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Stop Domestic Violence - The Story of Me and Cassie Leigh
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Where should I start? The beginning sounds best for this. I had just went through a very bad breakup in the spring of 2011 and had no one to turn to for help through such hard times. I had moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas from Toledo, Ohio on September 1st, 2010 with a girl that I thought was "the one". Life back in Toledo was pretty messed up and we were on drugs pretty bad so what better way to start fresh than to move to the beautiful wilderness of Arkansas and "get clean". She was a stripper at a club in Toledo and she started dancing again once we moved to Arkansas. I could not find work to save my life so, she felt as though she had to go strip to make money quickly. I tried begging her to just use her college degree and get a normal job but she did not want to hear it. The relationship was already on the way out. When she left the spring of 2011, I felt crushed down to dust and had no one and nowhere to go.
I was invited by my friend Matt to come to a bar and drown some sorrows, but I did not feel much like drinking that night. I met Cassie Leigh this night. She was my bartender at Suzie Q's, a nice bar in Fort Smith that has cool 1950 vibes to it. I had a great night of fun actually. My EX called me to terrorize me more and break my heart even more so Cassie seen that I was hurting so bad and she took the phone from me the next time it rang and said, "Hey! You have this man here and he is a great guy. It is your loss so just leave him alone!". I have never been so grateful for someone doing me a solid in life like I was that night. We exchanged phone numbers and our friendship grew since then.
SPRING HAS ARRIVED
Sitting around the house one day, Cassie calls asking me if I wanted to hang so I could not say no because I was intrigued by her and the bright aura she had around her. She had the most infectious smile and had a very compassionate and caring attitude towards life in general. There was no way in hell that I would not take her up on the offer to hang out. She came over.
After a few dates and hanging out a bunch, we decided to start seeing each other officially. There was one problem though. I had to help her escape from the abusive relationship she was in with Brent. I told her to leave him and she could come stay at my house until she got things figured out. At all costs, I wanted her away from Brent and out of the abusive relationship. She took me up on the offer. They split up. He thought she cheated on him but I will be the first to say that no one cheated on anyone during this time. I would not be part of things if I knew she “just wanted to cheat” but what she really wanted, was a guy to escape to and that could hold his own against Brent if he would ever confront us. He never did. He really lucked out by actually making a good decision in life for once.
She was living with me and we were having a great time. The springtime that year was BEAUTIFUL and strewn about the season were these amazing severe thunderstorms that were producing tornadoes everywhere around Fort Smith. Joplin, Missouri got hit that spring. We would sit on the porch and enjoy the rain showers. Her friend Jenni came to stay with us for a while and Jenni became my adopted sister after a while. We were just one big happy family. We ended up having the most memorable Easter Sunday we could have ever thought of that spring. It was only a matter of time before something bad would happen. Happiness doesn’t last uninterrupted forever.
REMEMBERING CASSIE - A video her sister Rachel made in her memory
TIME TO GO FOR THE SUMMER
I had gotten a notice that the rental house I lived at in Van Buren, Arkansas was deemed, “uninhabitable” and we were given 3 days to vacate the premises. Jenni had a boyfriend, Cassie had family in Arkansas, and I had no one in Arkansas and wanted to go back to Ohio as soon as possible to be able to see my daughters, Ava and Mackenzie, for the summer. I just got approved for my unemployment benefits so we decided to just take off and leave for Ohio. One thing though, Cassie did not want to leave her family and I totally understood, so I told her I would be back in a couple of months and that she always had a place in my heart. We parted under fairly good circumstances except that I knew deep inside that she would go back to Brent and by the time I got back, I would have to convince her all over again to STAY away from him.
