CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — An Old Dominion University student and business owner is sharing her story of overcoming domestic violence in a book titled, “I WILL Survive.”
Cerlisa Collins published her book last October, just a few months after a domestic-related double shooting.
After a night out, Collins said she and her friend William Simpson IV were attacked by her ex-boyfriend.
“We looked at each other. I’m screaming and crying,” she said. “He starts shooting the gun. He shot my friend 12 times and shot me 4 times.”
According to a Chesterfield County police report, officers responded to the shooting in the Providence Green neighborhood around 2:30 a.m. on May 2, 2021.
Collins and Simpson were both shot and rushed to the hospital. 27-year-old Simpson died from his injuries.
Days later, police arrested Willie G. Williams III after he crashed a car near the Richmond area. He was charged with first degree murder, breaking and entering with intent to commit murder, malicious wounding, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and other charges. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in November.
“I can’t believe somebody stood within arm’s reach of me and shot me,” Collins said. “Somebody that I loved, somebody that I was in a relationship with that I was going to have kids with.”
Collins said after the shooting, her ex then dragged her down the stairs by her hair. In the kitchen, he stabbed and beat her.
“I had a stab wound in my neck, so they had to be emergency surgery. My forehead, I was beaten in the head with the gun and the back of my head I had different stab wounds and also two gunshot wounds to my left arm, which broke my arm, the two bones in my arm. I don’t have the same mobility in my right arm, that I have in my left arm,” Collins said.
Throughout her healing journey, Simpson’s family and twin brother have supported her.
“They fill me with love and light, just like he did,” she said. “They have taken me in. They reassure me [saying] that isn’t not my fault. They are not blaming me and [want] me to know I can’t control anybody’s actions.”
Courtney Pierce, the Samaritan House Black Advisory Chair, said advocates are seeing more intimate partner-associated (IPA) homicides. The Virginia Department of Health classifies IPAs as a homicide in which a victim was killed as a result of violence stemming from an intimate partner relationship. These deaths include persons caught in the crossfire of intimate partner violence, such as friends, co-workers, neighbors, relatives, new intimate partners, or bystanders.
Pierce referenced the November 2021 Young Terrace mass shooting, which resulted in three bystander deaths. Samaritan House advocates say a man was killed in Virginia Beach as a bystander in March. Now the organization is working to create bystander training.
“We hear people hunting down the person that they are trying to harm, but I’ve never heard that with bystanders,” Pierce said.
Collins said the red flags were there in her relationship.
“At first it started with the verbal abuse, then the emotional abuse, then it got physical,” she said. “I know other people go through this; I’ve seen it. A lot of women don’t want to speak on it. A lot of things I didn’t tell anybody.”
The last straw was after he beat her during a birthday trip. “I had to go to the hospital. I had two black eyes. A broken nose and my hair was pulled out. It was very physical and intense,” she said.
After the breakup, she believes her ex was stalking her for months and then attacked her and Simpson.
She is grateful to be alive and hopes her book will empower women to thrive despite your circumstances.
“I will survive, and I did survive,” she said.
On Nov. 3, Collins will speak at a panel with Samaritan House at ODU.