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"48 Hours" Live to Tell: Sophia's Secret

Sophia's Secret
Sophia's Secret 43:12

Produced by Josh Gelman, Jonathan Leach and Chuck Stevenson

[This story originally aired on Nov. 19, 2016]

What if someone wanted you dead … but you lived to tell?

Sophia Putney-Wilcox was a 14-year-old high-school freshman when she met Adam Shigwadja, a 16-year-old sophomore. Their relationship started as a typical teenage romance, but quickly evolved into something darker. Shigwadja, she says, often threatened to hurt himself or her family as a way to control her and at one point was arrested for attacking her with a knife. Putney-Wilcox eventually broke up with Shigwadja, but days later he burst into her bedroom, held her at knifepoint and then he set her room on fire. In a gripping first-person account, Putney-Wilcox relives their relationship, the night she thought she would die, the heroic efforts of her brother to save her, and her life today. 

Sophia Putney-Wilcox | Survivor: I don't remember much of that time.  I just remember thinking, "Am I gonna make it through this?"

Sophia Putney-Wilcox : My mom drove me from my house to the hospital.

KRISTIN PUTNEY TO 911: The police are at our house and I'm taking my daughter to the emergency room 'cause she's bleeding from her head

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I kept saying to my mom, "I'm going to die, I'm going to die, I'm going to die," and she was like, "Sophie, it's OK."

Kristin Putney | Sophia's mother:  I just tried to be as calm as I could and try to just reassure her.  She was safe now, Adam wasn't there.

A mother's frantic 911 call 00:53

911 OPERATOR: What is the male's name that assaulted her?

KRISTIN 911: Adam. He needs to be f---ing put away.

Kristin Putney: Two officers were waiting there for us. …And then they put the whole hospital on lockdown. They knew that he was still at large.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: The police came in and were just asking me questions. "Has this happened before?" I just said "yes." And that's the last conscious memory I have before my surgery.

I remember waking up and I felt … "Oh my God, I'm alive." I just felt there's a reason I'm here.  And I believe this is what I'm here for, to share my story.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I was 14 years old and he had just turned 16.

Sophia and Adam
Sophia Putney-Wilcox and Adam Shigwadja Sophia Putney-Wilcox

Sophia Putney-Wilcox:  Adam was the typical skater boy that every 13-year-old girl dreams of. …Beautiful blue eyes, flippy hair, he was mysterious.  A lot of girls were attracted to him. …As soon as he showed interest in me, he became my complete focus.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: My friends knew something was wrong … but I never told anyone about the abuse. …Everyone else loved him, everyone else thought he was hilarious.

ADAM VOICEMAIL:  Stop f---ing with me!

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: Nobody would ever believe he did anything to me.

Adam voicemail: F—k! ... S—t !... I hate you!

Sophia Putney-Wilcox:  He did a lot of different things when he was angry.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox:  I've seen him get mad, I've seen him do horrible things to me before, but that night, there was just something different. …He just had this crazy look in his eyes, like something had snapped. …And asked him, I said, "Adam, are you going to kill me?"  And he said, "yes."


Kristin Putney: She and I have been so close our whole lives.  …I knew … she told me when she was hurting, I knew we had that kind of a connection ... that I didn't recognize when that stopped being the case … that somehow I didn't get what was really going on. I still can't make sense of that. I would do anything to have protected her and I [pause] I wasn't able to."

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I remember the first time that I saw him … "Oh my goodness, that's Adam. He's so hot. He's in a grade above us."

A couple of weeks later he ended up messaging me on Facebook. And I remember bragging about it to my friends like, "Oh look! Adam messaged me. He's talking to me."  …And that's how we met.


Kristin Putney: When Sophie and Adam met I could see that she was really excited and that she was kind of giggly. … He has this incredibly kind of innocent presence about him.

Kristin Putney: It was really her first love.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I was definitely completely infatuated with him.  …He was quiet, and I couldn't get that much out of him. I think I was attracted to that. I put a lot of my focus into just trying to figure him out.

