FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Marissa Potts wrestles with feelings of guilt over the death of her 3 year old daughter.
“My daughter would still be alive if not for me and that’s what’s hurting me the most,” she said.
Potts, though, is a victim, too.
Court records detail the abuse she allegedly suffered, being beaten and choked by the father of her children, Billy Joiner Jr.
“I remember people telling me, if he’ll do it to you, he’ll probably do it to the children, and I was like ‘Nooo’,” she said.
Potts insists, before last month, she’d only seen him hurt the children once, striking their two oldest with the strap from a purse.
She left him, then, only to later return, certain he’d changed.
Then, three weeks ago, she says, he snapped.
Angered by the sound of three-year-old Elena shrieking, he dragged their daughter, Marissa says, into a bathroom.
“When we finally got the door open, all you see is like steam coming out,” Marissa recalled.
“He literally made her stand in the shower naked in the hot water. And for you to be able to watch your child burn,” she said, her voice trailing off as emotion crept in.
Marissa says she called police, only to have Joiner hold his hand over her mouth to keep her from talking.
The next day, she says, he beat Elena unconscious. She died, days later, in the hospital.
“That was like a living nightmare that we experienced,” said Marissa of the two days of violence.
Marissa first became pregnant at the age of 17. In five years, she’s had five children with Joiner. She’s now expecting her sixth.
Marissa says she left Joiner several times. A GoFundMe she started in July shows she was raising money “to get away from a relationship.”
But she always ended up coming back.
“I wanted my family back together,” she said. “It was the dream that I was reaching for pretty much in my head, like that was everything that I wanted.”
Even when the family says CPS barred Billy from having access, Marissa says she let him move back in. It’s a decision she says will haunt her.
“I never hurt my child physically, but she’s dead because I let him come to the home. And, that’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life,” Marissa said.
Jan Langbein, CEO of Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support, says the focus here should be on the abuser, not Marissa, who a petition has urged law enforcement to arrest.
“I do not think she should be behind bars. This is not something she did. I feel strongly about that,” said Langbein.
“Violence in the home is all about power and control. And when someone who feels he deserves the power, he demands the power, and he can punish her, his family, if he doesn’t feel like he has the power,” said Langbein.
Marissa says she’s struggling to accept Elena’s death. She went Christmas shopping for her children last week, and instinctively purchased gifts for Elena, as well.
The children are all in foster care now, but she hopes to get them back one day.
The most important thing, she says, though, is that they’re safe.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing family violence, you can find help 24 hours a day through advocacy organizations, like Genesis, in Dallas, at 214-946-4357 and SafeHaven of Tarrant County, in Fort Worth, at 877-701-7233.
Both organizations offer victims’ counseling and support, in addition to shelter.