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Tue, March 26

Abuse hits all family members

PRESCOTT ­ When Rachel Colby saw her now ex-husband, Tyrone Conway, coming out of her 9-year-old daughter's bedroom, she had a feeling that he did something to her that would change their lives forever.

Colby confronted the girl and learned that her stepfather had been molesting her.

"I thought my life, our lives, were over," the 30-year-old dental assistant said. "I had my husband whom I loved, whom I married. And I had my daughter whom I love even more telling me bad things about my husband. You don't know what to do in this kind of a situation."

Because Colby believed her daughter, she took her to the Yavapai Family Advocacy Center where professionals confirmed her suspicions.

"That was the best thing that I could have ever done," Colby said. "They did ensure me that something happened to my little girl."

On Dec. 31, 2004, authorities arrested 30-year-old Conway, and seven months later a jury convicted him on two counts of child molestation and two counts of sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 15 for which he received two life sentences totaling 97 years.

Colby said prior to Conway's arrest, their four children, including the two that Conway and Colby had together, didn't even get to say goodbye to him.

Still emotional when talking about the events that transpired over the next seven months, Colby said she and her children left the state for two weeks.

"I didn't know what to do," Colby said. "I didn't want to go back to that house. (My daughter) didn't want to go back to our houseŠ I didn't want to face life, and then I realized that I was going to have to go back and try to put the pieces back together."

Counting on the 9-year-old's testimony, the state proceeded with the case.

"It was really hard because I didn't want (her) to testify because she was dealing with it badly," Colby said. "But that's why she went to counseling."

Prosecutor Ethan Wolfinger, Victim Witness Advocate Susan Peterson and therapist Rose Phillips were instrumental in helping the family cope with the situation, Colby said.

"If they were not involved in this case, I would have lost it," Colby said of the judicial process. "Our life was a roller coaster."

At the conclusion of the trial, Wolfinger said that it was a difficult case because "it is hard to put a 9-year-old child on the stand and have her go through that experience."

Now, Colby and her fiancé Eric Tone are trying to move on while raising four boys and three girls under the age of 14. They describe their home as the most peaceful place because "the love of God has gotten us this far," Colby said.

She said life is getting better although her son still has difficulties understanding why his father can't have any contact with him and his younger sister.

"It is very hard for my 8-year-old son to understand, because he loves his father," Colby said. "It is almost like his father died."

A little memory box of his dad is his only tie with him, Colby said.

"She is really sad when (he) cries for his dad, but she does understand now that it wasn't her fault," Colby said.

The emotional pain that the entire family was dealing with was just a part of the struggle. Because Conway was the breadwinner Colby had to file for bankruptcy, and, as a result, lost her home and a vehicle.

"He did wrong and I have to pay for it for the rest of my life," she said. "The hardest thing is they are growing, and I can't afford to get clothes and stuff for them because everything (the prices) went up."

Colby said she wishes that a support group existed in the community to help people cope with such situations.

"There needs to be a support group," she said. "Parents need to talk to their children about this."

She said she is embarrassed that she had no clue about what was happening to her daughter.

In a distant future, Colby said, "I see my children and myself being strong people for what we've gone through and I see us happy, loving and caring," she said, as tears rolled down her cheeks.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and May is Foster Care Month.

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