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Family's trials began with daughter's murder

March 06, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

After his daughter was murdered, Leroy House Sr. slept a lot. His wife buried her grief in her journals.

"As grandparents, being well into the autumn years of our lives, we know firsthand that an act of domestic violence that ends in an awful way can change your life forever," read Helen House from her writings.

Her husband said nothing.

On Feb. 14, 1995, his only daughter was strangled in her home by her estranged husband.

"It didn't have to happen," said Helen House, 64. "There is help. There's places you can go. There are people who will hide you. There's no reason in this day and age to stay in a situation of domestic violence."

Debra Massie had a protective order against Timothy Massie, but the document proved to be "as worthless as the paper it was written on," said Helen House, who was Debra's stepmother.

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Her husband said nothing.

It's been just more than five years since the House family was shattered.

First there was shock followed by disbelief, Helen House said.

"This person was like a son to us," she said. "No one could convince me that he did this. I knew there were problems but I never thought it would escalate to this."

House said her stepdaughter told her about the domestic abuse, but made her promise not to tell her dad, who had serious health problems.

She said she offered Debra a safe haven and money to leave the home she shared with her abusive husband.

But Debra was afraid. She was especially terrified of losing her children, House said.

Debra thought that no matter where she went, her husband would track her down and find her, House said.

After the murder, the Houses' shock and disbelief turned to hate.

"It's been a long drawn-out affair for me," said Leroy House, 74. "I was very bitter at one time. I could've killed him myself."

He and his wife found solace in the fact that Debra's children, their grandchildren, were in the safe hands of state social services, Helen House said.

The couple soon realized that the murder's far-reaching tentacles would twist their role as grandparents.

"You're told if you want to have your grandchild visit your home, you have to take training, have your home inspected by the health department, the fire marshal and social services. You attend long night classes and drive to other cities for seminars," she wrote.

"They come out to your house and check your refrigerator, your oven, your water. Just so your grandchildren, who you used to pick up on Saturdays by driving to their house and beeping the horn, can come and visit you," Helen House said.

People don't understand, she said.

"You're almost like a criminal."

The House family completed four years of counseling. It helped them deal with their grief and anger.

Helen House turned to her faith for healing. Leroy House blamed God for his loss, she said.

No amount of prayer or counseling will make them understand this senseless crime, Helen House said. Timothy Massie is serving a 30-year sentence for second-degree murder.

"I haven't forgiven him. I'll be truthful," Leroy House said. "Maybe one day I will."

"I don't know if I can forgive, but I guess my heart has softened," Helen House said. "I went from disbelief to hate to, I guess, compassion."

The Houses found strength in each other and in their family, they said.

Leroy House stills keeps most of his feelings to himself. Some days are harder than others, he said.

None are as difficult as Valentine's Day, Helen House added.

Her husband this year gave her a Valentine's Day card for the first time since the murder.

It was a simple card, with a single daisy and few words.

"You're the woman I love. It's as simple and as complicated as that."

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