Read Jenny’s Story – “I Survived to Help Others”
By Rose Minutaglio•@RoseMinutaglio
Posted on March 9, 2017 at 2:32pm EDT
Domestic abuse survivor Jenny Andrus prays that no other woman will ever have to endure the horror she went through two years ago.
Andrus, 43, is the victim of domestic abuse by her ex-husband Val Santarromana, who is currently serving 25 years to life in prison for a long list of crimes against her including attempted aggravated murder, kidnapping and forcible sexual abuse, according to police reports obtained by PEOPLE.
On August 22, 2015, Andrus was attacked in her Salt Lake City, Utah, home by Santarromana who shot her multiple times, beat her with a meat cleaver and sexually assaulted her, before she was saved by a SWAT team.
As a part of NO MORE Week, an awareness event that includes a fundraising campaign sponsored by Jamberry to raise money for non-profits during Women’s History Month, the mother of three is sharing her inspiring strength and survival for the first time, and she’s hopeful that her story can help end domestic violence and sexual assault through awareness.
“I want to remind other women who may be in an abusive relationship that they aren’t crazy, because sometimes being in one can make you feel that way,” Andrus, an associate professor of writing and rhetoric studies at the University of Utah, tells PEOPLE. “I support you, we survivors support you and are here for you.
“We’ll get through it together.”
Andrus met Santarromana when she was 29 and studying to get her master’s degree at New Mexico State University. The two decided to get married in 2004 and welcomed a daughter, Dottie, later that year. Daughters Juliet and Geneva followed in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
Andrus says life as a newlywed was great at first. She went on to receive a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University (where she studied literature and even took courses that explored the issue of domestic violence), she lived in a suburban Salt Lake City home and shared her life with a husband and three wonderful kids.
But Santarromana soon became controlling. Andrus’ seemingly perfect life began falling to pieces.
“He became mistrustful and accused me of lying and would yell at me for no reason for hours and hours and hours each day,” says Andrus. “He wouldn’t let me sleep and would keep me awake by yelling at me. He’d come in and wake me up and make me make dinner. He had ways of making my life miserable. I hated every minute I had to see him, and he knew it.
“Then he started saying he would kill me with a machete, he would threaten, but he never beat me.”
Andrus says she knew the relationship was abusive — she had studied the dynamics of abusive relationships at Carnegie Mellon University — but she wants the focus to be on “why was he abusing — not why I couldn’t leave.”
“There’s too much focus on why women don’t leave abusive relationships,” says Andrus. “In my case, I would have had to share my children and that was no-go for me. I didn’t want them around him and it [was] hard to leave, because he had become dangerous.
“My thought was, ‘If you leave him he will kill you,’ and essentially, he did.”
In August 2015, Andrus approached Santarromana about a divorce. She says he got quiet before he ran down to the basement of their home and grabbed two guns that Andrus had no idea he had.
“He said he was going to kill himself and pushed the barrel into me and told me to get out of his way or he’d have to hurt me,” recalls Andrus. “The police came and took him to psych watch [at the police station].” He was then released.
Andrus, who went into hiding at a family friend’s house, returned home to feed their dogs on August 22. Afraid to be alone, she had a friend drive her to her house and wait outside for her.
“But he was waiting for me,” she says of her ex-husband. “I walked into our room and saw that my clothes were piled on the floor.
“He was standing there with the gun in my face.”
Santarromana hit Andrus in the back of the head with a gun three times and the side of a meat cleaver and took her phone away.
“I thought to myself, ‘Jenny you’re going to survive this, you’re going to survive this,’ ” says Andrus through tears. “I knew I had to appease him and fight when I need to and run.”
Andrus attempted to run to the front door, yelling at her friend to call 911. Andrus recalls hearing shots ring out and seeing her friend fall.
According to police reports obtained by PEOPLE, her friend (who is not named in the report) was shot 15 times — the bullets penetrated both lungs and severed her spine.
Santarromana reloaded his gun, hit Andrus in the head again and dragged her back inside and down into the basement after shooting her in the ankle and both legs so she couldn’t escape.
“I knew he was going to kill me,” says Andrus. “I tried everything, I was strategizing ways to make him stop beating me. He dragged me to the basement and took off my shirt and bra. My legs were bleeding. There was blood. He pushed me down the stairs and pointed the gun at me and said, ‘You can walk, I’m going to kill you anyway.’ ”
Santarromana sexually assaulted her in their basement while continuing to beat her. According to police reports, he “tampered with the gas lines” and shot “near the gas line two times” in an attempt to kill them both.
Police arrived on the scene almost immediately and began negotiating with Santarromana. After four hours of unsuccessful attempts to save Andrus, a SWAT team — who noted a strong scent of natural gas — broke into the house.
“I was talking to him the whole time and reminding him that we have kids together and telling him I loved him and begging for my life,” she says. “The police knew he had the gas on, so they couldn’t fire a shot.
“I knew I was going to die because I knew I couldn’t control Val anymore. He was gone.”
As the SWAT team entered the basement, Santarromana shot Andrus in the head. Andrus turned her head as the bullet hit her temple and came out her forehead — taking her right eye, but sparing her life.
“It was pure luck, I think I was meant to survive to help others and be there for my children,” says Andrus, who was also shot in her left arm and both legs.
Despite being shot in both legs, Andrus ran to the SWAT team, who then took her to the hospital. Her elbow and ulna were reconstructed with titanium and a metal bar. She had five surgeries on her head and her sinuses were rebuilt with titanium mesh. She has a fake eye. It took her 17 months to heal.
“It’s been a long journey, but I’m ready to finally talk about it and I’m so pleased to work with NO MORE to make sure domestic violence and sexual assault are topics being talked about,” says Andrus, who is an ambassador for NO MORE. “Their goal in raising awareness is motivating for me.”
Now in its fourth year, NO MORE Week is an annual global awareness event to activate more people and communities against domestic violence and sexual assault. This year’s theme,”Louder Together: The more we talk, the more we give, and the more people we activate, the closer we can get to ending these crimes once and for all,” particularly resonated with Andrus.
“Domestic violence isn’t something to be ashamed of or to keep secret,” she says. “We want to educate.”
Andrus and her children are in therapy and “doing fantastic,” she says.
“The kids basically had two parents die at the same time. We do lots of therapy and take one day at a time,” she says. “We also have a really great support network, my friends and family are amazing.”
After NO MORE Week, Andrus will began a research project she says may take years to come to fruition.
“I’m looking at the interactions between police officers who respond to domestic violence calls and victim-survivors of domestic violence,” she says. “I will do police ride-alongs and victim interviews to better understand the interaction between police and victim-survivors of domestic violence. I want to better understand that pivotal interaction and the assumptions made on both sides.”