Sylvia’s Story

Sylvia was a cycle breaker. 

Sylvia Allen was a woman of strong character.  She was born on May 27, 1960, the daughter of an Allegan county resident, the middle child of nine.  She had five children of her own: LaTanya, Katy, Althella, Termaine, and Kira, and wanted to provide a good life for them. 

She had been living with her mother in Chicago.  Her mother died in 1983 and in 1985 she decided to move to Pullman, Michigan, in order to be closer to her father.  She found a big house that would accommodate her five children.  She had a dream of buying that house for her family.  The landlord, who was reluctant to rent to a family with so many children, was pleased with the quality maintenance of Sylvia’s home. People commented that she was a meticulous housekeeper, “You would never have known five children lived there; it was so tidy!”

After living in Michigan about a year, Sylvia met and started dating a young man.  As the relationship developed he became more controlling and very possessive of Sylvia.  Over time it escalated to physical violence-- beatings were taking place.  Sylvia told only a few people about her situation; shame silences victims of domestic violence.  But, Sylvia knew she had to take the steps necessary to regain her life.  She knew there had to be a way out.

She took advantage of options that would grant opportunities to her.  She embarked on the challenge of getting an education, pursuing a GED through the Adult Education Program at Pearl School.  Sylvia was an eager and bright student; at the top of her class.  She graduated in the late winter of 1988 and started making plans to go to college.  Sylvia was full of hope.  She had a mission.  Living in a rural area with no transportation was isolating, so she learned how to drive and received her driver’s license.  She had used the services of the school van to attend Pearl School, and now she was behind the wheel … she was on the move!

Sylvia’s partner was more and more threatened by her mobility and newfound self-esteem. 

This threatened her boyfriend.  He was losing control of her movements.  Their relationship reached a crisis point when Sylvia learned of the pregnancy of a 16 year-old girl and that her boyfriend was the father.  Sylvia absolutely wanted to break off the relationship.  She refused to see him.  He escalated to the point of desperation.  On the night of January 20, 1989, Sylvia’s boyfriend held her hostage in a wooded field near her home throughout the night.  By early morning, she had convinced him to allow her to return home.  She managed to escape from him and went to her father’s house and called the Michigan State Police.  When the State Police arrived at her home, they did not find the boyfriend there.  Sylvia’s father also searched in vain to find him.

Sylvia and her father began the large task of moving her possessions out of her home.  On a return trip to Sylvia’s home, her oldest daughters, Tanya and Katie went along to help.  Neighbors also assisted in the move.  Everyone was scurrying about packing, when the telephone rang, Sylvia answered it and as she spoke, a gunshot blast was heard.  She was hit in the temple.  Her boyfriend had hidden in the house waiting for her to return.  At 6:42pm on January 21, the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department and Michigan State Police arrived.  An ambulance accompanied them.  Sylvia was pronounced dead on arrival at Allegan General Hospital, a victim of domestic violence.  She was 28 years old.

By 10:20 pm the Emergency Services Team arrived, as well as a helicopter unit from Lansing.  At 5:00am the police surrounded the house, tear-gassed it and went inside.  The boyfriend was found with a gunshot wound to his head.  It was alleged that he committed suicide.  He was the 2nd victim of domestic violence that day.  The other victims were her five surviving children, ranging from 3-13 years. 

Sylvia was a cycle breaker.