A woman who police say was fatally shot by the father of her children before he killed himself in southeastern Minnesota had finally begun to heal from years of physical and emotional abuse, her attorney said Monday.
Woynshet "Winnie" Woldemariam was working at a battered women's shelter and trying to help women in similar abusive relationships, said attorney Jennifer Macaulay.
"She was an amazing, inspiring woman," who was dedicated to raising her 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, Macaulay said. She was shot several times by the father of her children in a parking lot in Apple Valley Saturday, before he killed himself, police said. Macaulay said the couple were united in a religious ceremony but were not legally married.
Court records would suggest Woldemariam was the abuser. She was convicted on domestic abuse charges and had violated protection orders granted to Anteneh Tsegaye. But Macaulay said Tsegaye was adept at manipulating the judicial system.
"If you just look at the court records, it would seem to tell a different story," she said. The couple ended their relationship in 2008, but Tsegaye continued to try to maintain control over Woldemariam and deprive her of her children, Macauley said.
A Dakota County judge awarded custody of the children to Woldemariam, despite her convictions. A guardian ad litem recommended the children be placed with Woldemariam because of Tsegaye's emotional and physical abuse.
Woldemariam for cultural and emotional reasons did not report the abuse, Macauley said. She was an Ethiopian immigrant and naturalized citizen.
In a statement Monday, Woldemariam's family members said they are "grief-stricken and heartbroken" over her death.
"If she could choose her legacy, it would be to pass on some of the strength she gained through her struggle to escape from the cycle of violence and abuse that eventually took her life," the family said.
Tsegaye's former attorney, Sally Mortenson, said Tsegaye was not the bad man some have said he was.
"They had different impressions than I did or is reflected in the court documents," Mortenson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "This (murder-suicide) seems completely out of character for the man I knew."
Woldemariam's relatives are working with social services to take custody of the children, according to Apple Valley police. Capt. Mike Marben said the children are in protective custody.