Running for their lives, they grabbed their children and bare necessities.
Women fleeing abusive relationships rarely give any thought to packing family photos or cherished mementos. That's where Tarpon Springs photographer Lisa Sibley comes in.
She recently gave up a month of Saturdays to take portraits of seven women and their children at a Clearwater domestic violence shelter.
The photos were unveiled Saturday during an early Mother's Day celebration. There were smiles and moist eyes the mothers watched a slideshow of some of the almost 300 photos that Sibley took.
There were children playing in the sand. A little boy showing off his muscles. The wide toothless smile of another.
The women also were presented with framed portraits.
"I left everything, but you know what, I've never been more happy or more blessed," said a woman named Shannon, 33, who didn't want her last name used.
She proudly showed off the large framed portrait of her and her three children in the park.
Shannon said she escaped from her abusive husband two weeks after he held her at knifepoint. Now she's working on a business degree and wants other women to know that there's life after abuse.
"You can get out," she said.
Shannon and the other women are staying in the Transitional Living Program run by the Haven of RCS, a domestic violence program in Clearwater.
During the unveiling, even Sibley struggled to hold back tears.
"As a photographer, it's just something that is very close to my heart, being able to preserve some memories and capture a moment in time for any family, particularly for these women who have gone through so much," she said.
It was her friend Christine Warwick, director of the Haven of RCS, who came up with the idea of the photo project and asked Sibley to donate her services. Warwick had heard of a similar project in New York for the homeless.
A mother of two grew emotional as she gazed at the 16x20 framed photograph of her family. She hugged Sibley.
Her partner had persuaded her to move away from family and friends, she said. One night he started to choke her.
"I basically lost consciousness," she said. "The next day, I packed two suitcases. I stayed in a motel."
When she ran out of money, she sought shelter at the Haven.
Thirty-two-year old Christina learned about Haven from a police officer who went to her house after her husband attacked her on Super Bowl Sunday.
Now she is working on a degree in social work and psychology at St. Petersburg College.
"My kids feel safe. They say that a lot," she said.
That showed Saturday as children laughed and ate and shouted happily when they spotted themselves in the slide show.
The celebration was arranged with help from local businesses. Patti Arenberg, owner of First Impressions Fine Art Gallery in Palm Harbor, framed the photographs.
Joann Bradley filled gift bags with Mary Kay cosmetics. Helen Burchard of Nana's Best Gourmet Cookies in Tarpon Springs donated chocolate and carrot cakes. Stan Reedy of Reedy Photoprocess Corp. in St. Petersburg printed the photos.
For Shannon, it was a day of new, happy memories.
"Last year was sad. It was my first Mother's Day being a single mom," she said. "Now we've come full circle. No, further than that."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.