It is June in Ohio and Jenni and I are having fun with my family and friends back “home”. My cousin told her to leave me in Ohio so Jenni would then go back to Arkansas. I had no idea this was going down so, stranded in the middle of a cornfield, I became. I spent time with my family and my daughters all summer long. I had a GREAT summer. I was living in Harrod, Ohio for the most part at my parents’ place they had there. Things got very boring in Harrod because it is a very small farming community and I am a city boy. I am a punk rock, head banging, fast living, city boy. That is what made me happy in life. I got on Facebook one boring evening and I had a message. The message was from my EX and it was pictures of her stupid engagement ring she had tattooed on with her new “man”. I really didn’t care because in the Newsfeed on my Facebook page, there it was, something that really hit me deep in my heart. A status update and a picture of Brent and Cassie with their marriage certificate in hand, kissing. I was not jealous. I was happy for her, thinking back, I gave Brent the benefit of doubt and told myself, “Hey…maybe he changed. She does really love Brent and it would be GREAT for them to be able to be together out of love as long as he has CHANGED.”
The next morning, something did not settle with me right about this. I did not want them together and it was not for any reason that I wanted to be the one she was with or anything of that nature. I just “knew” that they should NOT be together. The feeling subsided and I was able to finish enjoying the time with my daughters since I can only see them a week or 2 out of every year in the summer, and that is it. Pretty crappy but it is better than nothing at all. My daughters are my heart. My family is my heart. I needed this vacation and I did not realize how much I needed it until I got time to be in the country and reflect. My crazy EX was up to her antics and her CRAZY family were up to it as well. I got a message from a friend saying that my EX’s mother called the cops saying I left a note or something saying that I would kill the family. I thought it was hilarious because it was SOO false. Evidently I had dug shallow graves on their property right inside the wood line. Who the hell would make that up and THEN, report it to the police so that they could ruin a man’s life with false accusations??? Insane people, that is who. Anyway, I was helping my parents pack up their belongings because they planned on moving to Van Buren, Arkansas in search of better weather and work.
TO OHIO AND BACK
While in Ohio, I was running around with a bunch of old “bad” friends and got on drugs for a week. I did some “speed” and found myself going through heart failure and paranoia all at the same time. I called 911 for an ambulance as I walked toward St. Rita’s Hospital in Lima, Ohio and once the ambulance got close with the lights and sirens, I kept walking. I have a fear of hospitals and a fear of dying because I did not want to die with having been the person I had been in life at that point. I finally got to the hospital and found out I was currently dying and in heart failure. I had texted my friend Britney along the way and she showed up. The last thing I remember was seeing her face before my heart stopped. I died twice that night in July. I never wanted to live life the same again. I wanted change. I needed change. I wanted to help the world. I wanted to spread positivity and gratitude more than ever before. I was given a mission to do this. Determination took over my mind, body, and soul and now I vowed to never be the P.O.S. that I once was and that I would try my best to spread positive vibes in all my endeavors.
The moving truck was packed to the brim. We were all looking at each other in astonishment of how we even fit everything into the back of the moving truck. It was a funny moment in life. My dad is a master of everything in my eyes and he is my hero. My one true Hero in life is my father. I took off down the road with them heading towards Arkansas; it was early morning in August. In the rear view mirror I watched Ohio fade away, once again. With the fading of Ohio behind me again, so did all of the craziness that happened that summer. On my way back to my second home in Arkansas and the parents are kind enough to let me crash with them until I got on my feet again.
Once back to Fort Smith, Arkansas, I landed a job bartending at the local punk rock bar called Hero’s. It was mid-late September. I had just turned 28 and was very content with myself in life. I changed my ways that lead to the bad things between my kid’s mother and I. That ruined the relationship with my EX from Ohio, and changed the ways that held me back and cornered me in a dark room for so long. I would no longer be an angry drunk. I had met Cassie and seen all of the damage done from domestic violence, anger, drinking, and just everything that I had once had in my own personal life. I was a real P.O.S. human being at one point in life. I cannot explain it but meeting and befriending Cassie Leigh just took that all away from me and I knew at that very moment that I would never go back to being the angry drunk that I used to be. Bartending at Hero’s was a dream job for a fan of punk, metal, and other various forms of music. I also booked a lot of bands there and then started The Fort Smith Starving Artist Collective that allowed artists of all types to converge at Hero’s for art shows twice a month. Doing something for this community in Fort Smith gave me a lot of humility and kept me grateful for things. Things have really come full circle since a year ago from that time. Thanks to all the miracles that happened in life since meeting Cassie for the first time. She drove me to do better. I could never put her personality into words; words are too weak to describe “her”. I can only do my very best in this story.
