Kelly Keiser knew something was wrong in her sister’s relationship.
But she never could have planned for a call from Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center saying her sister, Kristine Keiser, had been shot multiple times.
Kelly took a deep breath and asked how many times her sister was shot.
On March 23, 2016, Kristine Keiser's ex-husband shot her four times. Ellis was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to 20 years and four months in prison. Now, Ms. Keiser says she wants to help other women experience domestic abuse and violence. "There are options," she said.
Her heart sank.
Kelly, who had worked as an EMT and as a dispatcher for Life Flight, knew the medical worker couldn’t confirm if Kristine was alive. But she had to get to the hospital as soon as possible.
“Instantly, I knew who had done it. I didn’t hesitate. I knew,” Kelly said.
It was Kristine’s ex-husband, Edward Ellis.
Kristine fought her way through Ellis’ onslaught of bullets when she visited his Perrysburg Township apartment on March 23, 2016, to pick up gifts for her two children, then 18 and 13.
Ellis, 48, actually shot her four times — once in the side, which penetrated her lung, liver, and diaphragm, one grazed her ear, one in her shoulder, and one bounced off her skull.
A Wood County Common Pleas Court jury found him guilty of attempted murder, having weapons while under disability, violating a protection order, carrying a concealed weapon, receiving stolen property, and felonious assault. Earlier this year, Judge Alan Mayberry sentenced Ellis to just over 20 years in prison.
Kelly now works as a certified flight communication specialist for Survival Flight at the University of Michigan. She’s seen her share of tragedy and she knows when to go into “work mode.”
March 23, 2016, was one of those times.
Alerting her parents that their daughter was shot and telling them she didn’t know if Kristine was dead or alive was heartbreaking. The drive from her Oregon home to the Toledo hospital seemed like hours, Kelly said.
Sisters Kelly Keiser, left, and Kristine Keiser, who is a domestic violence survivor.
Kelly said she feels honored that she was her sister’s emergency contact and her background in the medical field helped her through it.
She tried not to contemplate the worst. Kelly already lost touch with her sister for nearly nine years during her relationship with Ellis, even though she lived less than a mile from her house. She didn’t want to lose her again.
She saw her sister lying on a hospital bed, her blonde hair soaked in blood and a white sheet covering her body. Kelly looked at the monitor, checking her sister’s vital signs. They seemed to be stable.
“I walked in and walked to her left side. I grabbed her hand and I said, ‘I’m here for you and I love you and everything’s going to be okay. You’re going to make it through this,’” Kelly said.
Kristine did make it. Miraculously, she didn’t need surgery and was out of the hospital in eight days.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the Keiser sisters said they thought it was important to tell their story — not only how it affected Kristine, but the entire family.
So far this year in Toledo, there has been one domestic violence-related homicide. Last year, there were 11 such homicides, with four in 2015.
Kelly is the youngest of nine children and there’s a 12-year gap between her and Kristine, but they were probably the closest, the sisters say.
Growing up, they did everything together — from shopping to movies to spending time together on the weekends.
“We were very close. I’d be over at her house or she’d be over at mine,” Kelly said.
It felt like it all changed overnight, she said.
How they met
It did change overnight.
Kristine, 46, and Ellis, 48, met through an online dating service. Within weeks of meeting, the couple was engaged and married on Oct. 7, 2005.
“He was like a prince, a knight in shining armor type of person,” Kristine said. “It was almost a storybook at the beginning.”
While they were traveling back from their honeymoon, she learned he previously shot at an ex-girlfriend, but missed. He served nine years in prison for that shooting, according to officials.
Alarm bells went off for Kristine, but she was already married to him.
Kristine Keiser received a signed card for her birthday from the Perrysburg Township Police Department, which she keeps framed in her living room.
He became jealous of how she spent her time and frequently questioned who she spoke to, even neighbors who she saw outside.
“I would come inside [the home] and he would question me — ‘Why was I talking to them?’ ‘Why was I flirting with them?’ — And I thought, ‘That’s not what I was doing.’ Or, at least I didn’t believe I was. And I started questioning everything I was doing,” Kristine said.
Kristine said she was eventually brainwashed.
It later led to her driving being restricted, her phone calls being monitored, she was left off of bank accounts, her family was not welcome at her home, and he kept her up for hours on end.
“If I didn’t respond the way he liked, he would start over. Or, if he didn’t believe I was telling the truth, he would start over, keeping me up for 24 hours, and I’d have to go into work the next day.”
