• 63°

Mother wishes she would have done more to prevent daughter#039;s untimely death

Trenda Vaughan still cries when she thinks about her daughter, Misty Malone.

A year after the young woman's death, the Hog Run Road mother still thinks about what happened,and what she wishes would have happened. Most of all, she wants her daughter back. She cries a lot because she knows her baby isn't ever going to walk through the door again.

"Her picture is the first thing I see when I get up in the morning and the last thing I see before I go to sleep at night," Vaughan said.

Misty Malone was killed Aug. 24, 2001. Her long-time boyfriend, Jeff Holton, was convicted of her murder and is serving 15 years in prison.

She would have been 22 on Monday.

Misty was 16 when she met Holton, a young man her family describes as

"trouble."

"He worshiped that gun," grandmother Nina Ward said. "He shot that gun all up and down this road. I should have called the law on him then."

Misty's family considered him a less-than-desirable suitor and they tried repeatedly to dissuade her from having a relationship with him.

"I heard so much …" Trenda's soft voice trailed off for a moment. "I told her 'I don't want you seeing him.'"

"People have told me they never understood why she was with him. She was such a caring person," her sister, Toni Malone, said.

Her family said Holton began to control the young woman's life -- where she went, who she associated with, what she did. He began to isolate Misty from her family and friends. When Holton and Misty moved to South Carolina together, the isolation grew worse.

"He didn't allow her to call us," Toni said. "She'd have to wait for him to leave before she called us."

The family suspected there was physical abuse, but Misty would never admit it.

Misty moved back to Lawrence County and Holton followed her home. She took up residence in a little house next door to her grandparents. Even though they were separated, Holton was a constant, but unwelcome presence.

"If she came over, it wasn't five minutes before he was right behind her," Ward said. "I think he wanted to make sure she didn't tell me anything. It seems like a female becomes so dependent on those kind."

Her family said Holton kept constant tabs on Misty, often calling and hanging up several times a day to make sure she was home.

One night, Holton came over with his gun. Her brother, Jason, found her -- she had been shot once in the chest. She was pronounced dead a short time later at King's Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, Ky.

The night her daughter died, Vaughan had been at the hospital with a sick friend.

"I got a call and someone said I was needed in the ER," she recalled with a sob."I went down there, and there sat Jason, and he said Jeff had shot Misty. They said it didn't look good. They let us go in and see her, but they told us not to touch her or kiss her because her body was evidence -- that's what they told us."

Family members say that when Misty died, a part of them died too.

"It's hard for us just to go through this,"

Vaughan said.

"People try to support me, but it's hard if you haven't been there. I have other kids, but so much has been taken away. At times, I don't sleep. I lost a lot of weight after it happened.

At times I don't want to be around people.

"My kids have always been my life.

Once you've been through something like this, you worry every time the phone rings -- if it's bad news or not. Nothing is ever the same. Losing a child is more than anyone should have to go through. I talk to other parents and I talk to other kids. I tell them 'this doesn't have to happen'."

"She was loved by everyone who knew her," Ward said. "He didn't just deprive us of her, but her deprived her of living and of having children. She loved children."

"And they loved her," Toni added.

Her family mourns not only the young woman who was, but what she might have become if domestic violence hadn't snuffed out her life.

"I can't talk to her, I don't hear her call me grandma anymore,"

Ward said.

It is especially hurtful to her that she looks out every day and sees the home where Misty died.

"I have no sister," Toni said. "She was the best. She had a good heart."

"A friend of hers came into work recently, and she was pregnant," Vaughan said. "It was hard. It's hard seeing girls her age out shopping and having fun and knowing she isn't here."

Holidays are especially difficult. Christmas was Misty's favorite, so last year the family took a Christmas tree to the cemetery and decorated it by the young woman's grave.

"That's what we're going to do every year, that's going to be our part," Vaughan said. "On the one-year anniversary we'll do what we did for her birthday. We'll take flowers and balloons."

"All of our holidays are hard," Ward said. "She's not here.

All our dinners, they aren't the same."

Vaughan partly blames herself for not doing more to keep her daughter from the man who killed her.

"I think there should be something where if family members think there is abuse and can prove it, they should be able to call the police (and) have both people arrested, the abuser and the person being abused," Vaughan said. "If I could have just kept her away from him long enough …"

Vaughan doesn't want anyone to forget that once she had a beautiful daughter named Misty. She also doesn't want anyone to forget that her daughter died a cruel, senseless death.

She put Misty's picture on a T-shirt with the words "then" inscribed with it. The picture is of a 20-year-old woman with long, blond hair and a shy smile.

Just below it is a picture of the grave Vaughan visits when she wants to feel close to her daughter. The picture of the grave is inscribed with the word "now." Teresa Moore/The Ironton Tribune