Kristin Putney: He seemed to have an underlying sadness. …She was aware of him having a lot of pain from his childhood.

Susan Thomas | Adam's mother: After my divorce, and we moved to Kalamazoo, it was just a tough time, it's a tough time for any teenager.

He was a little withdrawn, and he would go through little bouts of depression a little bit. I started seeking treatment for Adam, some counseling for him and someplace for him to have an outlet. …He was always well-adjusted at school, well-liked at school, got along with his friends at school and his teachers.

Kristin Putney: When Sophie entered high school she seemed a little more lost than she had been before.

She went to counseling at one point, cause she was feeling depressed, but she was level headed, she wasn't doing things that I felt like were bad for her or destructive and so I trusted her. …But I didn't really fully understand how some of that would shift when she got involved with Adam.

Sophia and Adam
Sophia and Adam Susan Thomas

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I felt very special at first.  …Adam always told me that he loved me, and that he wanted kids with me, and that we were going to get married.

He used to come outside my window and he'd draw a heart, and he'd play my favorite song, and he'd lay flowers out there for me.

Tracy Smith | CBS News correspondent: On the surface, Sophia and Adam appeared to be just two teenagers caught up in the excitement of first love. But their youthful infatuation soon evolved into something much darker.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox:  I became his main focus. He didn't want me to hang out with my friends. He wanted me all to himself. He'd go through my phone.

One specific time he was suspicious that I was going to go hangout with someone. He threw me up against the wall, told me that nobody would ever love me, and that I didn't deserve him.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I honestly thought, "Wow. What did I do to make him this upset? Why is he this mad?"

Kristin Putney: I didn't have a clue about how serious it was or how things were escalating.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: He'd always text me and say he was suicidal … He used to cut his legs. He used to take pills. 

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I had my mom, who I was lying to and I had him.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox I just felt hopeless and so I attempted suicide. …As soon as I took the pills I realized that I wanted to live and that it wasn't worth it.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I first broke up with him right before my birthday.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: He started stalking me more. It got to the point where I finally told my mom about it, and I said, "Mom, you know, he's been following me. I'm scared."

Kristin Putney: I called his mom and I said, "I'm concerned. I think he needs to be hospitalized or something."

Susan Thomas: Their relationship was clearly unhealthy and they were getting very possessive of each other.

My husband and I spoke with Adam and he said, "You know, this girl is going to get you in trouble. She's either gonna get you killed or put in jail if you stay with her. This drama has to stop." And it was the following evening that he went over to her house.


Sophia Putney-Wilcox: The first time Adam attacked me … he ripped the window open and he came in and I was like, "Get out. Why are you here like leave, leave, leave." And I actually grabbed him and I started hitting him … And so he pulled out a knife and he held it to himself and he said, "You want to hurt me, then do it." And then I just broke down and I told him, I was like, "I could never hurt you. Why are you doing this?"

He held a knife to my throat and just kept saying, "You don't have control anymore. You don't have control anymore." And eventually I talked him down. I told him how much I loved him, about how big a mistake I had made by trying to leave him and he agreed to leave and he texted me and he said," you're not going to tell anyone, right?" And I just felt sick.

And I ran into my mom's room, I had no idea what to say. I was so embarrassed and I just said, "Mom, Adam broke in, he had a knife and he was going to kill me." …I was crying in my mom's arms, just sobbing and sobbing and then I heard, "Get on the ground."

Kristin Putney: The police came, and they actually caught Adam on his way back to the apartment and they tackled him and captured him.

Jeff Williams | Assistant District Attorney: He'd admitted to what he'd done. He said that he's gone there with a knife and said that his only intent was to harm himself and not Sophia.

Jeff Williams: Adam was charged with home invasion, with the attempt to commit assault and Adam was also charged with felonious assault because he attacked Sophia with a weapon and in this case the weapon was a knife.

Kristin Putney: Adam went to jail and he was in jail for about a month.

Jeff Williams: Sophia's family and Adam's family agreed that the best resolution was to allow him to plead guilty to a lesser charge with the agreement that he would have no contact with Sophia, that he would do a long term of probation and that he would get counseling.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: If he completed his probation without getting in trouble, all of his charges would have been dropped.

