Survivors Of Violence Share Stories, Offer Hope
Aubrey's drug-addicted mother would hit her, lock her in a closet, and be gone for days leaving the 8- and 9-year-old girl to care for her younger siblings.
Amber McGuire took two gunshots to the head, recovered, and testified against the man who shot her and murdered two of her friends.
Neither called herself a victim when they told their stories at the annual conference marking National Crime Victims' Rights Week at Casper College on Tuesday.
Gov. Matt Mead spoke first at the conference, and said the state adopted the victims-witness bill of rights in 1991, and has come a long way to protect the victims of crime.
But society needs to do more to prevent crimes so there will be fewer victims, and that requires a harder attitude toward drugs, Mead said.
He derided as "nonsense" the notion that substance abuse is a "victimless crime," he said. Users of illicit drugs support an illegal trade, and especially in the case of methamphetamine damage themselves, their families and society, Mead said.
Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen referred to Aubrey, who is still a juvenile at 17, and McGuire as "successes" rather than "victims."
The two young women nailed that label in their talks.
Aubrey was born when her mother was 19 and her father was 30. Both parents were substance abusers and dealers, and her father went to prison, she said.
Her family was always on the run to avoid the authorities in Wyoming; first to Mississippi where her biological father's family lived, and later to Florida where her mother's family lived.
The family eventually returned to Casper and her mother became a constant drug user, Aubrey said. "When she was on meth, she acted kind of crazy." Sometimes she would be gone for up to seven days leaving Aubrey to care for her younger siblings, she said.
Her mother attracted violent boyfriends, and one named Tyrone was especially abusive. When Tyrone would beat her mother, her mother then took it out on Aubrey who used herself to shield her younger siblings, she said. "I remember having bruises all over my body."
On top of that, her mother told her to not talk about the violence because that was a family secret, Aubrey said.
She figures she attended nearly every elementary school in Casper. She was constantly in trouble for bullying students because, after all, she was bullied at home.
Her mother was finally arrested and Aubrey and the other children were placed in foster homes, she said. That didn't help much. Foster parents probably were just another version of her home life, and she reasoned, "if mom doesn't want me, nobody wants me."
Aubrey finally met some foster parents and mentors who understood where she was coming from, including her dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
And they also laid down the law that she had to quit living her life as a victim, Aubrey said. That realization happened finally at a Christian camp where she prayed to ask God into her life, and God whispered back, "'you're not a victim any more.'"
McGuire won't buy into the negativity of victimhood, either.
On Aug. 23, 2011, she, her roommate Megan McIntosh and her boyfriend Corey Walker met Nathaniel Castellanos at a bar in Cheyenne.
McGuire immediately didn't like him, his arrogance and his plans to leave his children for a job in New York.
But Castellanos persuaded them to go drinking at his house.
An argument ensued, Castellanos got a gun and shot Walker point blank. McIntosh, through her tears, begged him to call 911. Castellanos shot her, too.
He then shot McGuire on the left side of her face by her eye, and then shot her near the right jaw.
For the first two weeks McGuire was unconscious, doctors didn't expect her to live. After surviving that, the consensus was she would be in a permanent vegetative state.
In the fifth week, she regained consciousness. She recalled the shooting when her sister-in-law told her Walker and Megan were dead.
Through months of therapy, she was able to regain her speech, hearing and ability to talk, and recall what Castellanos did.
The legal wrangling and eventual trial took more than two years, but a jury convicted him in March 2014. he was sentenced to three life sentences without the possibility of parole.
As McGuire has moved on with her life, she's sometimes had to say goodbye to friends she believes are negative influences, she said.
"I've got to be positive to succeed and excel in my life," McGuire said.