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A newspaper clipping from the Lyons Progress reported that Linda Jernigan’s boyfriend was being held in the Toombs County jail after his .38-caliber pistol discharged — the bullet striking Jernigan in the head. Sheriff Charles Durst reported that after the shooting, the boyfriend transported Jernigan’s body to the Vidalia Police Department, arriving at 1:30 p.m. Jernigan was pronounced Dead on Arrival at Memorial Medical Center in Savannah later that day.

“All I can say is that it was hell for all of us — a kind of torture,” Lisa says. “I lost my sister that day, and they lost their mother. We had to deal with her death, and the horrible way she died, and then go through the funeral. Then we had to endure the trial, and then a second trial.”

According to the family, the boyfriend’s defense was that the shooting had been accidental. He was tried and convicted of firstdegree murder in the first trial and sentenced to life in prison. An appeal was filed and another trial was held finding him guilty of a lesser charge — involuntary manslaughter. He served a short sentence in prison before being released.

A few years ago, Joy went to the courthouse and read all of the documents from the trials.

“The memories came flooding back to me, and I sat there and cried and cried,” she says. “I read letters that people in the community had sent on [the defendant’s] behalf. They asked the judge for leniency for him. Maybe they didn’t know what we knew — that while they were dating, Mama came home with bruises and black eyes, and everyone begged her to break free of him. They’d break up for a while, but then she’d start seeing him again.”

Living with Grief

Despite the tragedy and its aftermath, Jeannie says that she’s proud of the women she and her sisters have become.

“We are all good people — decent, hard working, loving mothers with children of our own,” she says. “And the three of us are very close. In hindsight, I wish there had been a grief counselor there for us to talk to, but back then, there wasn’t anything like that. Staying with our great-grandmother [Mary Jernigan] was the best thing that ever happened to us, other than Jesus.”

Jeannie says that her great-grandmother, a woman of faith, urged her to forgive the man who killed her mother.

“She told me that if I wanted to keep my heart pretty, that I must forgive him,” she remembers. “I had such a hard time understanding that [concept], and it took a long time, and I learned a lot about forgiveness.”

As a way to cope with her internal pain, she still talks to her mother. “Sometimes I go to her grave and have a long conversation with her,” Jeannie says. “I look for the positive in life — that’s how I cope. [As for her legacy], I just want her to be celebrated for the beautiful person she was.”

As a teenager, Joy Weaver began writing down her thoughts in a journal and discovered the therapeutic power of journaling. Most recently, she penned a poignant Mother’s Day poem titled, “Mama’s are…,” a tribute to her mother and moms everywhere.

Marla Jernigan chooses to post photos and write tributes to her mother on her Facebook page to commemorate Linda Jernigan’s birthdays and the anniversaries of her death. She also uses the dates as opportunities to educate the public about the dangers of domestic violence.

“People don’t understand domestic violence,” the youngest sister says. “I can’t tell you how many times someone has said, ‘Why didn’t your mama just leave him? Why don’t those women just leave their abusers?’ It’s a more complex issue than that. If it was easy, every abused woman would walk away, and that would be that.”

A woman is beaten by an intimate partner every nine seconds in our country. Intimate Partner Violence results in nearly 1,300 deaths and 2 million injuries every year in the U.S. More than three women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends every single day. “Most abused women don’t think it will ever happen to them, but sometimes it does,” Marla says. “My mama should’ve left him. I wish she had.”

Recent Death Notices