Six months pregnant and clutching her 2-year-old son in her right arm, Amber Carter had a harrowing decision to make as her estranged father-in-law burst into the room with a gun after having already fatally shot her husband and mother-in-law.
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She could either face a man who had violated a protection order from her mother-in-law multiple times and was now carrying through on the threats of violence that he had hinted at for two years — or leap out a second-story window.
“I’m thinking, ‘This is it,’’’ Carter told NBC News. “He’s going to kill us.’’
Carter took eight gunshots to her left leg while straddling the window sill, and her son, Mason, was also hit four times before Carter leaped out the window to try to save her son and her unborn child. She and her son landed on the sidewalk on the side of the house. Her father-in-law, 50-year-old Dennis Carter Sr., then came downstairs and shot her in the back at close range before fleeing the scene.
During that time, 2-year-old Mason died in her arms from his wounds. An hour later, Carter Sr. shot himself during the police chase that followed the shooting spree in which he took the lives of his own son, Dennis Carter Jr., 26, his estranged wife, Donna, 49, and his grandson Mason.
“On a scale of one to 10, 10 being the worst, this was absolutely the worst I have ever seen,’’ Perry Rushing of the Livingston (La.) Parish Sheriff’s Office told NBC News.Video: Mom jumps out window to save unborn baby (on this page)
But while Carter lost her husband, her mother-in-law, and her young son that horrific day at her mother-in-law’s home in Holden, La., one member of her family was saved. Amber underwent an emergency caesarean section that day and gave birth three months prematurely to her daughter, Aubrey Marie Carter.
That was September 2009. Only now, nearly two years later, is Carter is able to speak comfortably about the rampage that put her in the hospital for 78 days, where she underwent 10 operations that were followed by months of rehabilitation. Partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, she lives with her mother and daughter in Springfield, La., and is unable to work, subsisting on Social Security checks in the face of daunting medical bills.
Carter said she was appearing on TODAY to point up the failings of a judicial system that did not stop her father-in-law, who had previously been arrested three times for domestic abuse and violating a protection order. In March of 2009, he had threatened his estranged wife with a machete and tried to kill her, according to Livingston Parish police records. A day before his actions made national headlines, Carter Sr. had called his son with another death threat.
“The judicial system does not protect wives in domestic violence situations,’’ Carter told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira. “The restraining orders aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.’’
While holding Aubrey, a healthy 20-month-old, in her lap, Carter admitted that even though her father-in-law had made threats, his eventual rampage still seemed unthinkable at the time. She stressed that the local police “did a wonderful job” — but the failings of the court system allowed her father-in-law to pursue his murderous intent.
“We didn’t think he was capable of that at all,’’ Carter told Vieira. “No way [was he] capable of doing something that extreme and hurting us that badly. We did everything we were supposed to do. We called the police every time. We did the right thing.’’
While Carter put on a brave face on the aftermath of the incident, it still looms heavily in her family’s life. She lives on a 20-acre spread owned by her grandparents where she had planned to move with her husband and children. Her mother is unable to work because she is taking care of Amber and Aubrey.
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Sometimes, Carter said, the only thing keeping her going after having watched one child die in her arms and seeing her mother-in-law murdered in front of her is knowing that she still has a daughter to care for.
“People ask us all the time, ‘Oh, how are you doing?,’’’ Carter said. “We used to say, ‘Just fine,’ and honestly, we’re not at all. It’s extremely difficult emotionally, and it’s sometimes unbearable financially. It’s brought us so much grief, but we have Aubrey and she’s doing well. That makes us happy.’’
Carter said she hopes to find medical assistance that can help her walk again so she can be more independent and care for Aubrey on her own. In the meantime, she wants her story to serve as a reminder of the threat of domestic violence and the problematic nature of the court system when it comes to that issue.
“It is very important to get help,’’ she said. “Don’t ever think that someone isn’t crazy enough to do something like that, because that’s exactly what we thought.’’
But despite the physical, emotional and financial challenges she still struggles with every day, Carter said she has one great compensation.
“I get to see my little girl grow up,’’ she said.
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