SUMMERVILLE — Mercia King-Ellis considers herself lucky to be alive.
At first, Thursday seemed like just another work day as she prepared for her job as an endoscopy tech at Trident Medical Center.
In the pre-dawn darkness, she clicked the car remote control to open the doors on her 2002 Chevy Malibu in the driveway of her home on idyllic-sounding Daffodil Street.
But before she could reach the driver’s side, her estranged husband Robert Ellis called her name. She turned to face him and he attacked viciously, striking her all over with a metal baseball bat, leaving a long, bloody gash on her head.
She screamed and staggered toward the house. In the struggle, she had lost her keys in the yard. She had locked the front door on the way out, leaving her trapped outside the home she had shared with the man who now seemed intent on killing her.
In their 10 years of marriage, there had been warning signs, but nothing to prepare her for this bloody struggle. The verbal abuse had finally led to their separation in December. Still, he had never hit her.
Not long after, though, things took a troubling, sinister turn when he told her something that made her afraid.
“He was going to kill himself and take somebody with him,” she said.
He said it looking straight at her. She feared she was the someone he meant.
On Thursday morning, those words suddenly had come hideously true. He was hiding on the side of the house when he sprung at her. The motion-activated flood lights were not working. She wonders if he had not disarmed them to maintain the element of surprise.
Now that it has happened to her, now that her husband made good on his threat, King-Ellis wants other women to know that they need to protect themselves when a spouse or boyfriend talks as if he means harm.
“I just think that women need to know when they say things like that to take it seriously. I don’t know what I could have done any differently,” she said.
Her advice to others is to pay attention when something seems wrong.
“Just listening to your instinct,” she said.
She has 13 stitches in her head. There are bruises on a forearm from fending off the blows of the metal bat. She was beaten on the back and legs.
She had been granted an order of protection against Robert Ellis, 60, in December when a judge heard her concerns — about the time of their separation. But despite having the law on her side, she was alone in the dark fighting for her life as he slammed her with the bat. If only someone inside would hear her and unlock the door, she thought.
“I just laid there. I was screaming,” she said.
The sounds prompted a neighbor across the street to come outside. That was when her husband backed away and fled. She had a chance to make it to the door.
“Help me, help me,” she cried.
Her daughter awakened and called police. King-Ellis was rushed to Trident Medical Center for treatment.
Her husband did not have a drug or alcohol problem. He was not mentally ill, she said.
“I really didn’t expect this,” she said. “I just never thought he would go that far.”
She heard that he committed suicide by hanging himself. But she doesn’t know for sure how he died.
She wonders if he is really gone, even though on Friday night she signed papers that a mortuary brought to the house.
She has not seen his body, so to her he is still alive. That terrifying moment when he came at her, making good on his threat, is what she feels.
“I’m afraid,” she said. “I’m having trouble sleeping.”
She plans to seek counseling before returning to work. She declined to discuss her husband in any detail. She would not say what he did for a living.
Police said Ellis beat his wife, 56, with a metal baseball bat. The call came in as a domestic dispute. A daughter told police that she heard her mother screaming and found her bleeding from the head.
At Trident, while doctors and nurses treated her, she told officers that it was her husband who attacked her. Investigators say that later in the day they received a call from Ellis’ son, who told them he just discovered his father had hanged himself.
On Friday night, neighbors two doors down said they did not want to talk about what happened to King-Ellis. At a nearby convenience store, Larry Williams said he had heard about the assault and suicide.
“The only thing I can say is that with the situation with the economy and jobs, people are stressed,” he said. “It doesn’t take much to push people over the edge.”
Domestic violence is particularly dangerous, according to Charleston police, who say it can be manifested in a wide array of behaviors, including psychological, physical or sexual abuse.
The abuser may slap, shove, yell, kick, burn, punch, rape or threaten the life of children or pets.
“No other violent crime presents the strong possibility the offender will return home to live with the victim,” according to the Charleston Domestic Violence Services website.
Domestic violence is usually chronic. Without intervention, the same victim will often be assaulted again by the same offender.
“Unfortunately, most domestic violence stays hidden in the home because some victims feel ashamed of the situation,” the website states.
Domestic violence is one of the most common of all crimes. About 33 million or 15 percent of American adults are current or former victims. Some 85 percent of those are women. Each year, domestic violence results in an estimated 1,200 deaths and 2 million injuries to women and an estimated 600,000 injuries to men, according to the website page for My Sister’s House.
In September, a report from the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Council ranked the Palmetto State second in the country for the rate of women killed by men.
The group reported that 46 women in South Carolina were killed in domestic violence-related incidents in 2010, a rate of nearly one woman per week. The state was previously ranked seventh in the country, but advocates say it has been as high as No. 1 in the past decade.