Teen girl stalked, attacked with knife, gasoline by ex-boyfriend
05/31/2017 4:37 pm PDT
Sophia Putney-Wilcox, a gregarious 17-year-old high school senior, would miraculously survive to tell of her harrowing ordeal in that chamber of horrors.
And now, fully recovered from the ghastly life-threatening injuries she suffered, the brave teenager is reliving only on Crime Watch Daily what she thought would be her last night alive.
Until her night of terror, Sophia Putney-Wilcox had always been a happy, fun girl, even as a young child. And she was so pretty that her mother Kristin Putney kept a close eye out for her safety.
"I was probably overprotective in a lot of ways and I was really careful to have her raised in a warm, loving environment," said Kristin.
Kristin became even more vigilant when Sophia, at age 14, got a crush on a high school classmate named Adam Shigwadja.
"Adam has a real innocent face, was very quiet and soft-spoken, a little shy," said.
Mom says their relationship appeared to be very sweet and wholesome.
"Sophia and Adam were going to church group activities. It seemed like a really kind of wholesome situation," said Kristin.
Sophia says she was truly in love with him.
"He was just really attractive, charming, funny," said Sophia. "I liked that he was really mysterious. It was really hard for me to figure him out. I'm normally really good at reading people, but with him it was different."
And Sophia would begin to see a frightening other side of Adam after they'd been dating for about six months.
"He'd do things from like just punching me in the face to throwing things at me, to choking me," said Sophia. "One time he locked me in a trunk. I put up with it because I didn't know any better."
Adam just continued to get more violent and abusive, even injuring her.
"Multiple times," said Sophia. "I'd get bruises all the time. He'd hold razors to my throat and other various parts of my body, so I'd have little scratch marks and stuff."
Sophia says Adam had also become extremely jealous, possessive and controlling.
"I pushed everyone out of my life. He wasn't OK with me having friends, so I didn't really have anyone to talk to," said Sophia. "He didn't even want me to hang out with my family. And he started to tell me: 'You're not gonna get a job. You're not going to go to college. You're not gonna do all these things because there could be guys there. You could talk to other people, whatever.'"
And Sophia was keeping the terrible abuse a deep, dark secret.
"I was scared of what [my mom] would think. I didn't want to disappoint her," said Sophia. "I was ashamed that I was letting someone treat me poorly."
Sophia was also afraid that telling her mother might make Adam even more dangerous.
"She knew that if I knew what was really going on I would have them break up, and she knew that that would send him off, that he would go into attack mode," said Kristin.
And that's just what Adam did when Sophia finally dumped him for cheating on her.
"He would walk to my house, he'd cry, he'd wait outside for me, he'd watch everything I was doing," said Sophia. "He stalked me."
"I found out that he was looking in the windows. I became very concerned," said Kristin.
"He would sit outside my window and text me everything that I was doing," said Sophia.
Then a crazed Adam actually broke into the family's apartment through Sophia's bedroom window, brandishing a knife.
"It's the middle of winter," said Sophia. "I was literally in a T-shirt and underwear. I wasn't even wearing socks, and he was telling me to go outside with him. And I knew I couldn't do that. I knew that if I walked out with my knife-wielding ex in the middle of winter in the middle of the night, that I wouldn't come back. After hours of just trying to tell him that everything was OK, that I promised I wouldn't call the cops, he left."
But Sophia's mom did call the cops, who arrested Adam on stalking and assault charges. A judge put him on four years' probation and ordered him to stay away from Sophia.
"But unfortunately I didn't realize how sick he was," said Kristin.
A judge had sentenced Shigwadja, 18, to four years' probation and ordered him stay away from Sophia after he'd relentlessly beaten, stalked and threatened to kill his former high school sweetheart.
"He was supposed to have no contact," said Sophia's mother Kristin.
But an obsessed Adam, 18, would not to be deterred.
"He went back to the same old tricks that he'd used before," said Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey Williams.
"He was trying to contact her right from the beginning," said Kristin.
"He texted me hundreds and hundreds of times," said Sophia. "He was spamming my phone. He was just saying 'I'm gonna kill myself, I'm gonna kill you.'"
And now Adam, rejected and enraged, is ready to make good on that threat.
"He took a small water bottle, filled it up with gasoline, also had a lighter with him," said Williams.
"I know his intention was to kill her," said Kristin.
Late one afternoon when nobody was home, Adam Shigwadja slipped into Sophia's house through a door he knows is always left unlocked.
"Adam made his way up to Sophia's bedroom. He waited there for upwards of three hours for her to get home," said Kalamazoo Dept. of Public Safety Detective Bill Moorian.
And when she does, his anger suddenly explodes into a jealous rage.
"A young man brings Sophia home," said Moorian.
"He said he heard another male voice," said Jeffrey Williams.
"That's what set him off, that she was with another young man," said Det. Moorian.
The other man leaves and Sophia hangs out with mom Kristin and younger brother Kiely before walking up the stairs to go to her bedroom on the second floor. Behind the door, Adam is now hiding under a blanket on the bedroom floor waiting for Sophia to walk in.
