Elisabeth Strillacci: Freedom is more rare and harder to achieve than you think

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 7, 2024

By Elisabeth Strillacci

Over more than 35 years of journalism, especially since my beat for more than 25 of those years was cops and courts, I’ve written a lot of heartbreaking stories.

They don’t leave you, and in truth, a lot of family members are lifelong friends because when you write about the most traumatic thing in someone’s life, bonds form.

This week, I revisited a local story from two years ago, and I was reminded how true this remains.

Two years ago, on June 2, 2022, I wrote about the murder of Amy Wah in Spencer. Her former boyfriend, Antoine Mills, was accused of shooting her while she slept in her family home.

This past Wednesday, Mills pleaded guilty to first degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Amy’s brother, Andrew, let me know the court date was coming, and I promised him I would be there. I wanted to see it through, even though I’m not a reporter anymore. For Amy, and for her family, including her children, I wanted to bear witness to the end of at least this part of the story.

And I was grateful that Mills agreed to plead guilty, saving everyone the trauma of a trial and perhaps the children the hard issue of testifying.

Because some of the children were sleeping with their mother when she was shot. Somehow Mills did not end up facing multiple charges for shooting any of those children who were sleeping with their mom, which is nothing short of a miracle.

My heart will always be with Amy’s family, and I was honored they made sure I knew it was happening and welcomed me.

But I also know that there is another family that has lost, and that is Mills’ family. They lost a son Wednesday in a sense. It’s not the same as death, I know, and I don’t equate the two, but I did feel for them as well. I don’t know how you come to terms with the idea that a child you love has taken a life, and I am sorry for them.

This was not the hardest case I’ve covered, but it still leaves an impression, it still leaves a sadness that will be with me always. I can only imagine how it feels on the inside.

I just know so many who have had to survive a loss, a trauma like this, who have had to learn to live around something life changing, and I am always in awe of their strength. I wonder if I could be as strong.

We just celebrated our country’s independence day, and while I, too, honored the day, I admit I spent more time thinking about people for whom freedom is something very different. Because whatever the outcome, I don’t think you ever get free of something this difficult. Instead, your life becomes two parts — before and after — and you adapt to the after.

True freedom is indeed a rare and challenging acquisition and as a country, we should remember all the families of soldiers and everyday people who gave up their lives for our country’s freedom. We should take a moment to honor the families who had their before and after when family members did not come home after the Revolutionary War.

To the members of the Wah family, I hope you know how much you inspire me. To all those who are living a before and after life, I honor your strength and your fortitude. To Americans, it’s past time we remember the price we paid for our freedom, and think of Independence Day as more than just a day for barbecues and flying flags.

A life of before and after. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but am grateful for the example set by all who do.

Elisabeth Strillacci is former editor of the Salisbury Post.