‘Home Truth’ Shows a Mother’s Fight for Justice After Her Husband Killed Their 3 Daughters

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Jessica Lenahan, 52, the subject of the new documentary “Home Truth.” (Courtesy Adequate Images)

Jessica Lenahan has gone through a mother’s worst nightmare, and it all took place on one night in June 1999. A new documentary portrays her ordeal.

The Castle Rock, Colorado, mother of four had successfully obtained a permanent restraining order against her emotionally abusive husband, Simon Gonzales, earlier that month, requiring him to remain at least 100 yards from her and her four children, except during specified visitation time. Despite that, he took his three daughters in violation of the restraining order. Lenahan frantically called the police for hours; they told her there was nothing they could do and to let them know if the girls did not come home.

In the early morning hours, Gonzales drove to the police station and started shooting; the police shot back. They found he had killed his three daughters; the bodies of Rebecca, 10, Katheryn, 9, and Leslie, 7, were found in his van.

Filmed over the course of nine years of Lenahan’s life after the tragedy, the documentary “Home Truth,” directed by Katia Maguire and April Hayes and co-produced by Latino Public Broadcasting, captures an intimate portrait of the lives of Lenahan, her surviving son, Jessie, and how the trauma from domestic violence is difficult to extinguish, no matter how much time passes.

The film documents Lenahan’s relentless pursuit of justice to change the ways police and towns respond to domestic violence situations and includes interviews with members of her legal team, such as attorney Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, a former Obama adviser on violence against women.

In time for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the film premieres Wednesday on the World Channel at 7p.m ET, as well as additional PBS stations throughout October (check local listings), and will be available for streaming on pbs.org beginning Wednesday as well.

The directors of the film heard about Lenahan’s story from someone at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in 2008. At that point, Lenahan, who is of Native American and Latino descent, had already been fighting her case for nine years and had endured a long and emotionally strenuous journey. She had filed a lawsuit against the Castle Rock police for failing to enforce her restraining order right after the incident, and in 2004, her case reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Image: Jessica Lenahan, Children

Jessica Lenahan, 52, the subject of the new documentary HOME TRUTH, and her four children. (Courtesy Adequate Images)

When it was ruled, 7-2, that she had no constitutional right to the enforcement of her restraining order and that police departments could not be sued for improper enforcement of such orders, Lenahan and her legal team, including the ACLU and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, filed a case against the U.S. government with the help of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

With this case, Lenahan became the first individual domestic violence survivor to bring a case against the United States before an international board. In a 2011 landmark decision, the commission found the U.S. was responsible for human rights violations against Jessica and her three deceased children.

Maguire, an Emmy-nominated Latina filmmaker, said they first saw Lenahan speak at an event.

“What struck us the most is that she is able to talk about the horrific things that happened to her over and over again,” said Maguire. “We thought, ‘How does telling her story affect her? How does she do that? We understood that the story had historic significance but being filmmakers, we wanted to look deeper into her story.”

“We really started telling the story from before the girls were killed,” Maguire told NBC News. They had footage of the girls as well, because their father had a habit of filming them — and Jessica —frequently.

Though it took nearly a decade to make the film, Maguire said they learned a lot about the judicial process and the lasting effects of domestic violence on families.

“The skeleton was Jessica’s case, but the other part was her relationship with her son, Jesse,” Maguire said. “The ripples go on far and wide. It’s a problem we have to look at from a public health perspective as well.”

Jesse was 13 when his sisters were killed, and he mentions in the documentary that when the girls died, so did the nurturing side of his mom that he loved so much. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress took a toll on their relationship — and to this day they remain emotionally and physically distant.

“Everyone is in a different place in their lives,” explained Maguire. “Different family members need to step away to take care of themselves, and we thought that was a very powerful part in the story.”

She added that she is proud of Jessica, who continues to fight for justice and against her fatigue. Although Jessica has made some strides, even winning awards from the U.S. Human Rights Network, among other groups, she told NBC News she still has lots more work to do.

Lenahan is currently a visiting scholar at the Dorothea S. Clarke Program in Feminist Jurisprudence at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, N.Y. She said it’s been a 20-year battle regarding her case, but she wants an outcome that recognizes the legal rights of domestic violence victims not just in the U.S. but in other countries as well.