He threatened to kill her and her family if she ever left him, Kristine recalled.
She completely pulled away from her family in November, 2006. She lived four blocks from her sister’s home and approximately two miles from her parents’ home.
“We had no clue what was going on,” said Kelly, who still resides in Oregon.
Kristine said at first she didn’t think it was abuse because she didn’t have broken bones or bruises.
“There are so many other forms of abuse that are sometimes equal to the physical abuse,” said Lisa McDuffie, president and CEO of the YWCA of Toledo. “It’s just as bad. If people are belittled in front of people and constantly told no one else is going to believe you — it attacks that person’s self esteem and sooner or later they just weaken overall.”
Eventually, it became physical and that was Kristine’s last straw.
After her former husband was charged with assault against her, the couple divorced, which was final on June 11, 2015.
Kristine and her children began moving on with their lives following the divorce.
She twice dropped mail off to her ex-husband at his Tracy Creek apartment in Perrsyburg Township and her daughter wished to see him for her birthday in November. It went well, she said.
In March, 2016, Ellis wanted to give her past-due Christmas and Easter presents for the children. They set up a meeting time one evening after she got off work.
“Things seemed to be going really well for him,” Kristine said. “I really didn’t have any fear at that point, I would say.”
The fact that a restraining order was in place made her feel better, she said. She thought he wouldn’t do anything that would jeopardize him going back to jail. That was his biggest fear, she said.
He began showing her the children’s gifts, which were laid out throughout the apartment. Then he led her to his bedroom to show her more gifts, she said.
He asked her what he was forgetting and then reached into a hamper, pulling out a gun. He pointed it right at her.
“I just blurted out, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ” Kristine recalled.
“I honestly just looked at him, but I called out to God and I said ‘God, if this is your plan for my life, I will accept that, but please take care of my family and my children.’ I looked right at him and said, ‘But you will no longer have control over me,’ ” she added.
She reached down for a bag and her purse and walked past him.
He shot her in the side.
He shot again, grazing her ear. She reached up and her hand was covered in blood.
She knew she had to get out of the apartment — away from the gun, away from him. She screamed as a loud as she could to get the neighbors’ attention.
While in a seated position, she began moving toward the front door. Another shot, but he missed.
The next one struck her shoulder.
“At that point, I was up by him and he was trying to reload the gun. He was holding the gun with his left hand and trying the put the bullets in with his right. I had flung my hand up, knocking the bullets out of his hand,” she said.
That gave her time to move toward the door and open it, while her ex-husband went for more bullets.
Then, the final shot.
“That shot actually ricocheted off her skull and we found it on the third floor landing,” said Perrysburg Township Detective Sgt. Todd Curtis, who worked on the case.
Kristine slumped to the ground while neighbors pulled her into their apartment.
“I could also hear them saying, ‘She’s turning gray, we need to get her out of here,’ ” she said.
While in the ambulance, the first call she asked to be made was to her sister.
“Knowing that my sister was very capable, I knew that she would be there for me. She always was there for me,” she added. “She had reached out to me a number of times over the years and to try and get me back in the family.”
Today, Kristine is doing well. She has no residual effects from the shooting. She has a solid relationship with her family, her sister, the people who saved her, another man, and the woman Ellis previously shot at.
She said she’s forgiven Ellis because she said she can’t let anger control her.
“It was such an eye opener to me how many people are affected by domestic violence every day. When I was going through it, I felt like I was the only one,” she said.
It’s something that happens too often, said Detective Sergeant Curtis. He’s been in law enforcement for 25 years and is also a domestic violence instructor for police officers.
“It’s happening everywhere — Genoa, Woodville, Sylvania, Perrysburg. It doesn’t matter where you live at all,” he said.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, more than one in three women and more than one in four men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Additionally, nearly half of women and men in the country have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner.
“The thing that I would really like to say to other women out there who have been in a domestic violence situation or are living through that right now, is that there are people out there that understand that it’s not your fault, that you can get help,” she said.
She shares her story with students at high schools, at area churches, anyone in need, and at training sessions with the locally-based Standing Courageous, a non-profit organization founded by Paula Walters, who has been in fire and EMS since 1999. It helps to teach first responders about domestic violence, specifically strangulation, which is considered a precursor to murder.
Kelly also works with Standing Courageous. She too wants to give back.
“I wish people would get rid of the stereotype and the stigma,” Kelly said. “People are so afraid to talk about it ... maybe because they have a history of it in their family. It’s not something to be ashamed of.”