"After I closed the door, he popped up," said Sophia. "He's looking at me crazy, and I tried to tell him, 'You can leave. It's not too late, nobody has to know, we can talk about things, we can work it out.'"
But a crazed Adam pulls out a knife.
"I asked him, I said, 'Adam are you gonna kill me?'" said Sophia. "And he cut me across the chest. And he said 'Yes.'"
Then he presses the knife to Sophia's neck.
"I just kept thinking 'This is it,'" said Sophia. "I was crying. I collapsed to the floor. My mom and my brother were downstairs."
"And I heard this thud, and Sophia cry out," said Kristin, Sophia's mother.
Kristin runs to her daughter's bedroom.
"And I grabbed the doorknob and I said, 'Let me in,'" said Kristin.
But Adam pressed his body against the door to keep it closed.
"This is it. I remember I told my mom I loved her. I thought it was gonna be the last time," said Sophia.
Now Adam grabs the bottle of gasoline he brought with him.
"And he poured it all around himself as he stood there by the door," said Det. Moorian. "And then he lit himself on fire."
"Flames burst everywhere," said Sophia.
Sophia's mother finally manages to push open the bedroom door.
"It was just a wall. It was like all the way up the ceiling of flames and I couldn't see into the room," said Kristin.
"So she starts yelling for my little brother and he came up," said Sophia.
"Kiely comes up the stairs with a baseball bat because he's in protective mode already," said Kristin.
"He jumped through the flames," said Sophia.
"And all I can remember is just hitting him," said Kiely.
Adam pulls Sophia in front of him as a human shield.
"Kiely just yelled, 'I'm gonna kill you. I'm gonna kill you,'" said Kristin.
But Kiely is barely able to see through the smoke.
"And unfortunately missed Adam on one of the swings and struck Sophia right in the head," said Det. Moorian.
And in the mayhem, Kiely chases Adam away, and the banged-up ex-boyfriend makes a dramatic escape out the window.
"He's the reason Sophia's here. I think Adam was ready to kill her and only Kiely's intervention is the reason she's still around."
Sophia's mother calls 911 as she's rushing her daughter to the emergency room in her car. Kristin is frantic and furious. You can hear a bleeding and critically injured Sophia crying in pain in the background.
While doctors battle to keep Sophia alive, Kalamazoo police hunt for her wounded ex-boyfriend now on the run.
"He needed medical attention," said Moorian. "He was burned pretty bad and he had some injuries received from either the bat or the fall."
Then the next day, an unexpected and bizarre Adam sighting: Kalazamoo cops helping in the search spot him looking scruffy and weak walking along the side of a road toward town.
And the surprisingly simple capture of Adam is recorded on police dashboard-camera video showing him being interviewed, frisked and arrested for the attack on Sophia.
As he's being taken to a hospital in the back of a police cruiser, a very calm, collected Adam gives a chilling blow-by-blow account of his attack. Adam is later arraigned via video hookup on attempted murder and other charges.
While Adam remains locked up awaiting trial, Sophia is out of danger and making a remarkable recovery from her horrific injuries, which included a fractured skull and knife wounds to the chest.
From her hospital bed, Sophia bravely delivers a video message to other young women in abusive relationships: "If you ever get a wrong feeling about something, you need to go straight to someone and talk to them about it."
And at Adam's much-anticipated trial, laying out a very rare case of teenage domestic violence, Sophia's emotional testimony commands the attention of everyone in the courtroom. Sophia weeps as she tells of the terror she endured at Adam Shigwadja's hands.
"I thought that I was going to die. Adam grabbed me and he was pulling me and him both towards the fire," Sophia says at the trial.
Adam beats the attempted-murder rap, but is found guilty on the lesser charges of home invasion and second-degree arson. That ruling sparked a rally outside the courthouse by protesters demanding tougher sentences for violent crimes against women.
"I loved you. I wanted to help you," Sophia tells Adam in court.
The controversy means all eyes are again on Sophia at Adam's sentencing hearing, where she speaks directly to her former sweetheart about the pain he's caused her.
"I still have nightmares and flashbacks of every time you hurt me. You didn't love me Adam," Sophia says on the stand.
Adam Shigwadja is sentenced to 29 to 60 years in prison. Sophia Putney-Wilcox becomes the poster girl for the anti-domestic violence movement.
"I get to share my story in hopes that it won't happen to someone else," said Sophia.
What's the most important thing she tells girls?
"That they are not alone. That I'm here. That they have options," said Sophia.
Sophia's living proof of the lasting damage such abuse can cause, admitting she's already living in fear of the day Adam gets out of prison, even though he's not eligible for parole for nearly 30 years.
Does she think that he'll come after her once he gets out?
"Yeah, 100-percent I think he will," said Sophia.
What can she do about that?
"Hide, change my name, move out of the state," said Sophia. "I am going to do that. I'm terrified."