Susan Thomas: We wanted to put some distance between 'em.

Susan Thomas: So we decided to move Adam out to his grandparents house which was a little over 30 miles away … to finish out school and to be away from her. …During that time he was on a tether, he was on a curfew, he was put on probation, where he saw a probation officer weekly.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: At that point everyone thought that it was over. But it wasn't.


Sophia Putney-Wilcox: We moved from the apartment to the house because of the attack.  I didn't feel safe there and I didn't want him knowing where I lived.

Kiely Putney-Wilcox | Sophia's brother: Sometimes at night, I'd just be up playing Xbox.  Sophie would   already be asleep so I'd just go in her room, make sure all the things were still locked and make sure she was just fine, you know, just check on her when she's sleeping.

Kiely Putney-Wilcox:  I just felt better knowing that she was OK before I went to sleep.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I started talking to a mutual friend of ours and I was asking her how he was doing. …She was just like … Adam's really hurt at what you put him through. …Right then and there I was like, "wow, what I put him through. I put him in jail." …I felt horrible.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: Me and her kept in contact.  And then eventually it got to the point where she said, "Alright, Adam's going to make a fake Facebook and if he contacts you, you have to promise that you won't tell anyone."  And so we started messaging.

Once he got off tether … and his grandparents let him drive their car, he would come visit me. …We'd go stay at hotels together and stuff like that.

Kristin Putney: It had been over a year.  …I had no idea they had any contact.

Tracy Smith: In fact, despite the court order of separation, Sophia and Adam secretly picked right back up where they left off. Adam continued his abusive behavior and Sophia continued to blame herself.

ADAM VOICEMAIL: Stop with this s---!… Stop f------g with me! Nothing but s--t...!"

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I took it as he just loved me so much and I just drove him to the point – I took his intensity as love instead of something just dark.

ADAM VOICEMAIL [Crying]:  Please stop. Please!!! [screams]

Susan Thomas: I thought things were going well.  He was starting to take some college courses…

Adam Shigwadja
Adam Shigwadja

Susan Thomas: He seemed like he had some future plans that he was really happy and excited about. …I don't know what happened in the next couple days.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I was with Adam at my friend's house. …And he just started, like, going off on me, saying really mean things; that I didn't care about him. …I was scared when he started talking about how I couldn't go to college and that I had to move in with him and that I couldn't have a job because there might be guys there. …That was the last time I talked to him …. I got really scared so I just stopped texting him.

Some of Adam's texts to Sophia

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: He sent me hundreds of text messages…


-I'm going to start jabbing my throat with my pencil…

-I won't stop unless you stop me… 

-I'll just stay home and take pills then… 

-I've cut deep, overdosed, and held a gun in mouth…  

-I'll back my car up into your house and light the gas tank on fire with me inside…

The picture Adam sent Sophia of him waiting outside her house Kalamazoo Public Safety Department

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: He sent me a picture outside of my house. …I just remember seeing his jacket and my house.


Kiely Putney-Wilcox:  That morning there were some chairs moved on the back deck, up against the door and I thought that was kind of weird.  I didn't really think much of it.  But somebody keyed my mom's car.  So I was like, damn.  I guess I was on, like, kind of protective mode or whatever, for that night." 

Kristin Putney:  He said, "Mama, I'm going to stay awake all night long.  And I'm gonna have a baseball bat."

I went to my room and Sophie went upstairs. Kiely was at the computer in the living room, which is kind of at the bottom of the stairway.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox:  I walked up into my room and I saw a comforter that used to be on my bed that was just thrown on my floor. …As soon as I shut the door, Adam popped from under the blanket and he was holding a knife.

He just had this crazy look in his eye, like something had snapped. …At first I was trying to tell him, I was like, you can leave, like, we can work this out, I'll meet you outside, just go out the window, like, my mom doesn't have to know.

He said, "No, it's too late now. …I'm gonna go to prison for this. It's too late now."

