As I was getting ready for work on Thursday, November 10, 2016, I heard something on National Public Radio that stopped me in my tracks. The announcer was mentioned a shooting in the southwestern Pennsylvania town of Canonsburg. I was shocked. I grew up a few miles from Canonsburg. I went to high school in Canonsburg. My mother died at Canonsburg Hospital. I had friends in Canonsburg. The shooting involved a domestic dispute, leaving a pregnant woman and one officer dead, and another officer wounded.
When I got to work, I searched online for more information. A woman had been killed in her Canonsburg home by her husband, who she had filed a protection from abuse order against in the past. When officers came to investigate, the abuser shot the two policemen and then killed himself. It was a tragic story, which became more tragic when the emphasis seemed to shift almost exclusively to the deceased officer. On social media, my friends and acquaintances in the area started posting tributes to the fallen officer, changing their profile photos to a blue banner, and discussing his bravery and service. From the limited news that I saw from a distance, it appeared that the first victim was being ignored.
Who was she? Her name was Dalia Elhefny Sabae, a 28-year-old woman who was born in Egypt, was fluent in six languages, and was working as a pharmacy technician while she worked on her pharmacy degree, as she had already obtained a degree in pharmaceutical sciences in Egypt. She was a dancer and had been a college athlete. I felt a connection to her. She sounded like someone who I would have liked to know. She worked at Jeffrey’s Drug Store, where my late father used to get his prescriptions for many years. Even though she was born almost exactly a month after I moved from southwestern Pennsylvania to northern California, I can imagine encountering her smiling face as she filled a prescription. Someone shared posts and photos from her Facebook page. She looked like a fun, caring person who was making a new life for herself in a small town.
“Why didn’t she just leave?” Some people online posted this question. As a social worker that works with domestic violence survivors, there is no easy answer. Maybe she didn’t have anywhere to go. Like me, her closest family member was probably thousands of miles away. Since she was a student, maybe didn’t have the money to move and start over in another area. Maybe she was afraid to leave. There were several domestic violence reports on file with the local police. He had used sex to threaten her about her green card. He had hit her numerous times. A month ago, he had told her that she and her unborn child needed to die. But maybe in her heart, she hoped that he would change, and become the loving person that she had fallen for at the beginning of their relationship. Only she knew the real answer to that question.
As the days went on, people posted more stories and comments about the officer and his family. But one person mentioned that Ms. Sabae was the true innocent in the tragedy – the only person who was unarmed. Some people asked, “Why didn’t she have a gun?” Even if she had possessed a gun, it might not have made a difference. Her only crime was falling in love with a man who turned into a monster.
Her story reminded me of the women I have known and worked with over the years. A close friend was almost strangled by an ex-boyfriend. One woman was run over by a car driven by an ex-boyfriend. Another woman was beat so harshly that she was unconscious for several days. It broke my heart when a young woman requested that her case be closed on the day that we were supposed to visit a domestic violence agency. I sensed that her abuser was probably listening to the call. I hoped that she had kept the emergency hotline number card that I had given to her.
This morning, one of my friends shared her obituary online. Ms. Sabae and her unborn son will be buried in the same cemetery where my parents are interred. Today, hundreds of people visited the funeral home to pay their respects to her. Tonight, a purple light was shown in the sky over Canonsburg as a memorial to her. Tomorrow afternoon, doves will be released in her honor. I wish that she could have found the freedom afforded to those birds. Donations in her name can be made to Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania, at 308 East Maiden Street, Washington, PA, the Washington City Mission or any woman’s shelter. I used to live near that office on East Maiden Street. I used to work across the street from the Washington City Mission. When I was in my early twenties in the eighties, I had gone to training in Washington for a domestic violence hotline. But after my first call, I realized that I wasn’t emotionally ready to answer calls. In the nineties, I went to training in Sacramento to be a volunteer at a domestic violence agency. When one of the stories shared by a survivor mirrored my last relationship, I realized that I had been emotionally abused and didn’t even know it. And I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one.
If spirits do indeed walk the Earth, I hope that Ms. Sabae encounters my mother at Oak Spring Cemetery. Momma would take her into her arms, hold her close and tell her what a wonderful, beautiful person she was. She would remind her of all of the lives that she touched, of the difference that she made in the world during her short life. Maybe the memory of Dalia will save the lives of other women trapped in the cycle of domestic violence in southwestern Pennsylvania. Maybe the contributions made in her honor will give others hope and the chance for a better life.
In Baltic mythology, Dalia is the goddess of fate. In Hebrew, a version of the name is a flowering bush. Rest in peace, Dalia, we will never forget you.
Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Washington, PA
A Community for Peace, Citrus Heights, CA