Maine Mom Advocates for Domestic Violence Awareness After Daughter Is Murdered While Trying to Leave Boyfriend

Heidi Sallee from Lewiston, Maine, is living through the unimaginable. Her teen daughter, Emali Renee Sallee, was killed by her abusive boyfriend before he killed himself on April 10, leaving Heidi with nothing but questions and the responsibility of raising her daughter’s daughter, who lost both of her parents in one fell swoop.

But it’s through her inconceivable loss that Heidi has found a new purpose: to share her daughter’s story in the hopes of saving others going through something similar. “If I can save one person’s life on my daughter’s story, then I’ve done what I needed to do,” she tells Inside Edition Digital. 

A Mother’s Intuition

Emali was 16 years old when she met Tyson Peters. The pair started out casually, and after Emali became pregnant, she and Peters decided to start dating more seriously. Heidi instantly felt something was off about her daughter’s new boyfriend, she tells Inside Edition Digital. 

“I didn’t like him at first,” she says. “And, of course, that was when the excuses started being made.”

Disturbing behavior, including abuse, began early into their relationship, according to Heidi.

“There was a couple of instances that happened,” she said. “I tried to get her to put a restraining order on him, and she refused to. The police were involved a couple times, and the more I pushed, the more she pulled away from me.”

Over time, Heidi changed her approach when talking to Emali about her dating life, and became more of a sounding board. 

“So the most recent information that I had regarding their relationship was just that he didn’t work at all,” she says. “He was keeping from her friends. It would just drain her. You could see the life just come out. She started really thinking about things.”

Emali, then 19, began distancing herself from her boyfriend and started doing things without him. 

“She said that she tried to have a good time, but he was making her feel guilty and making her feel some kind of way,” Heidi says. “He just wouldn’t stop texting her, wouldn’t stop calling her. He was blowing up her phone.”

It was then that Emali decided to make a break from her partner, which Heidi was happy about. 

“And she said, ‘I can’t do it anymore. I don’t feel the same way that I used to feel. I feel something completely different that I didn’t ever feel before, and I don’t want to be there. I’m not supposed to be there anymore.’ And I said, OK, that’s good,” she says.

Tragedy Strikes 

Emali made a plan to pack her stuff and leave Peters on Wednesday, April 10. That same day, Heidi spoke with her daughter. 

“She FaceTimed me at 4:14 to ask me if I could pick the baby up from daycare because it was taking longer than she had thought it was going to take to get their stuff together,” she says. She replied, “’OK, good, good. I’m proud of you. I will definitely go get the baby.’ And that was the last I heard.”

Heidi texted Emali several times after that, but got no response. By evening, she was worried and she contacted Emali’s friends, one of whom offered to go to the house to check on Emali. 

“She was like, ‘Heidi, something’s not right. All of the lights are on. The curtains are drawn, but nobody’s answering the door. And both of the cars are in the driveway, and she’s not answering my phone,’” Heidi says.  

That friend called the police. Police did a wellness check that evening and didn’t get a response. They did another one in the morning and when no one answered, they forced entry into the home. It was then that they found the bodies of Emali and Peters. Peters killed Emali and then turned the gun on himself, police said. 

“And it broke me, to be totally honest,” Heidi says. “That’s information that no mother ever wanted to hear. He took my daughter. He took the mother away from my granddaughter. She’s never going to be able to know how wonderful she was and how much she loved her.”

Keeping Emali’s Memory Alive

Emali was born in Waterville on March 10, 2005 to Heidi and David Sallee. She lived in Lewiston and attended local schools, graduating from Oak Hill High School.

“She was strong willed and went after her passions with pride,” her obituary reads. “She obtained her CNA license through Clover Manor and worked at Interim Healthcare as a CNA. She loved her coworkers and all the residents that she met during her career.”

Emali loved shopping, the beach and “spending quality time with family, friends and her beloved baby Elianna,” her obituary continues. “Emali had a love for dark humor and enjoyed making and watching TikTok videos. She was a ‘lazy’ bougie kind of girl. She loved the finer things in life but could always be caught in her Lululemon, sweatpants and crop tops. She adored her mom and sister and was always looking to them for a smile or a laugh. Emali had so many attributes that made her who she is, an unforgettable young woman.”

Her obituary makes sure to note the names of the many people who cared about her, ensuring her legacy is one of love and not violence. It notes she is survived by her parents, daughter, her sister Eva Lorraine Sallee and her brother Darian Allen Sallee, as well as “her best friends Alyssa Riley Teska, Kira Ann Gagne and Isaac Robert Crone. Emali also leaves behind her aunt and uncle Joshua and Sarah Field and her cousins Sophia and Noah Field, her uncles James Field and William Scott, her aunt and uncle Steven and Sophia Raymond and her cousins Rhiannon, Preston, Jacob, Vanessa and Ian, her aunt and uncle Patricia and Mark Blanchette Jr. and her cousins Skyler, Logan and Gavin. Lastly, Emali leaves behind her grandparents Jim and Sarah Roussel and Allen and Goldie Watson.”

“In respecting Emali’s wishes, a willow tree will planted in her honor,” the memorial notes.

Kind words about Emali were also left on a GoFundMe campaign created to support Elianna. To date, 260 donations totaling $17,550 have been made. 

“Emali was a beautiful girl who wanted more out of life,” one person wrote. “I’m so sorry for the families loss and the little girl who lost her mom. She was beautiful and kind.”

Beyond the online memorials and tributes, Emali’s mother has devoted her time to sharing her daughter’s story, while struggling to deal with the grief of it all.

 

 

“The thing I miss the most is her phone calls,” Heidi says. “I miss trying to take a nap. Looking at my phone, and it says, (her daughter) ‘is FaceTiming.’ Honestly, that’s what I miss. It was one of the most annoying things in the entire world, but it’s the thing that I miss the most about her because it just spoke to who she was.”

Still, Heidi knows it’s up to her to ensure her 2-year-old granddaughter, Elianna, knows who her mother was, but it’s a daunting task. 

“We have videos. We have photos. But that never does the justice of her actually feeling her mom,” she says. “She was always so affectionate and so loving. The baby’s never going to remember that. And for what? Because he wanted to keep her.”

A Disturbing Statistic

As she grieves, Heidi focuses on caring for Elianna, and with Emali’s other loved ones, ensuring no one forgets who her daughter was and the truth of what happened to her. 

“People have to hear her story,” she says. “They have to know what happened to her.”

Experts say Emali’s story is far from unique. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.” 

“The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%,” the NCADV says, and notes that leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence.

“One study found in interviews with men who have killed their wives that either threats of separation by their partner or actual separations were most often the precipitating events that lead to the murder,” the NCADV says

And it’s Heidi’s mission to make sure others in similar circumstances know they deserve better and to fight for it. 

“Domestic violence is something that there’s not a lot of voices about,” Heidi says. “And people are embarrassed. People are scared. As long as anybody’s going to be there to be able to learn from her experience, then I will be talking about her experience.”

If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 or visit thehotline.org. Calls are toll-free and confidential.

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