Domestic Violence Survivor Urges Victims to Get Help in Wake of Amie Harwick Death

Lisette Johnson pictured with her two children.
Lisette Johnson pictured with her two children.Lisette Johnson

It has been 10 years since Lisette Johnson survived the bullet.

The day Lisette Johnson was shot by her husband started like any other. It was a quiet Sunday morning. She had just returned from church and was looking forward to meeting a friend for a walk in the park when her spouse of 21 years entered the bedroom with a gun underneath a towel and pulled the trigger several times.

“He said, ‘I love you too much to live without you,’ then immediately shot me,” Johnson told “Shot me several times as I was running past him and away from him.”

She yelled to her two young children to get out of the house and call 911. They had just celebrated her son’s 10th birthday in that home with a small group of his friends the day before.

“Sometimes you think, 'Well who would believe this?'” Johnson pondered. “This is such an insane story.”

But Johnson is just one of more than 10 million people that experience domestic abuse in the form of physical violence in the United States every year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). According to the CDC, about 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men will in their lifetime experience severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

And nearly 1 million women alive today have reported being shot or shot at by intimate partners, and 4.5 million women have reported being threatened with a gun, Everytown reported. Additionally, one in three female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner, the NCADV said.

The death of Dr. Amie Harwick last week, authorities believe, is one that makes up that statistic. 

Police found Harwick's body outside her Hollywood Hills apartment after responding to a call of a woman screaming. The 38-year-old sex therapist and author, who was once engaged to the “Price is Right” host Drew Carey and worked with domestic violence survivors, was rushed to the hospital but could not be saved. 

The Los Angeles County coroner's office said Harwick died of blunt force injuries to her head and torso and her death was ruled a homicide. She appeared to have been strangled before being thrown from from the third-floor balcony of her home, the coroner said Thursday. 

Her ex-boyfriend Gareth Pursehouse, 41, was arrested Saturday in connection with her death, and was released from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Tuesday on $2 million bail. He was rearrested and formally charged in her death Wednesday, and he is currently being held without bail.

Harwick had applied for two separate restraining orders against Pursehouse in the past, once in 2011 and again in 2012. “He has suffocated me, punched me, slammed my head on the ground, kicked me,” Harwick told police, according to the restraining order obtained by CBS Los Angeles.

The restraining order she was granted against Harwick was expired at the time of her death. 

“There are patterns that go over long periods of time […] they feel like they’re entitled to that attention and they want the control of that relationship – when it’s on [and] when it’s off," Johnson said. 

Johnson never filed any restraining orders against her partner, but had asked for a divorce shortly before the shooting.

The shooting Johnson suffered at the hands of her husband both came as a shock but was the latest instance of abuse in a relationship rife with them. It began with verbal abuse that grew after their children were born. “Threats were made. Things like, ‘If you think you are going to leave me, I’ll put a bullet in your head,’” Johnson said.

In response, she reasoned that sort of thing -- abuse -- didn’t happen to women like her. “That is very common among people who are experiencing abuse. That it is a sort of a disconnect. Like, you know, I'm the smart woman, I have these businesses, I should be able to figure this out and navigate this,” Johnson said.

She compared her situation to a water leak in the basement: it’s a minor problem that you hope will go away if you ignore. As it gets worse, you promise yourself you’ll get to fixing it one of these days. “By the time you realize how profound it is, you almost can’t open the door. The water pressure has built up over such a period of time,” Johnson explained.

The tipping point for Johnson came when she noticed her young son and daughter mirroring her husband’s abusive behavior. He did not respond well to her request for a separation.

“At that point, he started stalking me, following me places, reading my emails, looking at my phone, just appearing places, reaching out to mutual friends and he refused to leave the house,” she said. Days after, Johnson decided she would be the one to move out.

That's when he shot her.

“I did hear a final shot and didn’t know whether he had shot one of the kids,” Johnson said. “It was him. He did shoot himself at the scene.” 

She was rushed to the emergency room. While she was in surgery, Johnson's children received heartbreaking news. "They told my kids that their dad had died and it did not look good for me," she said.

Johnson survived but she said the healing began well after her physical wounds recovered. She worked with a therapist that specialized in brain injury and trauma and as a single mother helped her young children navigate PTSD, depression, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.

Helping her children understand what had happened was another obstacle. “They didn’t just lose their dad. They didn’t just lose their dad to suicide. They lost their dad to suicide after he tried to murder their mother," she said. "Plus, they were a party to the demeaning and subservient way he would treat me, so I had to be mindful to teach them what healthy relationships look like."

Ten years following the shooting, hope is what continues to push her and her family through. “My worst day now is better than my best day in that relationship.”

Still, scars from that day remain. "When I saw the news [about] Amie Harwick, it took me back to that day in seconds," she said. 

In the years since, Johnson has dedicated her time to working with fellow survivors of domestic abuse.

“When someone calls a domestic violence hotline or works with an advocate, no one is going to make them do anything," she said. "They’re not going to pressure them for a decision, they’re not going to pressure them to call the police."

More than anything, that resource can provide a support system she said is integral to making it through such dangerous times. 

But they’re going to give them information and I think knowing what options are is huge in making decisions to take back our lives.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website.