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Widow, mother of victims shares story

October 2, 2012
Jenn Brookens - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - Anna Gronewald, formerly of Lewisville, lost her daughter, Ashley Sullivan, and her husband Chester in January 2010, when Sullivan's ex-boyfriend, Shawn Haugen, broke into their farmhouse, shot Sullivan and beat Chester to death, before turning the gun on himself.

Gronewald was among those who spoke out Monday during a forum on domestic violence at Five Lakes Centre in Fairmont.

"Every 12 seconds, a woman is assaulted," she said. "That's every 12 seconds a mom, a daughter, a sister, co-worker or friend is assaulted by someone who tells her he loves her, by someone who tells her it's her fault and by someone who tells the rest of us it is none of our business."

Article Photos

TRAGIC?LOSSES — Anna Gronewald, standing, shares her story of how her daughter and husband were killed in an act of domestic violence in January 2010, on Monday in Fairmont.

Gronewald recalled that Haugen wasn't always abusive.

"The first year together was the honeymoon," Gronewald recalled. "We all loved him."

But after Sullivan gave birth to their son, Haugen's behavior changed.

"When she had her son, she had to divide her time, and all of her attention wasn't on Shawn anymore," Gronewald said. "He became jealous, and she would cover for the things Shawn did to her. In July 2009, she came to our house and said, 'Take me to the hospital.' Her face was bloody and swollen, and in the pit of my stomach I knew what was going on. But she lied about it in the hospital ... She said she walked into a door frame, and the hospital didn't question it."

Once Sullivan ended the relationship, the violence escalated.

In December 2009, Haugen was arrested and jailed after he broke Sullivan's phone and put his fist through her TV, then fled the residence with their son.

A domestic violence no contact order was placed on Haugen, but to no avail. On Christmas Eve, while Sullivan was celebrating Christmas with her family in Lake Crystal, Haugen allegedly set fire to her house, after texting Sullivan numerous times and getting no response.

"There was no way to prove he did it, but he had information that would only come from being inside the house, like the new lingerie that was in her dresser drawer with the tags still on them," Gronewald said.

Haugen was arrested again, and while prosecutors requested a higher bail and electronic home monitoring, a judge ignored it and went with the standard $5,000 bail. Only 10 percent, or $500, needed to be raised by Haugen to be released.

"It took him two weeks and that whole time, he was calling Ashley at her workplace at Interlaken Golf Course," Gronewald said. "He sent a letter in my name, knowing that Ashley would get it. She told the dispatchers that Shawn was calling her from jail and violating the no contact order, and they told her to change her number. I don't think that same advice would be given today."

During that time, Haugen made the $500 bond, but was transported from Blue Earth County Jail to Watonwan County Jail for violating the no contact order. This time, he needed a bond of $2,000, which he made with help from his family.

On Thursday, Jan. 14, three days before Sullivan was murdered, she learned Haugen was out of jail.

"Until her house burned down, we didn't see that fear in her," Gronewald said. "I remember how her face went pale when she learned Shawn was released. Her sisters and I suggested she move to the CADA safe house, but she said, 'No, I feel safe on our farm, and Chet will protect us.'"

Unfortunately, three days later, Haugen broke into the farmhouse early on that Sunday morning, shot Sullivan while their son was in her arms, beat Chester to death, and then took his own life.

"He had left a suicide note on Facebook saying that Ashley had damaged his brain, and that if he could not have her no one else would either," Gronewald said. "His actions proved that."

Since Sullivan's death, the laws have changed, thanks in part to Gronewald and her two surviving daughters testifying at the state level.

"Since then, they passed 'Ashley and Chet's Law,'" Gronewald said. "Out of the seven parts, there are four parts that would have protected Ashley."

Along with a pilot GPS program, the law gives judges more flexibility with bails and bonds, covers pet protection if an abuser is threatening to harm a pet, and orders for protection have been expanded from 300 feet to covering an entire town if necessary.

Despite the new laws, domestic violence is growing. In just the past weekend, there were five incidents of domestic calls to law enforcement in Fairmont, and they resulted in three arrests.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the theme for this year is "Connect, Challenge and Change."

"Connect is to connect to friends and resources," said Fairmont Police Sgt. Lowell Spee. "Challenge is to challenge yourself and others to take domestic abuse seriously, and finally change the culture that keeps it quiet."



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