sgt. Randy McAlister, a detective with the Cottage Grove Police Department, helped Tensia fill out a lethality assessment protocol (LAP) survey, a tool investigators use to determine the level of threat faced by a victim of domestic violence to determine the right course of action. "She was a high risk for homicide," McAlister said. An order for protection, under which Chevel Richard could not come near his wife or have contact with their child, was issued a couple of days later, and the couple separated.
But in a scenario all too familiar to police, prosecutors and victim advocates, Tensia went back to her husband two months later, asking the court to rescind the protective order. "I'm not sure what happened there," McAlister said. "When I dealt with her, she was very scared for her safety."
Both McAlister and Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said such cases can be frustrating. "We have to balance our responsibility for the victims against letting adults make decisions about their own lives," Orput said. Orders for protection are civil matters, but there is a point where criminal prosecution steps in.
"I certainly can't comment on this specific case, but I can tell you that, unfortunately for many victims of domestic abuse, they do go back" to their abuser, said Jen Polzin, director of development and communications for Tubman, which helps those victims. "And a big part of that is fear."
Fear for children's safety adds emotional complication, Polzin said. Victims also often try to placate their abuser in hopes the situation will fix itself, or feel they don't have the means to stand on their own. The cycle of separation and return can go on for several rounds before a victim gathers the strength to leave.
However, "the most dangerous time for a victim is when they are planning to leave," she said.
Staff writers Kevin Giles and Nicole Norfleet contributed to this report. Jim Anderson 651-925-5039
IN MINNESOTA IN 2011:
At least 23 women, 4 children and 1 man died from domestic violence.
To get help dealing with domestic violence, contact the Tubman organization at 612-825-0000.
Sources: Minn. Coalition for Battered Women; Tubman