It was nearing Christmas, 2011 and I was still bartending at the same place. Cassie had come in and gave me a hug and I asked how things were going. The very next thing I did was apologize to her for leaving her in Fort Smith and I watched a tear run down her face. She and I talked for an hour without regard for the world around us. I was oblivious to the fact that I was at work. We both needed this talk. She called someone for a ride home. She kissed my cheek and told me that I will always mean a lot to her. Brent walked in and took her by the arm, looking back at me, leading her out of the bar via the backdoor to the parking lot. That would be the last time I would see my new best friend and the girl that I loved and appreciated for helping me change my life. She had no idea how she helped me in life and up until now, no one knew how much Cassie actually did for me that I will forever be grateful for. I spent Christmas alone, with my parents at their house only to fall asleep early and then work the next day.
THE NEW YEAR THAT EVERYTHING CHANGED
New Year’s Eve was around the corner and I was excited to start 2012 with all these new found better ways of living life. I was at Hero’s annual NYE party and won A LOT of stuff with their raffle they had going on. I then went to my friend’s house party to celebrate. I passed out. Waking up at my friends and a ride on the way to take me back to my parents, I got a text from another friend saying that, “Cassie has gone missing. No one has seen or heard from her, not even her job at Perry’s Place Bar.” This ride back could not have taken longer. The speed at which my hangover was kicking in and the speed at which I could start to comprehend the situation was not mixing very well. Did I really hear what I just heard?
Back at my parent’s home I got directly on my laptop and logged into Facebook. Chaos was all I could see and my ENTIRE newsfeed was filled with “CASSIE IS MISSING”. I “knew” right then that Brent had something to do with this. I had seen that he had Joined Cassie’s wonderful and amazing mother Pearl in the search for his wife. He gave news interviews and did a lot of ground work looking for Cassie. Again, I gave him the benefit of doubt. This was my worst nightmares and fears come to life. I never had the chance to tell her how much she has helped me. She better show up and be hung-over is all I could think.
Days passed with nothing. Brent was having dinner with Pearl and they were both devastated that Cassie was still missing. So was I. So was the town of Fort Smith. I posted flyers around Van Buren and got a hold of my friend Dai Green who is a fellow writer and editor in chief at the time for Horrornews.net and she wrote an article on the breaking news on the “dreamindemon” website. What has happened? What is going to come next?
Fort Smith Police Officers arrested Brent Cotta for the murder of his wife, Cassie Leigh. He had strangled Cassie and dumped her body near the Arkansas River off of Gun Club Road and Highway 59. Days had passed while she laid out there, exposed and alone. All she ever wanted to do was help people who were exposed and alone and Brent left her like that; just like she would have never left him no matter what. He confessed to police about the crime. The trial came and went. He got sentenced to 20 years plus change so he will get out one day and still have a shot at living a somewhat normal life.
Cassie was gone forever. Everyone that has ever had the pure joy of meeting her will never be the same from that day forward. We laid her body to rest at Mount McCurry Cemetery in Rudy, Arkansas on a beautiful day on Monday, January 9th, 2012. She had passed away on December 30th, 2011, and for me, every year that goes by, the feeling is just as strong as when I first received the news. On this 2 year anniversary of the search for Cassie, I am learning to live better still. Planning on different ways to reach out to people who are in violent partnerships and help them has become a new goal of mine. Spreading her story around the globe is my mission. Even in the afterlife Cassie can bring positive things to the world by inspiring us all to take a stand against domestic violence. If you are witness to it, either make it stop by inserting yourself physically, or calling the law. As human beings it is our duty to each other to make things like this completely stop. Crimes like these are some of the most devastating crimes with long lasting effects and can be very deadly, but yet, they are some of the easiest to intervene and help people with.