EVANSVILLE, Ind. - Saturday night, not long before she was shot to death, Rachael Feazell had plans to take her 10-year-old daughter Ashlyn to the circus.
She hadn't had custody of the girl for years because of substance abuse, but the two remained close and Feazell, 34, was determined to regain custody someday. Ashlyn lives in Western Kentucky with her grandmother, Kelly Griggs, who's been her guardian for several years.
Feazell's aunt, Connie Henry, said Feazell was finally "getting her ducks in a row," was past the substance abuse and was sorting her life out. She had been working day-to-day jobs in Evansville, including clean-ups at the Ford Center. Feazell helped out during the 420 Main Street tower implosion, sitting in the lobby of an adjacent condominium complex to make sure tenants didn't leave the building while the tower crashed.
More: Coroner releases names in Evansville incident that resulted in murder/suicide
She was supposed to be be starting a new job soon as a cashier in the cafeteria at the University of Southern Indiana.
"She was really working hard on changing her lifestyle," Henry said. "In her mind, she was bound and damned determined to get her daughter back. I don't know if that would've happened, but she wanted to try.
"Regardless of what she did right or wrong, she loved Ashlyn and Ashlyn loved her. At the end of the day every kid needs to be with their mother."
It was all taken away from Rachael and Ashlyn on Saturday night.
Police believe Feazell was shot and killed around 6 p.m. in the 1000 block of West Iowa Street in Evansville by her ex-boyfriend Ryan Hopkins, who then turned the gun on himself in an apparent murder-suicide. A few hours earlier, Feazell called the police on Hopkins, saying he rammed his pickup truck into the back of her current boyfriend's vehicle multiple times before fleeing.
Police told Feazell to apply for a protective order against Hopkins.
She never got the chance.
It wouldn't have been the first time a judge ordered Hopkins to stay away from her, nor was there any indication from his past that he would honor such an order.
On April 26, 2020, Evansville police responded to a domestic disturbance call at 1041 Powell Ave., a residence the two shared at the time.
"Hurry, hurry, hurry ... he's already hit me," Feazell told the 911 operator, according to the probable cause affidavit.
Feazell told responding officers that Hopkins had shoved her and pinned his forearm against her neck so tightly she couldn't breathe. He then went upstairs and threatened to harm her more. She hid under the bed and dialed 911.
Earlier that evening, she told officers, Hopkins had threatened to shoot her.
Hopkins was booked into the Vanderburgh County jail and charged with strangulation, domestic battery and intimidation.
Henry and Griggs said the relationship between the two was actually much more abusive than court documents show.
"He held her hostage in his basement," Henry said. "He had a padlock on the outside of the house and cameras in the house connected to his phone."
According to court documents, Hopkins was issued a no-contact order with Feazell by Vanderburgh Circuit Court Magistrate Kelli Fink on June 22, 2020. Henry said Hopkins ignored it.
In October 2020, just a few months after the no-contact order was issued, Feazell had to crawl out of a basement window - cutting herself in several places - to escape him, Griggs said. Despite the abuse, Feazell kept going back to him.
"She loved him. We didn't understand it," Henry said. "She'd call me (asking), 'What do I do? What do I need to do?' and I'd tell her, 'Leave! You need to leave!' but she kept going back to him."
Hopkins and Feazell met sometime around 2019, Henry said. He'd stopped by Henry's house in Union County a few times, and she said he was always very polite and soft-spoken. The image of the well-mannered man Henry had met didn't mesh with the horror stories Feazell would tell her family about him.
He would drag her down the stairs. He would lock her in the basement.
"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is what I called him," Griggs said.
But even when Feazell did finally leave Hopkins, she couldn't escape. On April 14 of this year, Evansville Police responded to a domestic violence call at 1000 W. Iowa St. involving the two. Again, Feazell was the victim. She accused Hopkins of punching her in the face, kicking her, pointing a gun at her and stealing her emotional-support dog, according to the police department's April 14 media log.
This all occurred while the two were awaiting a trial in the April 2020 incident. In that case, the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office had charged Hopkins with felony-level strangulation and misdemeanor domestic battery and intimidation.
But Feazell decided not to press charges against Hopkins for the April 2021 attack. And then in November, the charges stemming from the April 2020 incident were dismissed.
Why? Because Feazell wrote to the court stating she no longer wanted Hopkins prosecuted.
Jess Powers, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, said via email that Feazell had asked the court to drop the non-contact order and "indicated on Oct. 29, 2021 in writing that she no longer wished to pursue charges at this time."
Less than a month later, Feazell and Hopkins were found dead at 1000 W. Iowa St.
Henry said Griggs and her husband were called by police to come get 10-year-old Ashlyn. The girl had been at the house when the deaths occurred.
And it could have been even worse: Henry said Ashlyn told her and the police that Hopkins had threatened to shoot her if she called 911.
Henry said she hasn't been able to wrap her head around what's happened.
"For someone to die, even at the age of 34, is a nightmare in itself," Henry said. "But for someone to die the way she did in front of her daughter, that's at a level I can't begin to comprehend."
Contact Ray Couture at email@example.com or on Twitter @raybc94
Domestic violence help
The Evansville community has multiple resources available to anyone suffering from domestic violence or an abusive relationship. Albion Fellows Bacon Center, a nonprofit organization in town that advocates for survivors of domestic abuse provided a list of those resources. Those are listed below:
For Advocacy Services or Emergency Shelter:
Albion Fellows Bacon Center can be reached by phone at (812) 422-5622. Its email address is firstname.lastname@example.org; officials are also available on Facebook Messenger.
YWCA staff can be reached at (812)-422-1191. Its email address is email@example.com. The YWCA is also available on Facebook Messenger @YWCAEvansville.
For emergency shelter:
YWCA, 118 Vine St. in Downtown Evansville. Phone: (812) 422-1191.
To report to law enforcement:
Call 911 or Holly's House at (812) 437-7233.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Text "START" to 88788
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Ex-boyfriend kills woman after she drops domestic violence charges against him