Cecelia Gamez held her granddaughter only once.
It was the day Kahlia died, at the end of the driveway where the 6-month-old’s father had shot her in the head.
“She was bleeding really bad,” Gamez said, recalling that day, March 31, outside her Ohatchee home. “I saw her fading out some, but I thought she was going to make it.”
Moments before, Kahlia’s father, Trenton Gordon, had walked into the road. He’d already shot the child’s grandfather, and now had the barrel of his pistol pointed at his own forehead. He pulled the trigger.
“I hear it go off. By the time I turn around, he’s on the ground,” Gamez said.
Gamez sealed her lips over Kahlia’s, breathing into the baby’s mouth and pressing on her chest, trying to keep her alive.
A short time later, Gamez and Kahlia’s wounded grandfather were speeding towards a hospital in Talladega when Gamez’s phone got the text message. Kahlia had died.
The day was a shock, the worst of Gamez’s life, but it was not a surprise. Gordon had threatened it. Kahlia’s mother, Christina Gamez, had asked a judge to help prevent it. She had called the police for protection.
None of it was enough to keep Gordon from abducting Kahlia as Christina tried to flee their abusive relationship. It wasn’t enough to keep the gun out of his hands.
‘Ultimate act of control’
Christina Gamez filed a petition for protection from abuse Feb. 14 against Gordon after he was charged with domestic violence harassment.
When she filed the petition, Christina wrote that Gordon had hit her, put his hands around her neck and threatened to shoot her.
“He has punched me everywhere but my face,” Christina wrote in the petition. “He’s grabbed and loaded his gun as if he were going to use it.”
Cecelia Gamez said she was unaware of how badly Gordon abused Christina until the end of their relationship.
“He would sit around on the couch, waving the gun around and talking to his little girl and saying, ‘It’d be better if I took us out now,’” Gamez said Christina told her.
Gamez said Christina has been living out of state, and was unavailable for comment.
Four days after the protection order was granted, Christina asked to withdraw it.
Susan Shipman, who heads 2nd Chance, a nonprofit that advocates for domestic violence and sexual abuse survivors, said relationships are about maintaining control for abusers. That’s why leaving an abusive situation is so dangerous for the victim.
“When they’re losing control, they’re going to get more lethal because they’re doing whatever they can to maintain that control,” she said.
Shipman described a situation like the one at the end of Cecelia Gamez’s driveway, in which an abuser kills someone before committing suicide, as “the ultimate act of control.”
‘Christina couldn’t stop him’
According to Cecelia Gamez, Christina and Kahlia had been living in an apartment on Glen Addie Avenue with Gordon and his toddler daughter since Kahlia’s birth in September.
Though the protective order was in effect, Gamez said, Gordon had continued to stay at the apartment.
“He would come up there and do whatever he wanted,” Gamez said. “Christina couldn’t stop him.”
The Friday before Kahlia’s death, Gamez said, Christina asked Anniston police to stay with her until relatives came while she gathered her things and left. Gamez said the officer there asked her numerous times when her family was going to get there.
“He made her feel that he had something else better to do,” Gamez said.
Gamez said Christina told the officer he could go. Once the officer was gone, Gamez said, Gordon came into the apartment and took Kahlia. Christina, who was left with Gordon’s older daughter, went to the home in Ohatchee.
After Gordon left with Kahlia, the family devised a plan to get the baby back: Christina would take Kahlia on Sunday while Gordon went to work in Atlanta, leave his older daughter with his mother and flee to Florida with the baby.
In the days before the shooting, Gamez said, Gordon repeatedly drove by their trailer in Ohatchee to harass Christina.
“He came through here, sometimes with the baby, sometimes without her, trying to get my daughter in the car,” Gamez said. “I called the cops every time he came through here.”
Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade said earlier this month that a deputy parked down the street that Sunday afternoon in case Gordon came back, but was called away somewhere else shortly before Gordon went to the home for the last time.
‘Lots of domestic violence’
When she first granted the protection order on Feb. 14, Calhoun County Circuit Judge Peggy Lacher said, it didn’t seem much different from any other case she’d seen.
“There’s, unfortunately, lots of protection from abuse orders that come through here,” she said in an interview in her office earlier this month. “There is lots of domestic violence in our county.”
According to federal and state law, it is illegal for anyone subject to a valid protection order to possess a firearm. In her petition, Christina specifically checked a box asking that Gordon be ordered to surrender all firearms.
Lacher said judges can order that all of an alleged abuser’s firearms be taken after a hearing held within 10 days. However, Lacher said, the protection order could have required Gordon to hand over to authorities any pistols he had.
