Woman whose husband set her on fire now helps domestic violence victims

TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – A Florida woman is in critical condition after police say she was set on fire by her boyfriend on Tuesday.

The tragic incident is a painful reminder of what happened to another local woman. Audrey Mabrey has a powerful story. While she has experienced devastating moments, she has also harnessed pure determination in her journey. Her will to survive began on a November day in 2009 when her husband, Christopher Hanney, hit her over the head with a hammer, doused her with gasoline and lit a match. Then, he watched her suffer. Audrey was in a coma for six weeks, and when she awoke, the mother of two says she saw a stranger staring back at her in the mirror.

She suffered burns over 80 percent of her body.  “What I saw in my reflection was Freddy Krueger. To be quite frank, the way had God designed me to look I was never going to look that way again,” she said.

But it was also on that same day, she discovered the power inside her.  She had a mental message for her estranged husband.  “At that same moment I said to myself, he robbed me physically, He’s not going to rob me emotionally or mentally.”

As she talks about the fateful moment that changed and ultimately shaped the rest of her life, Audrey speaks with resolve. It is clear the 33-year-old has the spirit of a warrior and heart of a mother.  She credits her faith for getting her through anguish and agony.

“It is God,” she says. “All God. He shines through me.”

Audrey recalls how she and her husband were having marital problems. The two were separated when she stopped by his home in Apollo Beach. The ex-NYPD detective forced his estranged wife into the garage, hit her with a hammer, poured gasoline on her and tossed a candle in her direction. She still remembers the fragrance of that candle, cucumber melon.  “I thought I was going to die that day,” she said.

The days, months and years that followed were filled with painful surgeries and depression, followed by determination.

“It was the most challenging thing I have ever faced in my life. It was the most painful thing I have ever faced in my life. And, I still believe today that recovering from a burn is the most difficult recovery there is,” she shared.

After a jury found her estranged husband guilty,  she spoke at his sentencing.  Audrey took back her power. “I ask that the court, your honor, not show mercy on his earthly life, because he did not show mercy on mine,” she said. The judge agreed with her, and Hanney received life in prison – thirty years for arson and thirty for aggravated battery with great bodily harm.  It is the fear of losing control, she maintains, as to what drives many abusers. “Someone who feels like they have lost everything are capable of anything. And it was a last effort to have control.”

In fact, on the day Audrey’s ex-husband was sentenced, Judge Emmett Battles addressed the ex-cop in court, saying, “Mr. Hanney, there is your victim, forever to bear the physical and emotional scars that were inflicted at your hands. It is her will to live, her strength in all of this that the court finds nothing short of amazing. But I’m struck by something else, the barbarity of these crimes, the viciousness, as cruel as this court has witnessed.” Audrey now works as an advocate for domestic violence victims through an organization called Breaking the Silence Against Domestic Violence. It is a passion near and dear to her heart. “I’m 7 years out, I’m still going through surgeries and I still have to work my way around the sun, I still can never sweat where I’ve been burned, so I overheat. There’s things from that injury that I’ll carry forever.”

Audrey now works as an advocate for domestic violence victims through an organization called Breaking the Silence Against Domestic Violence. It is a passion near and dear to her heart. “I’m seven years out, I’m still going through surgeries and I still have to work my way around the sun, I still can never sweat where I’ve been burned, so I overheat. There’s things from that injury that I’ll carry forever.”

When she heard about this latest case of a St. Petersburg woman with abuse eerily similar to hers, she admits, “My goal is to be there for her. I can’t believe this has happened again. We are not doing enough. We need to do more. I want to be there for Sheron. She has a long road ahead.”

So, how can this dangerous and hurtful trend be stopped? There’s one thing Audrey would like to see above everything else. She said, “Who is out there telling these men, telling these boys that you do not have the right to take somebody’s life? Someone needs to tell them that. We need to reach them before they commit crimes.  And, someone needs to tell them, if you decide to take someone’s life, really, in turn, you are going to lose yours. Cause it’s gonna be spent behind bars”

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