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I asked him, "Adam are you gonna kill me?" And he said "yes." …And he walked up to me and he had the knife in his hand and he just cut across my chest.

Kristin Putney: And I heard Kiely yelling up, "Sophie, are you OK?" … So I went up to the top of the stairs …  and I said, "Sophie, are you OK?"

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I lied and said, "Oh yeah, it's just drama from school."

Kristin Putney: Then there was this pause and I started to walk away and she said…

Sophia Putney-Wilcox:  "Mom, I love you."  And I thought that that was the last time that I'd be able to say it to her.

Kristin Putney:  It just went through me.  

I heard this thud and I heard her kind of cry out, this guttural cry … and so I grabbed the doorknob and I said, "Let me in" and I pushed it really hard and it pushed back with a lot of force. 

Sophia Putney-Wilcox:  He was up against the door, pushing against it so my mom couldn't get in … and he just … pulled out the bottle … poured out the gasoline and lit it.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: And then came over to me and started dragging both of us towards the flames.

Sophia's bedroom after the fire Kalamazoo Public Safety Department

Kristin Putney: I just took all my might and I pushed through and as soon as I did, it was just like an explosion of flames.

Kiely Putney-Wilcox: I just grabbed my bat and I ran up the stairs. …I couldn't see anything but fire. …I thought he had a knife in his hand.  So then I just started hitting him with the bat.

Kristin Putney: Adam was kind of using her as a shield. …Kiely by accident hit Sophie in the head.

Kristin Putney: Adam was kind of backing away and he backed into the window and as Kiely just kept hitting, Adam crouched and kind of fell back through the window and Sophie was free. 

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I didn't even see my brother come through. …I was in Adam's arms one second and then the next second I just felt this warm feeling come across my body, and in my head I was like, "Alright, that's it, I'm dead." 


Kristin Putney | Sophia's mother: When we first got to the hospital I think the doctors thought, like I did, that it was just a surface injury and there was a lot of blood because the head bleeds a lot.

Kristin Putney: The security officers and police officers were all asking her questions, you know, "What does he look like? Who are his friends? Where does he go, what does he drive?" And she was answering as best as she could.

Kristin Putney:  She started switching her words around, like the end of a word would be in the beginning, and they realized that something serious was happening. …They immediately took her and had a scan… They found out that she had a hematoma under the skull.

Kiely Putney-Wilcox | Sophia's brother: When I first, like, seen Sophia … she just had blood in her hair, like you could see the blood.

Kristin Putney: Kiely was 15 when this all happened. When he saw her … he just broke down, and he said, "I did that to her, I did that to her."

Kristin Putney

Kiely Putney-Wilcox: I was scared that she might have brain damage or something -- from the bat.

Kristin Putney: She was in surgery for a few hours and then they put the whole hospital on lock down.

Jeff Williams | Assistant District Attorney: Sophia was under guard at the hospital, because Adam had just committed a very violent act. He'd broken into a house, he'd set it on fire; he'd held a knife to Sophia's throat and he was on the loose. Nobody knew where he was, what his mental or physical state was. So she was protected at the hospital to make sure that nothing more could happen to her.

Susan Thomas | Adam's mother: I don't know, I guess it was close to midnight. … The police came to our house, looking for Adam. And they searched through the house.

Susan Thomas: He did not come home that night, he didn't answer any calls that night, he didn't answer any texts.  …I really believed that they would find him dead … by morning.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I remember waking up and … it was shocking.

Just, "Oh my God, I'm alive, I'm here right now." …My skull had been shattered in, I think, six places.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: My brother … he saved my life. …He's my hero and he always will be.

Jeff Williams: Adam was arrested by police the day … after the assault.

Susan Thomas: He was walking down one of the main roads, um, kind of distraught, and the police pulled over and … took him into custody without any problem. …He was injured quite badly. …He had burns on his legs and … had some cuts and bruising on his elbow, on his arm.

Jeff Williams: He was charged with assault with intent to murder Sophia. He was charged with home invasion, arson, and felonious assault.