In hindsight, Lacher said, that requirement should have been there. She said she didn’t know why it wasn’t.
“Looking back, I certainly wish that there had’ve been,” she said. “But it’s not in each and every order.”
Lacher said she typically makes the decision to confiscate pistols based on how serious the victim’s allegations are.
“I have to balance the rights of the individuals, but you look at the allegations” she said. A protection from abuse order “is ex parte, which means it’s one-sided, until there is a hearing.”
Because Christina asked to withdraw the protection order, Lacher set a hearing for April 24. Lacher said she chose the date to give Gamez and Gordon time to reflect on the issue.
While anyone under a protection order is barred from having guns, Wade said, the order doesn’t authorize deputies to search their homes for guns.
Wade said Gordon applied for a concealed carry permit in March 2017 but was denied the next month due to his status as a registered sex offender. Court records of the offense that led to that registration are unavailable, the sheriff said, because Gordon was granted youthful offender status.
Wade said earlier this month that the gun Gordon used to kill Kahlia is in one of the Sheriff’s Office’s evidence vaults. As with every gun they take, Wade said, deputies are tracing Gordon’s gun to see where he had gotten it. He said it could take months before they have the results.
‘This could have been prevented’
Anniston police Chief Shane Denham said police took a report the Friday night Gordon took Kahlia from Christina, claiming he had violated the protection order. Cecelia Gamez said police told Christina that she had to wait until Monday to sign a warrant for Gordon’s arrest.
“This could have been prevented,” Cecelia Gamez said. “All I know is something needs to be done.”
Gamez said she submitted a complaint April 25 with Anniston police about the officer leaving. Lt. Chris Sparks said the shift supervisor the officer was working under has received the complaint and is looking into it.
After the investigation concludes, Sparks said, it will be thoroughly reviewed as it goes up the department’s chain of command.
“It’s looked at by every step of our chain of command until it goes to the chief,” Sparks said.
Denham, the chief, said the department assesses every complaint it receives against an officer.
“We look at whatever they’re complaining about and see if there’s something we could’ve done better. Then we try to do better,” the chief said. “If we didn’t, then we tell them politely, ‘I’m sorry. We’ve done the best we can.’”
A history of abuse
Shipman, the executive director of 2nd Chance, said much of what happened between Christina and Gordon is common in abusive relationships.
Because Gordon had isolated Christina from family members, Cecelia Gamez said, she didn’t see or hear from her daughter often. Gamez said she had only met Kahlia once before, at a relative’s birthday party.
Shipman said isolation is the best tactic abusers have against their victims.
“The extent of the victimization, you have no idea,” he said. “You don’t see me, and you don’t hear from me, so you don’t know what’s going on.”
Despite the protection order, Gordon continued to stay at Christina’s apartment.
Shipman said there are numerous reasons why a woman with children might stay in an abusive situation. Many of those reasons are financial, she said.
Shipman said living alone can be expensive. Living alone with children, she said, is nearly impossible for some women.
“Female victims, which we’re most acquainted with, will tolerate a lot of abuse in trying to maintain something that looks like a normal lifestyle to other people and to their children,” Shipman said.
Often, Shipman said, abusers use children in the household as tools to keep the victim from leaving.
According to Shipman, the victim is never at fault for being abused.
In an abusive relationship, Shipman said, the violence typically doesn’t start at the beginning; it escalates over time.
“There’s something that draws us into a relationship. That’s what keeps us in an abusive relationship as well, looking for that thing that got us into the relationship to begin with,” Shipman said.
Shipman encouraged anyone who thinks they’re in an abusive relationship to call 2nd Chance’s crisis hotline at 800-650-6522.
Since Kahlia’s death, Cecelia Gamez said things have been quiet at her home. Gamez said Christina, who can’t bring herself be in the place where her baby died, is staying with relatives in Florida. Gamez said she feels anxious when she hears gunshots or police sirens.
According to Gamez, relatives created a GoFundMe page and pooled money to give Kahlia a proper funeral.
Gamez said she has since forgiven Gordon and feels sympathy for his family. The Star’s attempts to reach Gordon’s family members since Kahlia’s death have been unsuccessful.
Gamez expressed her sympathy for Gordon’s older daughter, who was sent to live with his relatives. She said Christina helped care for the older daughter when they lived together.
“There went her mama as she knows,” Gamez said. “Her daddy’s gone. Her sister’s gone.”
Gamez also said she feels for Gordon’s mother, who she met that night while bringing his older daughter to her home.
“My heart goes out to her. He was her son,” Gamez said. “Even though I saw what he did, I still feel some type of way.”