Ask any veteran law enforcement officer at his/her annual reunion if there's "one case" that haunts them more than others and it doesn't take long to get an answer.
Right away, Master Detective Charles Brian Boswell said "I was a young officer...only 25 years old."
The detective with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office goes back to a domestic violence case he worked as a rookie, about 18 years ago! He remembers the victim's name to this day! It's Tonnie.
Tonnie and Boswell's paths crossed when she was found in a ditch, barely alive. Her boyfriend had beaten her with a steel club, tossed her from his car and left her to die. Doctors didn't expect her to survive. She did only to testify during the attempted murder trial IN DEFENSE of her boyfriend! She became angry at Boswell for pursuing the case which ended with his conviction and prison sentence. Her actions shocked and frustrated the young detective.
Several years later, she shocked Boswell again. This time, she telephoned the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and asked for the detective by name. Sheriff's operators said he was out, so Tonnie left a message.
She needed to talk to him. Reluctantly, he returned the call.
"It was so long ago that we didn't have cell phones. I had to pull over to call her on a pay phone," recalled Boswell.
He stops the interview for a moment and then continued, "It's tough for me to tell the story Lissette. She called to thank me for what I had done, for standing by her side. She wasn't used to anyone doing that for her."
Boswell said the conversation changed his career. "It made me realize that if we don't help them…nobody will. Sometimes they can't even help themselves, so we (law enforcement) are their last line of defense."
Boswell shared this story with us last May at the Tampa Convention Center.
ABC Action News had invited him to join us for the annual "Heroes" luncheon hosted by Sykes Enterprises. He was the recipient of our 2013 Taking Action Against Domestic Violence "Officer of the Year Award."
Our team had a surprise for him as well!
After months of research, we located the abuse victim he had spoken to us about.
Tonnie and her daughter Amber were living in Georgia.
"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have my mom today," Amber told us in a letter.
We invited her to the May 23 award ceremony in Tampa to tell Boswell herself. She did – driving more than 200 miles - to say "thank you" in person. She brought Tonnie with her!
When he least expected it, we stopped the interview for the big reveal.
"Well, we have a surprise for you", I told Boswell.
His eyes darted around looking for clues and that's when he saw Tonnie! In an instant, both were in tears. They hugged and Tonnie cried some more.
"She put herself through everything she that could to keep us protected," said Tonnie's daughter.
Their surprise meeting backstage and Boswell's award on stage helped put a human face on abuse.
Domestic Violence affects 1 in every 4 women in this country and more than 15 million children witness it every year. And it's the children we are focusing on during this, our Fifth Annual Taking Action Against Domestic Violence Campaign.
During the next six weeks, we'll bring you special reports about the long term effects of domestic violence on children and show the realities of teen dating today. The Centers for Disease Control's latest study reported 1 of every 3 teens say they're a victim of dating violence or know someone who is.
The nationwide survey of young men and women, ages 14 to 20 years old, is called "Growing up with the Media. It defines dating violence as psychological and emotional abuse, as well as sexual and physical in nature.
Our 2013 campaign will highlight prevention and intervention programs being done to help teens break the cycle of abuse or prevent them from becoming prisoners of the shame and secrecy that can result from dating violence.
For more information on our free community event on October 1 and our 1-hour special on October 16, visit www.abcactionnews.com/dv