"Little girls in America don’t just shoot their fathers," Bresha Meadow's aunt, Martina Latessa, tells PEOPLE
The fatal shooting of Jonathan Meadows, allegedly by his 14-year-old daughter, Bresha, was a long time coming, her family tells PEOPLE.
“Something’s happened in that house that nobody knows about,” Bresha’s aunt, Martina Latessa, tells PEOPLE. “Little girls in America don’t just shoot their fathers.”
Bresha is accused of murdering Jonathan, 41, according to her arrest report. She allegedly shot him in the head at the family’s home, with his own gun, on July 28.
Soon after her arrest, Bresha’s mother, Brandi, called her daughter a “hero” – telling local media that Bresha’s alleged actions ended the abuse she suffered. Latessa, Brandi’s sister and a detective with the Cleveland Police Department’s domestic violence unit, tells PEOPLE that her niece was pushed to the edge.
“[Bresha] was born into a nightmare,” Latessa says. “She was born into hell.”
Bresha and her siblings were not physically abused by their father, Latessa says, but she says that Brandi was – in many ways.
She says that for years Brandi kept the abuse a secret, even defending her husband when her family asked questions.
“She’s been with him for over 24 years,” Latessa says. “She’s the perfect victim – she’ll defend him, cover for him, lie for him.”
Jonathan’s death, and the alleged reason for it, has split his family. While Latessa describes a home destroyed by abuse, Jonathan’s brother and sister-in-law deny those same allegations. They tell PEOPLE he is “not the monster he is being portrayed as” and was not an abuser. They say they have questions about the night he died.
“He was stern,” says Jackie Meadows, Jonathan’s sister-in-law, “but at the end of the day, he was a family man.”
‘He Controlled Everything’
Since Jonathan’s death, Latessa says, Brandi has opened up about her life with him. According to Latessa, Brandi said her abuse started when she and Jonathan first began dating, when they were teenagers more than 20 years ago.
At first it was just name-calling and cursing, Brandi told Latessa – but when Brandi became pregnant with the couple’s first child, Jonathan accused her of cheating on him and would punch her in the stomach with weights, she claimed.
“She would go to the hospital and tell them she got into a fight with some girl,” Latessa tells PEOPLE. [Domestic abuse victims] “don’t talk because they carry shame,” she says.
Latessa says Brandi told her that she loved Jonathan and stayed with him despite his abuse and heavy drinking, and eventually the couple had two more children. In 1997, Latessa says Jonathan moved his family an hour away from Brandi’s family in Cleveland.
“I was allowed [to visit them] once a year,” she says, adding that she would bring the children clothes, shoes and food since the family didn’t have much money.
She says she had no idea her sister was suffering. Later, “Brandi told me one time he grabbed her by her head and slammed her head into the wall.”
“She said, ‘He told me and the kids [that if] we ever told you he would kill us,’ ” Latessa says.
She remembers the night she first heard about the abuse from Brandi, in 2011: “She told me he always carries a gun on him and points it at her and her children and says, ‘I should just kill [the children] so you can watch and then I’ll shoot you and then I’ll kill myself.’ ”
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Latessa says that that night in 2011, she learned of how Johnathan had broken Brandi’s tailbone and nose and fractured her eye socket, and how he would keep a gun under his pillow when he slept.
PEOPLE has confirmed Brandi filed a police report in July 2011, alleging Jonathan had just threatened her life and that he had “been abusing her,” police wrote, according to a copy of the report.
Brandi said Jonathan had accused her of cheating and allegedly said he would kill her and their children so that no one else could “have her or raise their kids,” an officer wrote in the report.
Brandi had been planning for several weeks to leave Jonathan due to the violence, according to the report. She knew Jonathan was “capable of extreme violence,” the officer wrote in the report. (Latessa says Brandi later declined to file charges.)
Latessa tells PEOPLE Brandi told her that when she drove her children to school, Jonathan would have her keep him on the phone and tell her when she would stop the car at a stop sign and turn left or right, so he could make sure she wasn’t cheating on him.
“She was always in fear,” Latessa says.
Brandi had shut her entire family out of her life at that point, she says: “He controlled everything: everything [they did], everything they ate.”
In January, Latessa says Bresha ran away from home and begged her aunt for help. “He’s going to hurt me, he’s hurting mommy, I’m scared,” Latessa says Bresha told her.
Latessa says Brandi and Jonathan went to the police and reported their daughter was missing. She says officers contacted her, telling her she had to return the 14-year-old to her parents. Latessa felt helpless.
Jonathan’s Family: ‘He Wasn’t [a] Monster’
As Bresha prepares for court, Jonathan’s relatives are searching for answers. The Ohio-based family tells PEOPLE they believe there is more to the story, and they don’t believe he could have been abusive.
“They’re trying to paint a picture [of him] as a villain of some sort, and to me the true story is not being told about my brother,” Michael Meadows, Jonathan’s older brother, tells PEOPLE.
Michael and his wife, Jackie, say their families always spent time together and that they don’t think Jonathan was capable of the alleged abuse. From beach days to camping trips to daily visits from their grandmother, Jonathan and his children were loved and cared for by family near and far, they say.
“The Meadows family was too involved in Johnny’s life not to know [about the abuse],” Jackie says.
Michael says his brother worked three jobs to put food on the table for his family and hated not being able to see his kids often. When he wouldn’t be home in the evening, Jonathan’s mother, who lived a block away from them before she suffered a stroke in 2011, would babysit the children, Michael says.
“Johnny wasn’t a perfect man and he had his faults, but he wasn’t the monster that he is being portrayed as,” Jackie says. “He was just trying to raise his family through hard times like everyone else.”
Michael says he and his siblings want police to investigate further into their brother’s death.
“We just want to know what actually happened [that night],” he tells PEOPLE.
‘The Only Opportunity She Had’
While Bresha’s mom has reportedly praised Bresha’s alleged actions, prosecutors told PEOPLE last week they were still trying to confirm the accounts of abuse, but that they are open to any new information.
“We want to try this in the courtroom and not the newspaper,” prosecutor Stanley Elkins said.
Bresha’s attorney, Ian Friedman, told PEOPLE he would be providing the prosecution with witness statements and medical records to establish a pattern of abuse.
Latessa says it is common for victims to never go to police, out of fear of their abusers.
“What bothers me more than anything [is] hearing [others] say ‘Well she [Brandi] only made one report,’ ” Latessa says. “I don’t care if she made no reports, I don’t care if she made 10 reports, I don’t care if she made 100 reports. Police reports don’t mean something did not happen.”
Latessa tells PEOPLE that Brandi is still coming to terms with the death of her husband and what it means for her family and daughter – and she is mourning the loss of the man she both loved and feared.
As for Bresha, Latessa says the teen is “numb.” She is due back in Trumbull County Family Court at the end of August for a pre-trial hearing. She has entered a plea of “not true” to the charge against her, and Elkins said the state is still deciding whether or not to try her as an adult.
“I believe that she saw this as the only opportunity she had,” Latessa says of the shooting. “And she thought, ‘I’m free.’ “