Amanda Kessler Stokes is dead. Shot and killed in a murder-suicide by her estranged husband, Mark Stokes on May 5, 2018. Amanda had left her husband and the home they shared after years of violence and abuse. She hoped to start a new life for her and her daughter.

Amanda Kessler Stokes is dead. Shot and killed in a murder-suicide by her estranged husband, Mark Stokes on May 5, 2018. Amanda had left her husband and the home they shared after years of violence and abuse. She hoped to start a new life for her and her daughter. 

 The Stokes had moved from Missouri to Alabama where Mark was stationed, taking Amanda far from her family in Ulman. 

Despite high hopes that the move would be a new beginning, nothing changed. After years of trying,  Amanda had finally had enough. She left, taking Audrey, their then 5-year-old daughter with her. She had had enough of the violence, of the threats to kill her or her family if they tried to intervene. Amanda was ready to start over. She never got the chance. 

According to police reports, Mark is believed to have tracked Amanda down, entered her room with a key he got from the front desk. He dead-bolted the door from the inside. He then shot and killed Amanda and a friend before turning the gun on himself.  

Although Amanda is gone and her family still grieves, her memory and the impact of her death lives on. Amanda’s family is hoping to share her story to help others understand the dynamics of domestic violence and to reach victims empowering them to seek help before it’s too late. Their hope is to save another family from the pain they have experienced, to maybe save another child from growing up without a mother. 

The Kessler’s story is poignantly told in a video for the lake area organization Citizens Against Domestic Violence. The video tells tells the haunting story of a young woman who’s life was cut short. A young woman whose life up until the time she married the “man of dreams” seemed nearly perfect. 

Deb Kessler described her daughter as carefree, funny and one of those kind souls who is always helping others. She was the youngest of 3 children, the only daughter, her daddy’s little girl. 

Her desire to help others led her to the decision to serve in the Army National Guard. It was while serving that Amanda met the man she described to her dad, Mark Kessler, as her knight in shining armor. The man she was going to marry. 

It wasn’t until after Amanda married Mark that the warning signs that led to the tragic ending started to emerge. He appeared to be easy-going, charismatic, someone who fit in with the Kessler’s close- knit family.  Mark became increasingly controlling and manipulative. The violence escalated. At one point, an ex-wife tried to warn Amanda. 

“They moved four times in six years. The last time that he moved her I know was to get her away from us. When we went to her house, he was at a military training. This was a two-story house with a full basement and an in-ground pool in the backyard on the edge of St. Charles. When we went into the house, there was no food. She had no gas in her car and no money. She was still trying to play it like everything was okay, but we could tell everything was not okay. She finally confided in us that it was terrible,” says Deb. “He would make her use a credit card so he could track everywhere she went and everything she spent. He would cut that off if he did not want her spending anything. He would cut off her cell phone use—he would shut her phone off because it was in his name. He had total control over everything.”

Her parents learned Mark threatened Amanda. Sometimes in front of their daughter. They  would help get her away from Mark only to have him later come back into Amanda’s life. It was hard for the family to understand the power he had over her. Amanda was not what you would think of as a victim, she said. 

There were emotional, heartbreaking phone calls in the middle of the night. Amanda’s mom begging to let her and her dad come get her. 

“She would say, ‘Mom, I want you to know that if I die, I have not committed suicide. He has killed me.’ I would tell her I would pick her up. I would beg her to come home. She would say, ‘No, Mom, I’m okay, but I just want you to know.’"

While Amanda had plenty of spunk, her loving and caring nature kept her by her abuser’s side. 

“She was always trying to not get him in trouble because she knew if she got him in trouble, he would lose his military job. Early on in the relationship, she kept telling me how bad it was. She would say, ‘But, Mom, what kind of a wife would I be if I left him if he has PTSD? I don’t want to just abandon him if he is sick,’” says Deb.

Looking back, Deb says she didn’t understand the psychology of domestic violence.

“I would tell her, ‘Just get away from him,’ as though it was easy. ‘Just get out. How hard is this? You just walk away.’ No, she couldn’t,” she recalls.

Since Amanda’s death, Audrey has lived with the Kessler’s. Although there are good days, there are others that are more difficult, but Audrey is adjusting. She knows her mommy is gone. She often visits her grave in a nearby cemetery, taking special things to share with her mom. Sometimes she just wants to play nee the headstone. 

Deb says Audrey is like the rest of the family—she’s grieving. She’s five, She’s lost more than any of us. They are never coming back and she is very much aware of that. As time has gone by, Audrey is doing better. 

Although Amanda was a resident of Alabama, CADV has stepped in to help the family. CADV featured the  Kessler’s video at their annual brunch this week. 

For anyone needing assistance, CADV maintains a  24-hour emergency hotline at 888-809-7233. If you are a victim of domestic abuse, call today.