When ‘Love’ Kills: Teen Dating Abuse & Intimate Partner Violence

I’ve been planning my 30th high school reunion, searching high and low for class of 1983 graduates.

This has brought up a lot of things for me: How quickly time is flying. How the social barriers that existed in high school seem to have fallen away. I’ve talked to the jocks, the cheerleaders, the brains, the band geeks, the science nerds, the over-achieving student council members and I’ve realized we are more alike now than we are different.

We’re all just people trying to hold down jobs, nurture relationships, raise children and keep the clock at bay. Life has humbled those of us who peaked in high school and opened up for those who didn’t.

But the overriding similarity is that all of us were born in 1964 or 1965.

Which means we’re just happy to still be here. Because some of us are not. Some of us have already succumbed to cancer, heart disease, depression or freak accidents.

But there’s one classmate whose passing haunts me the most. 

Anna Marie (I’m omitting her last name to preserve her family’s privacy) should have graduated with the rest of us in 1983. She should have gone to college or taken a gap year and worked at The Limited. She should’ve gotten her dream job or realized it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. She should’ve fallen in love once or twice or, if she were like me, six times before settling down. She should have had the opportunity to learn from her mistakes and try again. She should have been able to hold a newborn baby in her arms, if that’s what she wanted.

Instead, during the fall of 1982, her ex-boyfriend, Jim, lured Anna to a friend’s garage and strangled her to death. Some of the details of Anna’s story have slipped away from me over the years. But I remember Anna and Jim joined at the hip since junior high school. I remember thinking they were an odd match. Anna was pretty and popular. Jim seemed to hang in the background, silent, withdrawn.

By the time we all got to high school, Anna seemed to fade away.

She was still there physically, leaning up against lockers with Jim, driving away from school in his car, but she seemed somehow diminished, invisible. I’ll never know if this devolution is actually true, or if it just seems true now that I know how Anna’s story ends.

During our senior year Anna finally broke up with Jim.

By all accounts he was outraged, angry. Several weeks after Anna went missing her corpse was found in a shallow grave in one of the ubiquitous orange groves that typified our home town. Her body was so decomposed she could only be identified by dental records.

During our graduation ceremony that spring, we honored our fallen classmate by observing a moment of silence for her. Afterward we lined up to receive our high school diplomas, the tickets to our future and left Anna back there on that football field.

She existed only, for me, in that silent moment. I didn’t want to dwell on something so dark and unmoored from the world as I wanted to see it. Bright with possibility.

Several years later I worked on a movie-of-the-week for Lifetime TV based on a book by Dr. Jill  Murray called, But I Love Him: Protecting Your Teen Daughter From Controlling, Abusive Dating Relationships

I interviewed Dr. Murray and was astonished at the high statistics of teenage girls who were involved in violently abusive relationships and even more so by the chilling number of women who’d been murdered by their abusers.

The murders would usually occur after the girl left her abuser, just as Anna’s had.

At the time of this project, my own daughters were just 15-months and 3-years old, so I felt a safe distance from being the parent of a child in jeopardy. That happened to other people’s children, not mine. Now my girls are eight and ten. They’re still too young to date, but their coming-of-age is just around the next corner.

This, coupled with planning my reunion, has brought me back full circle to Anna. I’m humbled and horrified by the excruciating pain her family endured, and likely still endures. I find it’s time to hopefully honor Anna again by disseminating what I’ve learned in my research on Teen Dating Abuse in the hopes that awareness can lead to prevention.

One thing I should make clear – most of the girls who are in these relationships come from good homes with loving families. An abuser is stealthy, patient and manipulative, staking his territory inch by inch on an unsuspecting victim.

Four Risk-Factors that Can Turn a Young Man into an Abuser
1. Drug and alcohol abuse in the home by mother and/or father.
2. Witnessing violence in the home.
3. Absent, neglectful or unstable parents.
4. An authority figure who regularly humiliates and shames him; even in public.

The following is an excerpt from But I Love Him that can help you determine whether your daughter (or son) is in an abusive relationship:

Is My Daughter in Danger?