Detective Bill Moorian: The interrogation of Adam lasted over an hour.

COP: What we kind of want to know is, what sparked all this today, um, last night?

Det. Moorian: Adam's demeanor – was quite calm … I was surprised.

ADAM SHIGWADJA: I just felt like I was doing everything to have this perfect image in my head of us, like…

COP: Sure, having a life…

ADAM SHIGWADJA: Yeah. And then, I dunno, she just stopped talking to me and I felt like that was taken away, and then…

COP: When did she stop talking to you?

 ADAM SHIGWADJA: I'd say four days ago and…

Det. Moorian: He couldn't understand why after four days she wouldn't communicate with him, and that's what set everything in motion for him.

Adam being questioned by police

ADAM SHIGWADJA: Once I went to her house, I was planning on just --

COP: Last night?

ADAM SHIGWADJA: Yeah, I was, I was planning on just lighting myself on fire.

 COP: Was your intent to do it when she was there, or, so she could see ya?


COP: How angry were you, like, what was going through your mind? What were you going to do at this point?

ADAM SHIGWADJA: Well, I still had this idea that I was going to talk to her…

COP: Yeah.

ADAM SHIGWADJA: But, I mean, once I saw her face and just -- just thought about it, I was so mad and, I mean, I pretty much lit myself on fire right there, in the room, blocking the door from her mom …

ADAM SHIGWADJA: And then, like, it just clicked. And then…

OTHER COP: What clicked?

ADAM SHIGWADJA: That I made a huge mistake.

Tracy Smith: With Adam now in custody, both Sophia and Kristin could rest easier. But Kristin, a social worker who happens to specialize in childhood trauma, had no idea -- until now -- the true nature of Adam's abusive relationship with her daughter. 

Kristin Putney: She's always been just such a wise and amazing young woman. And I could not have imagined that she would be vulnerable to this.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: After she knew, it was kind of just like a waterfall of me just telling her things that I'd kept in secret for so long.

Kristin Putney: My heart just dropped [cries] sorry.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I was so ashamed that I had let him treat me like this for so long that I didn't want anyone to know about it.

Jeff Williams: She kept it to herself.  She didn't want her family to find out. …And Adam used that as one of the many ways that he controlled Sophia.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: You feel alone. You feel like nobody else is going through it.  And I didn't realize that what I was going through was even domestic violence until I spoke out about it.

Jeff Williams: One of the first questions anyone has in a domestic violence relationship is, "Why do you stay?  Why don't you just leave?  Why do you put up with this?" 

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: Why I stayed with Adam was because at first it was because I wanted to help him.  I thought I could save him. And then it was because he had torn my self-esteem down so low that I didn't have any value for myself, and I was scared for my life obviously -- 'cause when I did try to leave him, look what happened.

Kristin Putney: When they took the bandages off Sophia's head, they had shaved a big section.  And she had this big scar with staples that came all across her skull.  And I remember at first, it was just hard -- it was hard to look at, you know?  Just painful to look at. And she said, "Mom, I'm gonna shave it off, I'm just gonna shave it off."

Jessica Ashby Photography

SOPHIA CELLPHONE VIDEO: Everything that happened with Adam made me feel so ugly inside and out and horrible about myself.  I hated myself. …My head is shaved and I don't know, my face is all puffy and I feel more beautiful now than I have in, for, since I can remember.

Jeff Williams: I don't think she looked forward to confronting Adam, but she knew it was something that she had to do." 


Jeff Williams: After Adam was arrested, the next stage of the process was the preliminary exam, which requires the prosecutor to show that there's evidence to prove that the crime was committed and that Adam committed it.


Jeff Williams: Preliminary exams are always difficult because they are usually just a couple of weeks after the incident had occurred. …It was the first time she'd set eyes on Adam since she saw him in the bedroom with a knife to her throat.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: Testifying was the hardest thing I've ever done.

SOPHIA ON STAND: (teary):  I thought that I was trapped and there was no way that I was gonna get out and that was going to be the moment that I was gonna die.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I just felt vulnerable, scared.

