Texas Woman Survived Shooting by Father That Also Wounded Mom — Now She's Determined to Help Others

Moms Demand Action of Texas volunteer Mariam El-Haj is working to prevent other women from experiencing domestic violence-related shootings

Miriam El Haj
Miriam El-Haj. Photo: Miriam El Haj

Texas resident Mariam El-Haj will never forget the night she came close to dying after being shot at close range — by her own father.

In 2012, Mariam's mother, pediatrician Dr. Patricia Filosa, had filed a restraining order against her now ex-husband, Talal El-Haj.

On the night of June 15, 2012, he ignored the restraining order, slashed the tires of the cars parked in the driveway of the Mission home where Filosa lived with Mariam, and broke into the house.

Mariam's mother quickly called 911 and hid in the bathroom with Mariam.

But before police could arrive, Mariam's father found them.

"What was most terrifying about the entire situation was the fact that he held a gun to my head," Mariam tells PEOPLE.

He pulled the trigger, but because she was "able to swat at" the gun, the bullet hit her in the neck instead, she says.

He then shot her in the hand — and in his rampage, he also shot Mariam's boyfriend and her mother.

They were all seriously wounded but survived the shooting.

Mariam's father was convicted of three counts of attempted murder and one count of attempted capital murder, court records show. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for each count of attempted murder, and 30 years in prison for the attempted capital murder offense, which will run concurrently.

Now, as a volunteer with Moms Demand Action in Texas, Mariam is helping others by talking openly about domestic violence-related shootings and how to prevent them. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Mariam is dedicated to preventing other families from experiencing the trauma that she endured.

Moms Demand Action of Texas is part of the gun-violence prevention organization Everytown for Gun Safety and its grassroots networks, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action.

"First, on a legislative level," she says, "we can make we can get background checks and work on getting protections for women because a lot of the times women are largely the victims of domestic violence," says Mariam.

She wants more media focus to be put on the survivor's side of the story, which is often forgotten.

"Some of the research that I've done shows that when we focus on perpetrators of domestic violence and gun violence, we sort of embolden their actions and give them sort of like their 15 minutes of fame," she says.

"So when we see a lot of attention given to mass shootings, we see an immediate spike in domestic violence cases in the following two weeks," she says. "Especially domestic violence cases with a firearm," she adds.

Father Obtained Gun Despite Restraining Order

Being aware of the warning signs of domestic violence, such as jealousy and controlling behavior, is important, Mariam says.

"But being open about these warning signs isn't always enough," she says.

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For her family, she says, "warning signs included my father being engaged in some stalking behavior a few days before the shooting," she says.

"Despite getting that restraining order, due to the laws in Texas and the way background checks are done — or not done in Texas — he was able to get a gun," she says.

Focusing on Mental Health After Trauma

Mariam, who has a master's degree in psychology and is working on getting her therapist's license, says dealing with the mental health aspect of domestic violence is critical.

"I would say the mental health component is way larger in effect than the physical component," she says. "Don't get me wrong, this impacts you greatly physically, but a lot of the scars that people will continue to feel, myself included, are the mental health scars. It's been almost 10 years now and I am still feeling them."

She says, "It's really hard to navigate the world after something like this happens. It honestly does make you feel very, very lonely. I don't want other people to be experiencing it because it's incredibly painful."

Joining Moms Demand Action has helped her get through these difficult times. "As a group, Moms Demand Action has helped me with just navigating resources and also just feeling less alone," she says.

"This is something that I will deal with forever," she says.

This October, Everytown for Gun Safety is working to prevent domestic violence-related shootings by trying to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, closing loopholes in gun-violence prevention laws and increasing access to services and trained advocates.

Survivors can also turn to the Everytown Survivor Network and Moments that Survive to talk to – and support – each other.

For more information on gun-related domestic violence, please visit EverytownResearch.org.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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