WARREN COUNTY, Ohio (FOX19) - Nearly four years after an act of domestic violence took Lauren Michel’s life, her family is celebrating her birthday with a special tribute while calling attention to an important cause.
Michel was only 32-years-old when she died. Her daughters, Sienna and Alexa, were just 5 and 8 when it happened.
“She loved her girls. That was her. She was a great mommy," Sheryl Gabbard, Michel’s mother, said. "That was her number one priority.”
In July 2016, Clearcreek Township Police said Michel’s estranged husband, Eric Walker, shot and killed her before killing himself. Michel’s brother, Justin, tried to save her and was also hit by gunfire, but he survived.
“You never expect to lose your child before you go. You always expect it to be the other way around, and it was very sudden and very violent," Gabbard said.
According to Gabbard, at the time of Michel’s death, Michel was preparing to move out and leave her husband due to domestic violence. Looking back, Gabbard says there were signs that something was wrong, although they were sometimes subtle.
"Lauren was trying to get out, and it cost her her life,” Gabbard said.
The tragedy left Sienna and Alexa without parents, so Gabbard and her husband adopted them and moved to Tennessee.
Every year, they celebrate Michel’s birthday together. Michel would have turned 36 this week.
The girls painted rocks in her honor and released balloons with handwritten notes attached to them. In Sienna’s note, she asked her mother to write her back from heaven.
“No child should ever have to feel the things that they feel," Gabbard said.
For Michel’s family, life without her has not been easy, but Gabbard believes that her daughter’s story is too important not to tell. She is encouraging families to keep an eye out for abuse, and she is urging survivors to get out and get help.
“Just walk, and take those kids with you," Gabbard said. “Take those babies with you, because even if they don’t have a father or a mother, they at least have one or the other, instead of losing both.”
Gabbard said Michel was an organ donor and saved eight lives after she died.
Michel’s brother Justin has recovered physically from his gunshot wound and now lives in New York.
Survivors who need help can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.