One mother's mission to teach and save others from her tragedy
By Monica Fountain
I’ve had a 3 years of confusion, frustration, and exhaustion. But along with that have come many blessings received and given. It seems like just yesterday I was calling you to tell you that I was on my way to come do your hair and help get the kids ready. As usual I had a last minute change in schedule but when I tried to call you back I got no answer. Being the persistent mom that I am, I decided that I was coming anyway, maybe you were just out at the store.—a letter from Yolan Henry to her daughter, written on the anniversary of her death.
Yolan Henry will never forget the day her daughter died-- January 24, 2009. She doesn’t talk about it every day. But it is always there.
Sitting in a suburban coffee shop, tears well up in her eyes as she describes her daughter, Nova, her shining star.
“I try to put it aside so that I’m not thinking about her every single day but I can’t help it,” Henry said. “I just loved her. That was my daughter.”
I’ll see you later, Mom
Opening the door to your house changed my life forever in the worse way! I try not to see that door but it’s always there. I just know that God opened his door as well and took you and Ava to live with him.
Noah knows this too. That’s what I’ve told him. I’m sorry that you had to encounter such a demon that couldn’t understand your light that shone so bright, that’s why your Name was NOVA (SUPERNOVA: THE BRIGHTEST SHINING STAR!)…and Ava…I guess she was just here for a short while to come and get you cause God saw your pain and struggles, and he said NO MORE.
Her name said it all. Nova. Supernova. A star. She was beautiful. She loved to dance. She loved to have fun. She was a mother who loved her children. She was her mother’s firstborn child.
Henry was a teenage mother. She found out she was pregnant her last semester of her senior year in high school.
“I just had to have her and let my life go on from there,” she said. “Nova was very fun loving. She loved music. She loved to dance. When she was a baby she always would just get up and dance for me and make me laugh.”
Life went on. Henry got married and had a son and another daughter. Her marriage ended after 25 years. Henry said her marriage relationship was abusive. She thought because they didn’t fight in front of the children that they didn’t see it, hear it or were affected by it.
Now that her daughter is gone, a fatal victim of domestic violence, she thinks different.
Nova was in a violent relationship with Frederick Goings. He was a 36-year-old attorney at the time. She was a 24-year-old single mother who needed a lawyer to fight a child support and custody case against her former boyfriend NBA player Eddie Curry. She moved in with Goings. He became abusive, possessive and violent., her mother said.
“She did see it and maybe she thought it was o.k. for him (Goings) to treat her like that because she saw me,” Henry said. “When you’re in that situation you might not think the kids are aware of what’s going on, but they are.”
When Nova finally decided to leave Goings for good, she started the process of filing an order of protection. Her mother, who had went back to school with the intent of fulfilling her dream of studying law, would go with her to help her sort through the red tape. Nova made plans to move out of state, go back to school and study dentistry.
That unforgettable Saturday, Henry was on her way to her daughter’s house to do her hair. Nova’s grandmother had passed away that week and her funeral was that Saturday afternoon. Henry talked to Nova that morning and told her she would be over after she stopped by the DMV to renew her driver’s license. She could hear Noah playing and the baby cooing in the background.
“I’ll see you later, Mom,” Nova said.
Henry called to tell her she was on her way, but there was no answer. She kept calling and had other family members call, but there was still no answer. Henry started to worry. She had a key to the house but she didn’t carry it on her. She went back to her house, got the key and asked her boyfriend to meet her at Nova’s house.
She didn’t see Goings car. That was good. They went into the garage and felt Nova’s car. It was cold.
She remembers every detail. How the neighbor walked by her carrying his child with no coat and didn’t speak. That’s odd, she thought. No coat in January. She remembers the two utility men sitting in a truck across the street. That’s odd. Usually there was only one in a truck. She remembers bending down to unlock the door because she wore the key on a chain around her neck—a chain Nova had given her because she knew her mother was always losing her keys.
She opened the door and her life forever changed.
She saw her daughter-- her Nova, her star-- lying on the floor. She knew she was dead. She remembers falling to the floor and screaming. Her boyfriend got her out of the house. He found Noah. Noah said his mother told him everything would be alright and then he couldn’t wake her up. He also said “Fred did it.”
Nova, 24, and her 9-month old daughter, Ava, had been shot in the head. Goings was charged with first degree murder and now sits in Cook County jail awaiting trial for the murders of Nova Henry and her daughter, Ava.
If you have to hide, something’s wrong
Henry introduced her daughter to Frederick Goings.
Nova was embroiled in a legal battle with the father of her son, Eddie Curry. Curry was her high school sweetheart and a first round draft pick of the Chicago Bulls. Nova was seeking child support for their son Noah and Curry was seeking custody. Nova also was pregnant with her daughter, who she claimed was fathered by Curry.
Curry had a multi-million dollar contract as an NBA player and could afford the best attorneys. Yolan Henry met Goings who was a young attorney who seemed like he was “hungry” and who would fight on her daughter’s behalf.
