Maryland Woman Hopes Her Survival Story Inspires Others to Escape Domestic Violence

A Maryland woman whose ex-boyfriend set her on fire hopes sharing her story will inspire others to escape domestic violence.

Fredia Edwards says her relationship with God saw her through the darkest day of her life.

Thirteen years ago, Anthony Willoughby almost killed her.

"When I said I was going to leave, that was the worst mistake I could have made," she said.

"He was standing there looking at me like he could just kill me dead, and I'm trying to figure out, How do I get out of here because something ain't right," she said.

Willoughby doused Edwards with gasoline and set her on fire.

"He had a long stem lighter and he kept torturing me with it," she said. “And before I knew it, I was fully engulfed in flames."

She remembers putting the fire out herself and running to find her four children nearby before she asked for medical help.

She spent two months in the hospital with second- and third-degree burns on her face, chest and arms.

"I thank God that he was there for me," she said.

Now Edwards tries to be there for others.

"Whether it's me sharing with them my testimony or just being available for whatever they need me for," she said.

She speaks at domestic violence awareness events and shows up wherever she's called, encouraging other women to find their strength and courage and to seek help like she did two years ago in a trauma recovery group.

"More often than not, I hear people feeling so alone and feeling so isolated," therapist Marissa Keilson said.

Nationwide, one-in-four women are dealing with domestic violence, Keilson said, and a victim will leave seven times before staying away for good.

Keilson's support group can help survivors get there.

"They support each other,” she said. “They bond, and through sort of our counseling and education piece that's a part of the group, they find themselves feeling really empowered at the end."

"It helped me a lot, and I felt that I helped the other women as well," Edwards said.

"It's so many women that don't have this, that's hurt so bad, and I hurt for them because it could have been the other way for me,” Edwards added. “I could be dead and gone, but God spared my life, and I just thank God for being able to help somebody and to maybe reach somebody to help them to make a decision that they don't have to be in the situation that they're in, that they can get out and that there is help.”

Willoughby was sentenced to 25 years prison. He was denied parole last year, Edwards said.

In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, News4 is holding a town hall event Tuesday night at the National Law Enforcement Museum that's free and open to the public. There will be a resource fair with refreshments, followed by a panel discussion.

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