Chicago's 'hero movers' are a reminder of how hard leaving abusive relationships can be.
When a three-man moving crew saw a woman frantically running out of a dental office in Chicago, they knew she was in trouble. And they knew they could help.
Josh Lara, Cody Grant, and Mike Zaininger were unloading a truck in Chicago's West Loop back in October when a woman ran up to them, asking to use their phone, telling them that someone was shooting.
That someone was the woman's abusive ex-boyfriend. He was carrying a gun, and he was looking for her. "She knew she was being looked for, the way she was hiding," Zaininger told DNA Info Chicago at the time. "It was just our instinct to try and protect and help her," Lara said.
The three movers acted quickly to hide the woman in their truck, likely saving her life. Her ex, unable to find her, fatally shot himself outside the dental office where she worked.
On Dec. 14, 2016, the three "hero movers" — as they've been called — were honored by their local city council.
An official city proclamation thanked the men for their "selfless display of bravery" and "remarkable display of courage and quick-thinking." The three heroes were surrounded by their loved ones and family, with Cody Grant's youngest son wearing a shirt reading "My Dad Is My Hero."
Escaping an abusive relationship is not usually as simple as running outside and asking for help.
Abusers purposely make their victims feel small and helpless to convince them the abuse is their own fault. They cut their victims off from support networks and often use financial control and manipulation and emotional abuse to ensure their victims stay quiet and have no means of escape.
"Women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship," reads the Domestic Violence Intervention Program website. The woman who the hero movers hid was lucky to find them — and even luckier that they acted quickly to help her and didn't stop to ask questions or turn the other way.
There are things you can do if you suspect that someone is being emotionally or physically abused or if someone comes to you asking for help.
A good first step is to familiarize yourself with the warning signs of abuse, which can help you identify an abusive relationship that might not seem like one at first.
If you want to help a friend or family member, you should also try to understand why that person might not want to leave the relationship or why they might not even think they're being abused. Shaming them for that or pressuring them to escape can actually be counterproductive. Instead, make yourself someone they can trust and talk to no matter what.
Because leaving abusive relationships puts women at such high risk of retaliation from their partners, it's important to develop a safety plan that also accounts for the safety of kids, pets, and family members.
We won't all find ourselves in situations where we can be like the hero movers, but stopping domestic violence is up to all of us.
The woman in Chicago was in direct and immediate danger. She was being hunted by an angry abuser who had a gun on him. But instances of domestic abuse won't always be that extreme. There isn't any one type of person who can find themselves stuck in an abusive relationship. It happens to women, it happens to men, and it happens in LGBTQ relationships as well.
If abuse is happening to someone you know, don't assume that someone else will step in, and don't assume that that person will eventually help themselves. You can, and should, be the person that speaks up in a productive way when you see it.
In Chicago, when the movers stepped in, they saved a woman's life. They also demonstrated the simple power of being there. They did the right thing, and it should inspire all of us to do the same whenever we can.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, call or visit the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, 800-799-7233