“I told her to keep it business,” Henry said.
As soon as they met, Goings invited Nova to dinner which struck her mother as unprofessional. Within a week, he had asked Nova to move in. Henry said her daughter was vulnerable and looking for support and relief, weary of the constant court battles with her ex.
“He gave her the sense that he would take care of her and protect her,” Henry said.
She didn’t know that the relationship had turned violent until the day Nova showed up to pick up the children, wrapped up in a scarf and long sleeves on a summer’s day and covered with bruises.
“I told her if you have to hide, something’s wrong.”
Something was definitely wrong. And it was only going to get worse.
She would leave him and move out. But she would come back when he threatened to harm her family. He kept her away from friends and family. He locked her in the house.
“Nova was a strong spirit,” Henry said. “When I saw her get into the relationship, I saw that spirit disappear. When I would look at her sometimes I would tell her, ‘Baby, where are you? I don’t see you. I don’t feel you. “
Nova would reply, “Mom, I don’t know. I don’t feel me anymore.”
“When she would tell me that it would just kill me inside,” Henry said. “All she could tell me was mom don’t give up on me. I said I’ll never give up on you.”
Finally, her mother told her that she felt Nova’s two-year-old son Noah and her infant daughter Ava were in danger, so that if she didn’t get out of the situation, she would take action and take the kids. Nova decided to move. She had had enough. She had to climb through the window to get out of the locked house and her parents moved Nova and her two children to a condominium in the South Loop of Chicago.
But Goings was ever present. He sent her messages to let her know he was watching her. He would park outside her new townhouse. She would go shopping with her mother and he would arrive within a few minutes and harass her. So, she stopped going out, becoming a prisoner in her new home. One day, he walked into her new home, unannounced, just to let her know he could always get to her.
He threatened to kill her.
Days later, Nova Henry was dead.
A widespread public health problem
Since her daughter’s death, Henry has dedicated her life to helping others who find themselves in a similar situation as her daughter.
“I don’t want anyone else ever to have to encounter what I did or what my family did—man, woman or child,” Henry said. “I hit the ground running. Before I even knew what I was doing.”
In the United States, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The Centers for Disease Control has described sexual violence, stalking and intimate partner violence as “important and widespread public health problems in the United States.”
A 2010 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found, on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States. Over the course of a year, that equals more than 12 million women and men. Those numbers only tell part of the story—more than 1 million women are raped in a year and over 6 million women and men are victims of stalking in a year.
They are statistics that Henry is all too familiar with now as she goes around the country speaking to groups about domestic violence and also as an advocate who educates people about the toll of violence in the community.
Now she recognizes the signs and the cycle of domestic violence—control, fear, guilt, shame, isolation and intimidation. They are signs that she now looks back and sees in the relationship her daughter had with Frederick Goings.
This is what my life is right now
I told everyone to meet me at church on Sunday to remember you and hear a good word. I don’t wanna go to the cemetery cause I don’t feel you there..just death..and you and Ava are life personified to me..So with the Spirit of Memories I will sit in the pews tomorrow and pray for what your life was and how your woes can help others..Missing my Missy and my Chocomama ladygirl….ALWAYS AND FOREVER. I know you watch over us. We love you and miss you. Mommi.
Three years later, Henry waits for the trial. Eddie Curry has custody of Noah who is now 6 years old and lives in Florida with his father who plays for the Miami Heat. Henry goes to see him regularly, not as much as she would like. When they are together sometimes Noah asks to see “Mommy and Ava’s book”, their obituary, and they look at pictures of Nova, Ava and Noah from happier times. Nova as a baby and child, prom and graduation, pregnant at her baby shower. Ava in her Halloween costume, as a newborn baby, taking a bath, sucking her bottle, smiling.
In March 2010, Henry formed F.A.V.A. Inc., Family and Friends Against Violent Acts, which is a domestic violence advocacy group and also provides resources and information for victims of domestic violence. Henry also speaks out against gun violence.
“I pretty much keep it running myself. This is what my life is right now,” Henry said. “I have to keep speaking up for them.”
Her dream is to buy the abandoned Blue Star Automotive building in the trendy South Loop neighborhood where Nova last lived and turn it into a resource center where victims of domestic violence can find everything from computer classes and babysitting services to temporary housing.
Nova’s murder received national attention because of her connection to Eddie Curry. But women who are in or are escaping from violent relationships are killed almost every day in the United States.
“I kind of like that it’s around the corner from where she last lived. This problem is everywhere. Not just in poor neighborhoods. People say, Loni , you think too big. But this can be the Chicago hub of it. I just want to cover the United States with this service.”
“When you’re silent everything can continue to happen,” Henry said. “Silence kills. If you know something, speak up about it.”
For more information about Yolan Henry's organization, Family and Friends Against Violent Acts (F.A.V.A. Inc.), contact her Facebook page at Loni House or call 773-984-2926.
This story appears in the Summer 2012 issue of The Well Magazine. To read the entire issue, click on the cover below.