As an advocate for victims of violence, Donna Alexander could see the emotional and physical pain that others suffered from abusive relationships — but she could not save herself.
“She kept praying to God to fix him,” Alexander’s sister, Lauren D. Armour, tells PEOPLE after an alleged beating by Alexander’s ex-boyfriend led to her death.
The written revelations in journals kept at Alexander’s bedside were discovered by Armour and the sisters’ mother, Dalfinne Lassiter, after Alexander died from an attack at her Grand Prairie, Texas, home on Sept. 21.
“She kept saying [in the journals], ‘I know he has problems, I know that he has post-traumatic stress, but he’s who I want to be my husband. Please fix him,’ ” Armour recalls.
Brought by ex Nathaniel Mitchell to a hospital, where he initially said she had slipped in the shower, the 35-year-old Alexander was taken off life support and succumbed to her injuries on Sept. 24. She appeared on a September episode of the Real Housewives of Dallas as the founder of the local Anger Room, a facility that allows people to break things as a way to relieve stress.
After his initial arrest on a charge of aggravated assault, Mitchell, 34, now sits in a Tarrant County jail charged with Alexander’s murder. He is being held in lieu of $250,000 bond.
It could not be determined if he has entered a plea or retained an attorney.
In a prayer request days before she died, Alexander pleaded for help for Mitchell, although she did not share her burden with other parishioners, said Brian Carter, the associate pastor of Crossroads Christian Church, according to local TV station KTVT.
“Her very last prayer request was for her assailant,” Carter said. “His heart’s not right and [she] pray[ed] that his heart would soften.”
Armour tells PEOPLE that her sister’s journals showed she wrestled with her conflicting feelings for Mitchell: “[She] would ask God to fix him, and then the next thing you know, her journal would say, ‘What am I fighting for? Why am I trying to make a man love me who doesn’t?’ “
“She acted between wanting to keep this man but also knowing that it was toxic,” Armour says. “She even knew that it would be the death of her. It was in her journal.”
Alexander had committed herself from a young age to make a difference in the lives of others, Armour says.
“My sister had a giving heart,” she says. As one example, she says Alexander taught herself to sew and made prom dresses for students who couldn’t otherwise afford them. She cooked for and helped feed the homeless and contributed to giveaway bags filled with hygiene products.
“All she ever wanted to do was just help people,” Armour says. “It didn’t matter what their background was — if she had it, she would give it.”
“She’s experienced a lot of rough things in her life,” adds Armour, a motivational speaker and spoken-word artist and actress in Chicago whose mother had four children.
“We were brought up on the south side of Chicago. So life wasn’t always easy, dealing with violence, experiencing homelessness with our mother,” she says. “Our mother’s experienced domestic violence herself. There’s times when we’ve even been hungry. However, my mother was determined to make sure that we had what we needed.”
Moving out on her own as a teenager, Alexander settled near relatives in Texas and worked through her own struggles before finding business success with the Anger Room, which grew from a concept she first staged in her garage in 2008. At the time of her death, plans were in the works to expand to a second and third location.
“She’s experienced hardships where she couldn’t pay her rent. Even though she had these things working against her — she’s a mother with two children — she didn’t let it stop her,” Armour says.
“Her drive kept her moving forward and she got back on her feet, and when she started her business, she just started to soar. That’s inspiring to me.”
While Alexander had previously been in an abusive relationship, she successfully ended things, Armour says.
But her immediate family members, who then lived outside of Texas, knew very little about the apparently five-year, on-and-off relationship that Alexander had with Mitchell.
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“We didn’t know the man, we didn’t know anything about him, other than he used to work for her and that he went to the Army and had stripes and everything,” Armour says. “We just don’t understand how somebody who’s served his country could do this.”
“She hid it from everyone, even those people that called themselves her close friends. They knew of him, but they even asked her if he hit her, and she told them no,” Armour continues.
In Armour’s experience, that behavior was typical of victims who try to hide the abuse. “The abusers have a way to manipulate, to get under the victim’s skin so well where they develop a stronghold on the victim, which causes the victim to become bound, isolated, you know. And they feel trapped. They feel like the abuser can be fixed, can be changed, if they just love them more, if they do this or that. They don’t realize that it’s just harming them instead of benefitting them.”
Although Armour says her sister and the accused were estranged, “he got in touch with her and pretty much found his way back in by puling on her heartstrings and telling some sob story. So she told him he could come and sleep on the couch.”
“But that Thursday before she got hurt, they got into a really bad argument, so she dropped him off somewhere and told him not to come back and left,” Armour says. “She returned home and went about her day with her children [son Jaylen Luster, 14, and daughter Jayla Luster, 12], and then apparently he went out to some nightclub prior to showing up at her house.”
According to what Armour later learned, Mitchell was allegedly “beating on the door when he got there. The children had told my grandmother that it was around 3 in the morning. And when he was beating on the door, no one would let him in.”
“He then went around to the back of the house where my sister’s room was and broke the window. The children said they heard arguing and screaming — their mother screaming,” she says. “The children said that went on for a while until it got really quiet. The children texted their mom, asking, ‘Are you okay? Is he gone?’ or “Are you gone? What’s going on?’ “
According to police, Armour says, Mitchell “took my sister’s cell phone and responded to the texts pretending he was her, and said, ‘I’m fine, just get up in the morning and get ready for school.’ “
She says the family was told that Mitchell arrived with Alexander at the hospital around 5 a.m. where he allegedly offered up the cover story for Alexander’s severe injuries. “She was in a coma [with] her brain swelled,” her sister says.
The hospital diagnosed blunt force trauma with a fracture to Alexander’s head. She died before either her mother or sister could reach her.
At Alexander’s home, the two women later saw “there’s blood in the bathtub, there was blood in the shower and everywhere else,” Armour says. “So there’s no way she could have just slipped in the shower.”
Based upon the allegations against Mitchell, Armour now says, “He took away a life that he did not have a right to take. No one has a right to take a life that is not theirs. That is my sister. She is a daughter and a mother — gone.”
The family has created a Facebook page to honor Alexander and seek help with funeral expenses.
As an organ donor, according to her sister, Alexander’s death helped seven other lives.
At a memorial vigil held among family and friends on Monday night, “I told them, if they don’t remember anything else when it comes to my sister, hold onto the impact that she had in their lives and don’t let it die,” Armour says.
“Anybody will tell you that Donna was a really sweet, sweet woman,” she says. “She’d walk into a room and she’d just light up people’s spirits with a big smile.”