Five days before a Baton Rouge man fatally shot his ex-girlfriend, then himself, a judge signed a yearlong restraining order against him — stripping him of the right to possess a firearm.
In signing the order, 25-year-old Broderick Jhy Edwards had agreed to stay away from his ex-girlfriend, Gabrielle Nicole Joseph Bessix, 27, and swore he did not possess a gun. But he did the opposite. Days later, police say, he showed up at Bessix's home and fatally shot her before turning the gun on himself.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Bessix "did everything you would want her to do" in trying to protect herself.
"To come forward, to put people on notice, to be able to give information to police. ... Most of the time it works," Moore said. "In this case it didn’t."
Bessix was shot multiple times, according to East Baton Rouge Coroner Dr. Beau Clark. Edwards died of one shot to the head. Another woman was injured in the shooting, but is expected to survive.
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"A restraining order is important, but it doesn’t always serve as protection," Moore said.
'It's worth it'
East Baton Rouge Family Court Judge Pamela Baker granted Bessix the 12-month protective order against Edwards on Aug. 15, after Bessix spent weeks documenting abuse, violence, threats and stalking, court documents show.
Edwards appeared in court on Aug. 15, when Baker found him to be "a credible threat to the physical safety of a family member or household member," documents show.
Edwards signed paperwork acknowledging the protective order that required he stay 100 yards from Bessix. He also told officials he did not possess a firearm, and signed that he understood he was barred from possessing one under both federal and state law.
The Louisiana law that prohibits a person under a protective order from possessing a firearm was strengthened this past legislative session, when lawmakers passed a bill to implement a process to transfer firearms out of the hands of prohibited possessors. Before, it was a mandate that almost universally went unenforced. The new law goes into effect in October.
Baker told The Advocate that East Baton Rouge is still working with other state leaders to address the new requirement. In the meantime, some judges, including Baker, have begun presenting a form asking prohibited possessors about gun ownership following a protective order hearing. She said if the person indicates they have a firearm, she will scheduled a follow-up hearing to inquire where the firearm is being stored.
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"It's hard to find a solution to this problem," Baker said. She told The Advocate that when she learned Bessix was killed in the murder-suicide, she was saddened, but a part of her was not surprised.
"Right after the protective order was issued ... that's the most dangerous time," Baker said. "I tell people in court, this is a piece of paper, this is not going to protect you."
Baker said she tries to give advice and tips to help victims of violence stay safe, especially right after she signs an order. But no matter what, she said, getting a restraining order is a step in the right direction.
"It's worth it," Baker said. "When you get a protective order, law enforcement reacts more quickly."
Research has also shown that restraining orders, on the whole, help reduce violence. A 2004 study of abused women in Houston who qualified for a two-year protective order found that they experienced significantly lower levels of violence in the following 18 months,
"Please don't loose sight of: it could help," said Twahana Harris, the founder of The Butterfly Society, a Baton Rouge domestic violence advocacy group. "I would encourage (victims) to move forward with getting a restraining order, to not get discouraged."
But Harris also said a protective order should, if possible, be one part of a safety plan.
Bessix first filed for a temporary restraining order in late July after Edwards showed up at the hospital where she worked as a nurse.
"As I was getting off work this a.m., he was sitting in his car in the parking lot, parked in front of my car," Bessix wrote in court documents. He asked her to speak with him in his vehicle, but once she sat inside, he tried to drive off, she told authorities. When she tried to jump out, he grabbed her, she wrote.
"I attempted again to get out of the car and he choked me. State that he would 'kill me,'" Bessix wrote. Security from the hospital later intervened.
According to court documents, the couple had previously lived together and dated for more than a year. Bessix wrote that she had recently broken up with him and no longer wanted to be in a relationship with him.
Bessix said that she has called the police on him multiple times, including after he hit her and after he broke down her backdoor, court documents say.
'She'll be missed'
Bessix was a graduate of Southern University, where she got her degree in nursing, family and friends said. She was the mother to a 9-year-old girl, about whom her brother said "everything she did was for her."
"She'll be missed by a lot of people," her brother, Trinity Bessix, said. "Always laughing, a good vibes person."
She worked at Our Lady of the Lake as a nurse, and her brother called her a humble, hardworking person.
Neighbors praised Gabrielle Bessix for always being friendly. Next-door neighbor Constance Lamotte said she watched Gabrielle Bessix grow up there, and often had her over where she would play with Lamotte's granddaughter.
"I've known her all her life," Lamotte said. "It's just a tragic situation."
Lamotte said her husband taught Bessix math when she was a student at Southern University.
"She was a very good student," Lamotte said.
Neither Lamotte nor Bessix's brother, had met or heard about the man who killed her.
However, her other next-door neighbor Kie J. Wells said he remembers watching Edwards come, obsessively, to her backdoor. He said in the last month when he had been in the backyard, he had seen the man come over about 15 times. He said he only saw Bessix let him inside once.
"It's terrible," Wells said. "I never really got a chance to talk to her."
But, Wells said, he has already begun to miss her waving to him as she comes and goes.
"Here's a lady who had did everything the right way, played by the rules and look what happened to her," Harris said. "It’s such a sad situation."
Editors note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the new law mandating the process for removing firearms from people prohibited of possessing would go into effect in January. This article has been updated to reflect that the law goes into effect in October. The Advocate regrets the error.