Kristin Putney: I just was really worried about her, you know, emotionally, I was just really worried about her.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: The prosecutor basically just told me to tell the truth … Just be honest. Tell them what happened.

SOPHIA ON STAND [teary]: He just came up and sliced my chest.

Jeff Williams: Sophia's just generally an excellent witness…  She's an incredibly articulate person and she's thoughtful.

SOPHIA ON STAND (teary): My mom, um, burst in and – and -- he was kind of grabbing me and he was kind of moving us towards the fire.

KRISTIN ON STAND: I was saying, "Sophie, come, come out, come out," but the flames were all in front of the door.

Jeff Williams: One of the things that Sophia, Kris and I all agreed on was that Sophia was only gonna be safe as long as Adam was locked up. …He had attacked her before. We tried to give him a chance. We tried to give him a break and that just didn't work.

Tracy Smith: After one day of testimony, it was decided there was enough evidence for Adam to stand trial. Ten months after his arrest, Adam chose a bench trial over a jury trial, putting his future in the hands of a single judge.

Jeff Williams: I was very confident in the home invasion and arson counts. But proving intent is very difficult and I was concerned about whether or not we could adequately prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he went there with the intent to kill Sophia.

WILLIAMS AT TRIAL: He got gasoline, he got a knife, he got a lighter, he went to her bedroom and tried to kill her.

Jeff Williams: My strategy for building this case was to show, not just what happened in Sophia's room on the day of the incident, but to show the pattern of behavior and the escalation of what was happening in Adam in the days prior.

I argued to the court that he lost control of himself and he also realized that he was losing control of Sophia. …Adam was finally realizing that Sophia was ending this relationship for good, that she wasn't going to contact him and that that's what led Adam to the point where he had no choice but to kill Sophia.

Jeff Williams: One of the really important pieces of evidence in this case were the text messages in this matter. …Adam sent Sophia hundreds of text messages. She did not respond once.

Jeff Williams: The defense argued that Adam did not go to the house with the intent to kill Sophia.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Is it your testimony that you never intended to harm her?


DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Even when you were holding the knife?

ADAM SHIGWADJA: Yes, that's correct. I did not intend to hurt her.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: What was the purpose of going there, Adam?

ADAM SHIGWADJA: To kill myself.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: To kill yourself?


Susan Thomas: I don't believe that he is capable of hurting her. I definitely know he's not capable of murder.

Jeff Williams:  He talked about when he testified how his only goal was to keep Sophia away from the fire…

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Did you ever pull Sophia into the fire, Adam?


DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Did you ever push her into the fire?

ADAM SHIGWADJA: No I pulled her away from it.

Jeff Williams: …and that any injury she sustained on her chest from the knife must just have been the fact that he accidentally bumped her with it.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Did you ever tell Sophia when you were in that bedroom, even before the fire or after the fire, that you were gonna kill her?


DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Did that ever happen?


DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Are you certain of that?


Sophia Putney-Wilcox: I was shocked. I didn't expect him to lie like that. That was my final realization that this person is actually sick.

JUDGE: I found beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to cause great bodily harm to her but he did not intend to murder her or kill her.

Kristin Putney: It was like being hit by a train.

Jeff Williams: The judge found Adam guilty of the home invasion and arson counts.  …But she did not find that the burden was met for the charges of assault with intent to murder.

Kristin Putney: And the sentencing guidelines at that moment went from something like 20 years to three years.

Kristin Putney: The judge said in her verdict that he didn't try to kill her that he was there to commit suicide.

JUDGE: If Mr. Shigwadja intended to kill Sophia, he would have and could have done that… He obviously very much loved her. It went way overboard.

Kristin Putney: I just was just stunned and Sophie was stunned … Because I know -- I know what Adam is capable of.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: The judge made it seem like we both had equal parts in what had happened and so to me, that put all the blame right back on myself.

Kristin Putney: The level of deviance and the danger of who he is was not recognized by the court. And I was terrified that Sophie was not going to be protected. That the system didn't think he was a threat.