• Before my daughter met her boyfriend, she had more friends than she does now.
• Her grades have declined in the past weeks or months.
• Before she started dating him, she was more outgoing and involved with her family, school activities, and/or place of worship.
• She frequently cries or is very sad 
• If he texts her, she must call him back immediately. 
• He told her that he loved her early in their relationship.
• He is jealous if she looks at or speaks casually with another boy.
• He accuses her of behavior she doesn’t actually engage in.
• He is aggressive in other areas of his life: he puts his fist through walls or closets, bangs his fist to make a point, or throws things when angry. 
• He frequently roughhouses or play-wrestles with her.
• She makes excuses for his poor behavior or says it’s her fault. 
• They talk on the phone several times a day or for long periods. 
• He has a “tragic” home life: he is or was physically abused or verbally demeaned, and/or one or both parents are alcoholics or use drugs. 
• He drinks or uses drugs. 
• He frequently gives her “advice” about her choice of friends, hairstyle, clothes, or makeup.
• He calls her demeaning names, then laughs and tells her he was only kidding or that she’s too sensitive.
• She has become secretive since she started dating him. She is miserable whenever she is apart from him.
• She has recently become very critical of her appearance, talents, or abilities.
• She frequently has to explain herself to her boyfriend or often says she’s sorry. 
• She has bruises she cannot explain or appears nervous about explaining them to you.

In re-reading Dr. Murray’s list, I can see that one of my earliest relationships was emotionally (though not physically) abusive. I was fortunate to emerge from that relationship and realize I needed therapy so I could make healthier choices. Anna Marie never got that chance.

Anna cropped

This week on my blog is dedicated to Teen Dating Abuse.

If you are a teen in an abusive relationship or you suspect your child is in an abusive relationship there are several resources. You can call or email:

Love Is Respect or The Hotline: Teen and Dating Abuse

This is not a sponsored post.

I highly recommend Dr. Jill Murray’s book, because I think it’s an excellent resource for parents and teens. I think it’s a good book for young girls to read even BEFORE they start dating. It’s good for them to be able to discern the warning signs and red flags of an abuser before becoming too enmeshed.

Finally, to both parents and teens, remember that you’re not alone and there is help.

(My next post will be the story of how one young woman’s parents rescued her from a life threatening relationship her senior year in high school.) Opt-in to Shannon’s newsletter HERE.

31 thoughts on “When ‘Love’ Kills: Teen Dating Abuse & Intimate Partner Violence”

  1. This brought back memories of a couple my boyfriend and I used to hang out with in high school. I don’t remember their names, but they were part of our middle class Jewish class. I don’t remember him being verbally abusive or mean in any way. He just got a kick out of working daily to create a huge bruise on her thigh, which they then showed off to all who would like. I remember thinking that it was weird and dumb and why were they doing it, but it never occurred to me that it was abuse. It’s such an insidious thing, especially when you’re young.

  2. Thanks for posting about this oft-forgotten issue. Violence against women is all around us; we can all arm ourselves to recognize the signs.

  3. This is a really good post. I am glad to see resources in communities to help victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. But, this s not enough. Prevention is the key. Teaching our children how to protect themselves, teaching them the warning signs abusers display, that is what will make a difference for their future, BEFORE they are abused. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

      1. Omg. I came across your article almost accidently. I knew this beautiful girl. As a church girl friend of my son’s. They dated shortly before her murder. Non of us ever forgot. We keep her in our prayers. This was horrible, and no amount of jail could have been enough for her murderer. Thank you for verbalizing the story of how this can happen. Watch and protect your children. But m62795@#ol. Mary.

    1. I just found out that Anna’s killer is out of prison. I’m not sure how long he’s been out, I just hope he’s been rehabilitated. Wishful thinking probably.

  4. My heart goes out to the poor girl and her family. I’ve seen this one too many times and it’s difficult because even though I see it, the person living it may not. I hope that there are many parents out there that will recognize these signs and do something about them. Thank you for such a story.

  5. Pleased to see you’re featuring this topic. So, so very important of a message that doesn’t get enough air play. It’s difficult for a young, in love girl to believe flattering attention can turn into controlling abuse. They need to be able (as do their parents) to recognize what’s happening.

    1. Yes. I was surprised that there was teen dating abuse. I thought these things only happened when women were older i.e. Battered Wife Syndrome. I think part of the problem is that I see teenage love affairs as cute, puppy love that will pass. It was eye opening to realize that these abusive relationships can devastate not just a girl, but her entire family.

  6. Life has humbled those of us who peaked in high school and opened up for those who didn’t

    I know this post is about dating violence but I have to say the above line really resonated.

    Thank you for writing about this important topic. It really struck a chord with this mom of a 12 year old girl.

  7. I have to say this post could not have come at a better time for me, as a mom of two teen girls. The fact that it’s so well written will make it easy for me to share with them. Top notch Shannon.

