Terry Gilman has many reminders of her fiery, sassy, red-haired daughter, Autumn Joy Gullifer.

She has photographs of them together, happy, joking, enjoying fun times.

Once in a while, a little thing will happen that brings back Gilman’s pain of loss, such as when she is alone and takes a pan out of the cupboard that belonged to her daughter and the memories return, drawing tears.

Perhaps the most poignant reminder is the urn containing Gullifer’s ashes.

“We keep her with us,” Gilman said.

It was three years ago, March 19, 2019, that Gullifer died at age 44, shot dead by her estranged husband, Kenneth Bryant, 48.

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She had left him four months earlier and moved into the Gardiner home of her brother, Phil James Gullifer III. She and Bryant had been together about 10 years, but he was controlling and verbally abusive, jealous of her family. One day when he was out, she gathered her belongings and fled their Livermore Falls home.

Terry Gilman, center, is pictured in 2017 with her daughter Autumn Gullifer and son Phil James Gullifer. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Gilman wants to spread the word that there is help for victims and their families. Autumn Gullifer was shot and killed in 2019 by her estranged husband. The man then burned down Gilman’s home before committing suicide. Photo courtesy of Terry Gilman

Ostensibly, the breakup was amicable. She had taken their Pomeranian dogs and a cat to her brother’s and Bryant would stop to visit them occasionally. He was trying to get her back. He would sometimes buy Chinese food for Gullifer and drop it off.

On the day he killed her, he had brought doughnuts from Dunkin’. He knocked on the door, she let him in and when she turned around, he shot her in the back of the head, leaving her on the garage floor to die.

Then he drove to Gilman’s summer house on Messalonskee Lake in Sidney, kicked in the door, poured gasoline across the basement and lit it on fire, burning down the house.

He drove back to the murder scene in Gardiner, parked his pickup in the driveway, texted Phil James Gullifer, told him where he was and said to call police. Bryant then shot and killed himself.

Gilman, who was in Florida where she and her husband live in the winter, received the unbearable news.

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She got on a plane and flew to Bangor where her son met her at the airport.

“We cried, but I don’t remember a lot,” she said. “I knew she was gone, but I just couldn’t seem to wrap my head around it.”

After the shock, the reality of the murder-suicide began to set in for both Gilman and her son, whom she refers to as James, his middle name.

“It’s just like what people say, you hear them say it all the time — this doesn’t happen to us; it happens to other people,” Gilman said. “We knew he was a control freak. I just knew it wasn’t good, but I didn’t know it was going to be as bad as it was.”

Gilman, 73, contacted me recently because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and she wanted to help spread the word that there is help for victims and their families.

Her daughter, she said, was an independent person who was fun loving and generous to friends who needed help. She had grown up in Sidney and Oakland, graduating from Messalonskee High School in 1993. She moved to Illinois where her father, Gilman’s previous husband, lived. She enrolled in Millikin University where she majored in theater and then worked in human resources at a hospital. She met Bryant online and they fell in love. They married in 2012 at Messalonskee Lake.

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“She had a beautiful outside wedding,” Gilman recalled. “It was just what she wanted. Who would’ve known it would have taken that turn?”

Gullifer had built a successful pet treat business in Chicago and she and Bryant eventually moved to Maine. They worked long hours at the business, her husband never allowing her to take a break or a vacation. Things got worse and she told her mother she was going to leave, but it had to be the right time. Bryant had not paid taxes in many years and owed the IRS about $200,000, according to Gilman. Gullifer tried to convince him to get a lawyer to take care of the problem, but he refused. Everything the couple owned was in Gullifer’s name. One day when Bryant was out of the house, she packed her bags and left.

Her mother convinced her in November 2018 to take a week with her in Palm Springs, California, where Gilman’s sister and brother-in-law spend the winter. She agreed and they had a wonderful time. Gullifer left Palm Springs to go back to Maine; Gilman would head back to Florida two days later. She couldn’t wait to spend time with her daughter when she returned to Maine in the spring, without Bryant in their midst.

“At the airport in Palm Springs, I gave her a hug, told her I loved her and I’d see her in April. I saw her walk into the airport. I never saw her again.”

The love and support of  family, friends and domestic violence organizations helped Gilman and her husband and son navigate the next few weeks and months. Gilman, who lost everything in the Maine house in the fire, including Gullifer’s baby pictures, rebuilt their home on the lake. James Gullifer took over his sister’s pet treat business and moved to Bangor.

While the grieving never stops, they were able to find some peace. Gilman and her son talk all the time. At one point, they decided they needed to live as Gullifer would, with joy.

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“We decided we could either go down a deep, dark hole or we could live our lives, and we decided to live our lives,” Gilman said. “We keep her alive. We talk about her. I don’t shy away from anything. We keep her with us.”

She said it is difficult to give advice to those living with domestic violence, but getting counseling from a person who specializes in domestic violence is key.

“Look into any of the domestic violence agencies, the programs that are around, and if you have lost a child to domestic violence, the Parents of Murdered Children are amazing.”

She said leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time and as much as the abuser vows to change, it rarely happens.

“You have to be careful when you leave and protect yourself and be aware and get help.”

She also recommends working with the Maine Crime Victims’ Compensation Program, which was a tremendous support to her family.

On Nov. 4, which would have been Gullifer’s 47th birthday, Gilman and her family will celebrate her and count their blessings.

“I’m thankful I had her for 44 years,” she said. “I’m thankful we had a wonderful relationship, that we had each other.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear weekly. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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