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Author Junot Díaz Says Dark Times Demand Action: ‘I’m still going to fight’

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Junot Diaz (Courtesy “American Creed”)

Junot Díaz doesn’t remember a time when he’s ever felt completely at home in the United States — the country he’s lived in for more than four decades and where he has found a home as an award-winning writer.

“I grew up in the margins of society — I assumed everyone, when they were 6 years old, was pulled up out of their home country and placed in another place where you had to learn English,” he told NBC News.

Díaz immigrated from the Dominican Republic with his family in 1974, settling in a low-income area in central New Jersey, an ethnically diverse enclave a few miles from Manhattan.

Now 49, he became an American citizen in his early 20s, and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for his 2008 novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” and receive a MacArthur Genius Award in 2012.

Díaz didn’t mince words when asked about a recent decision by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to no longer describe America as “a nation of immigrants” in its mission statement.

“I’m not surprised that a president who is a white supremacist would push for that kind of alteration,” Díaz said.

Reflecting on his naturalization ceremony, Díaz said, “what was most astonishing about it was that very few of us come into contact with the engine that produces so much genius and so much of what is extraordinary with this country.”

That powerful American moment “is something that these white supremacists fear and despise — disavowing the contributions of people of color,” he said.

Clearly concerned that the U.S. is becoming more and more fractured, he said people these days are “consumed by irrational hate.”

“We are living in very strange times,” Díaz said. “It’s a challenging time to be a person of color.”

But to him, now is the time for people to decide whether they are going to resist. “I believe in true democracy, inclusion and reparation,” he said. “If it’s dark out, I’m still going to fight.”

Díaz is one of 11 Americans, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and award-winning historian David M. Kennedy, who spoke about their lives, what it means to be an American and what can bind us together in troubled times in the documentary film, “American Creed,” which aired Tuesday (Feb. 27) on PBS (check local listings).

When asked, “What does being American mean to you?” Díaz responded that he didn’t know the answer but that he didn’t believe he has ever been “accepted” as an American.

Díaz, whose new children’s book, “Islandborn,” is due to be released next month, credits his childhood school librarian, Mrs. Crowell, with treating all students equally. She even believed a Spanish-speaking immigrant would one day write the next great American novel. That support helped solidify his identity in an unstable world, and he realizes how important that is to maintain for those coming after him.

“Libraries and the public school system are underfunded,” Díaz said. “We have to have a thousand fights in a thousand places.”

Díaz saw the contributions of immigrants firsthand in his working-class New Jersey neighborhood.

“We were like some strange United Nations experiment. My upstairs neighbor was African-American, my best friend was Cuban, my other friend was Egyptian,” he said. “It structured a lot of my thinking, a lot of my art. But in a nation as large as the U.S., it’s difficult to achieve consensus.”

He does not think issues like immigration or gay marriage are tearing our country apart; the “enemy,” Díaz said, is what he calls the economic elite and “mass media manipulation.”

“We’ve been very unfortunate in our leadership, and in our economic beliefs. The folks that have money and power have done much damage in this country,” he said. “When your only goal is to expand your profit, you’re not thinking about the civic, altruism, the well-being of the majority.”

“In the long-term,” Díaz said, “that’s going to leave us with a profoundly damaged planet.”

“We are very fortunate that we have many people that believe in civic justice,” he added. “Otherwise we’d be in much worse shape.”

What Díaz is doing, and what he urges others to do, is to get involved, through volunteering or other activities, and contribute to our “shared” world.

“I don’t approach our civic society as a writer or author, but as a member of it, regardless of my profession,” Díaz said. “I think everyone owes — everyone takes more from this society that they put back in. We all need to take a little time to pay back the interest, to pay back the debt that is ours.”

Being a part of the documentary, he said, is an attempt to open up a dialogue at a time when we are told there should not be a dialogue.

The documentary includes an account of two politically opposed activists who are working to find common ground. Joan Blades, the co-founder of the progressive advocacy group MoveOn.org, founded Living Room Conversations in 2011. She is working with Mark Meckler, the co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, as well as others on the right, to create meaningful dialogue between people of opposing views.

“We need to fight to make society better, to make it more accountable, make it safer, to leave it better for the generation that comes,” Díaz said. “Will we win this fight? I’m fighting because it’s the right thing to do.”

“I will take the humble devotion of the average person that believes in justice,” he added, “and I believe we are going to win.”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.