  8. jim o brian i think that was his last name, so long ago and yearbooks in attic.. lives 5 houses down from me, i found this out from a neighbor that lives behind his house and graduated from upland in 85.. i only knew jim in high school, him and anna sat next to me in social studies, i remember asking him if he had heard from his girlfriend after she “ran away”..and he said no he didnt know where she went..my neighbor tells me this that he served 20 years then was paroled, he learned computers in prison and created an app he sold to apple for a small fortune and came back to upland and bought the big house on the north side of 16th st between mt and san antonio.. if this is true and i have no reason to doubt my neighbor, its just really sad, wheres annas second chance at a life. I would hate to think if it was my daughter he killed and i knew he was out what i would do..I share this because if anyone that gained comfort knowing he was in prison well thats no longer true.just very sad..take care everyone Joe

    1. I know this is long after you wrote this article but I thought you should know that Jim is still locked up in prison with no release date in sight. My neighbor is a San Bernardino County ADA and has worked on this case and very recently went to his parole hearing. It was once again denied, thankfully! Her brother and remaining sister, (her parents and one sister are now deceased) come to every hearing. My neighbor assures me that he will not be out any time soon. He has a history of lying and has not exactly been a model prisoner apparently. He has spent his entire adult life in prison and I hope he will end it there as well. I hope that gives you some peace of mind as it does me. I remember Anna Marie from school as a very sweet girl and will always think of her that way. I use her story as a lesson to my own teenagers about the dangers of getting involved too young and paying attention to red flags when in a relationship. Thanks for keeping Anna’s memory alive.

      1. Today is April 12. Anna Marie was my beautiful Aunt. Today her family (including her mother, who is still alive) remembers her. This was a tragedy that happened to our family and we will always remember.

  9. Oh, yes. You are related to at least one of these women.Education has no bearing on this situation. With an assortment of grad degrees,his and mine,I let my smokescreen of romantic illusion hide the truth until the black eyes and broken heart were recognized and stopped by three friends, who took my keys, sent me to live somewhere else. and possibly saved my life.A woman is never too smart, too mature, or too old the fall victim , and God Bless you for focusing on teen dating abuse.

  10. The closest I have ever come to something like this was that one of the boys next door (growing-up) raped a young girl, got her pregnant, and convinced her to run away with him. They did- and crossed State lines, whereby the FBI arrested him, sent her back to her parents, the baby was put up for adoption, and he landed in jail. Fifteen years later- he did it again. With another under-age girl. This time only probation and he’s wandering the state of Michigan. Oh boy.

  11. I knew Anna Marie, and still think about her. She was part of our church youth group, and was not dating anyone at the time. I remember going to football games, and TPing a friends house with her. We all danced together at a house party just the weekend before she disappeared. I just thought she was beautiful in her preppy attire. I have daughters in high school, so she’s been on my mind more lately. I was just talking to my daughter about dating, which made me think of Anna Marie even more, and that’s how I found your blog. I remember her as a kind, beautiful, radiant person. So many people attended her funeral that the church was filled to capacity, overflowing outside. She was loved by so many.

  12. Gina stranieri fields

    Wow. I am glad somebody told Annamarie story. I was in her class. I think about her a lot. I remember one time we were in san Antonio hospital at the same time she had fell out of the back of a truck. I had a car accident broke my back but we shared a room so when this happen to her I was very sad that was the first time I learn about evil.so I am happy to her that you are teach young girls about teen abuse.

  13. Shannon thank you for remembering Anna Marie and keeping her story alive for so many others to learn from. I am Anna Marie’s niece and was only a year old when she was taken from us. I just wanted everyone to know that Jim O’Brien is still in prison. Anna Marie’s siblings have been active in his parole hearings to ensure Anna Marie’s voice is not gone.

  14. I remember Anna, I think of her from time to time. I remember being stunned when this happened. Absolutely shocked. My own beautiful daughter is now 28 and a strong intelligent woman herself. When she was 16 and started dating we discussed Anna, bad relationships and abuse. I like to think Anna’s story has helped young woman. Still very very sad.

  15. I knew Anna, and really liked her. She was so beautiful and friendly. I had just seen her the weekend before she disappeared, and I think about her all the time. I have two daughters — one around Anna’s age. Knowing about Anna has made me a more protective parent. It’s a story that I share with my daughters, and how it affected me.

    1. Oh wow — I just looked at past messages, and see that I already responded a couple years back. I guess Anna Marie is still on my mind — especially with current news about another beautiful missing student. Sorry to have posted again — thanks for keeping her memory alive.

  16. I’m glad that you have written this, it’s so important.

    I remember Anna well, we had a sewing class together. She was one of the nicest people that I have ever met. I was shocked when I found out what had happened, I had no idea that Jim was capable of such a thing. There were so many people at her funeral, we could not all fit into the church. I will never forget her.

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