Sophia Putney-Wilcox: Everyone was outraged by what the judge said.

Kristin Putney: The community, who had watched Sophia from the hospital bed, started raising their voices … "What just happened? How is this love?"

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: Letters were written to the judge from many people I've never even met about how wrong her verdict was.

Kristin Putney: One of the most amazing things that happened was that the YWCA coordinated this march outside the courthouse on the day of sentencing.

Jeff Williams: We were all very nervous for sentencing. …We were all very concerned that the lesser verdict was an indication that we could expect a more lenient sentence.

JEFF WILLIAMS IN COURT: There's no other way to keep Sophie Putney-Wilcox and the rest of the community safe other than to lock up Adam Shigwadja for the maximum allowable time.

He got a chance to get help. He even got a chance to keep a conviction off his record, but his desire to control Sophia was stronger than any of those chances.

Jeff Williams: The victim impact statement that Sophia gave in court was one of the best things I've ever heard. … It tells the whole story of domestic violence.


 On Sept. 21, 2011, I met a mysterious boy with piercing blue eyes… Everything started off OK.  …I thought that it was love.

It started with you cheating… You told me that nobody would ever love me. …You dug your nails into my leg. …You broke into my bedroom and held a knife to my throat. …You threatened to kill yourself … Burn my house down with my mom and my brother inside…

How can someone who claimed they loved me want to hurt me so much?

I must have done something to make you do this.

Jeff Williams: He played on her fears. He played on her shame.

SOPHIA IN COURT: Exposing our relationship was something I feared more than death.

Sophia faces Adam in court
Sophia faces Adam in court Kalamazoo Public Safety Department

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: He was standing right in front of me. …He just looked emotionless. …and even though it was the scariest thing facing him like that, it also empowered me.

SOPHIA IN COURT: This is it. This is the end of a long story of abuse. … I ask this court for protection and justice.

JUDGE: OK, Mr. Shigwadja, anything you want to tell the court?

ADAM SHIGWADJA: I loved her but I never once did love myself. I loved her more than my own life. … Her to be hurt was never my intent.

JUDGE: You are a very disturbed man. …You brought gas and a match to start yourself on fire that night and have her sit and watch that. That's disgusting….Your actions are haunting. They'll  haunt her for the rest of her life. …You cannot control someone like this. She's not a piece of property.

There was clearly abuse.  …Do I think it was your intention to kill her that evening based on the evidence at trial, no I don't. But you are out of control and you do need to be put away for a very long time.

Tracy Smith: In a decision that took everyone by surprise, the judge sentenced Adam to a minimum of 29 years in prison.  When questioned later, she said the uproar over her verdict had no influence on her ruling.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: Now I can feel safe. It was like a weight was just lifted off of my shoulders.

Kristin Putney: Sophie was really protected for the first time. I felt like she was given her life back -- all of us were.

Susan Thomas: To turn around and sentence him for that amount of time based on her verdict, I don't believe was fair at all. ...Watching him leave in the handcuffs -- it was just unbelievable. …It was heartbreaking.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: Some nights I still can't sleep, just thinking about things.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: When I went back to school I couldn't have anyone behind me because I was scared. I had to have my back to the wall at all times.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: Me speaking out gives me hope that I can help other people. …That's healing for me.

SOPHIA'S SPEECH TO STUDENTS: It's hard to speak out because the same question seems to always pop up: "Why didn't you just leave?" …He drilled into my head that everything was my fault.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox: "Dating violence can happen to anyone" 01:18

Kristin Putney:  I'm amazed by Sophia. …She went through it as such a warrior. …I've always felt like she's the strongest person I've known.

And I know this is just the beginning of that young woman's life. I mean, she's gonna go out and rock this world.

Sophia Putney-Wilcox:  There's a lot of lessons I can take away from all of this. I think the biggest one for me is just how important it is to love yourself.  …I lost who I was and I've got myself back.  I will never let this define me.

Sophia is engaged and is expecting her first child in June.     


If you are involved in an abusive relationship please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233)

For more information on teenage dating violence visit

Click here for additional resources

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