A Knoxville woman faces murder charges after county sheriff’s deputies said she shot and killed her fiance early Tuesday, according to court charging documents.

Michelle Leigh Handorf, 37, called 911 sometime early Tuesday and said that she had just shot her fiance, Wesley Alan Gibson, at their home in the 3800 block of South Mountain Road, according to the documents. Gibson was suffering from a gunshot wound to his upper chest and right hand when deputies and emergency rescue personnel arrived a short time later. Handorf had been holding pressure over Gibson’s wound until rescue workers arrived, but Gibson was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at a hospital for treatment, the documents state.

Deputies arrested Handorf and took her to the sheriff’s office headquarters to interview her about the shooting. Two children who were present in the house were also taken to the sheriff’s office separate from Handorf.

Handorf told detectives that Gibson suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was frequently abusive toward her, but stated that she had never fought back or resisted up to that point, the documents state. Under further questioning, Handorf told the deputies that she “just wanted [Gibson] to stop hurting her,” according to the charging documents.

According to Handorf’s account, Gibson verbally abused her Thursday and Friday, then took to slapping her and pulling her hair on Saturday, with the physical abuse and threats worsening over the weekend. At different points over the weekend, Handorf said Gibson grabbed her throat, put out a cigarette on her right palm and threatened to throw her down the stairs between threats to kill her and her family, according to the charging documents.

The violence and threats continued into Monday evening, coming to a head after the children went to sleep at about 9 p.m., according to Handorf’s statements outlined in the charging documents. Gibson took a shower at about 11 p.m. Monday and, while he was in the bathroom, Handorf said she noticed Gibson’s handgun, a Hi-Point Model C-9 9 mm pistol, on his nightstand.

Handorf told deputies she took the gun, removed the magazine, cleared the chamber and hid the weapon on a bookshelf in another room, the documents state. Gibson noticed the gun was missing when he left the bathroom and yelled at Handorf, demanding to know where the gun was. Handorf said she then retrieved the weapon, reloading it as she walked back into the bedroom but putting the safety on, according to the documents.

Gibson was looking at his phone when Handorf re-entered the bedroom, but quickly realized she was holding the gun, at which point Handorf said he got “a crazy look in his eye” and turned to face her, according to the deputies’ report. Fearing that Gibson would kill her, Handorf raised the gun, took off the safety and fired a single shot when Gibson took a step toward her, the documents state.

An examination of Handorf after her arrest revealed “some small bruises on her forearm” and “some loose hair coming out of her hair,” according to the documents. Handorf also complained of chest pain from where she said Gibson had punched her earlier, as well as pain to her head from where she said he had grabbed her by the hair, but her injuries were “nothing extensive,” according to the wording in the charging documents.

Handorf was charged with first- and second-degree murder, as well as the use of a firearm in a felony crime of violence, according to online court records. Handorf was denied bail in her initial appearance before a District Court commissioner early Tuesday and remained in the Frederick County Adult Detention Center awaiting a bail review hearing scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, the records state.

The Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office refused to answer any questions regarding the case as of Tuesday. Will Cockey, an agency spokesman, cited the “open and continuing investigation” in a text message response to The Frederick News-Post’s questions Tuesday afternoon.

Taylor Clarke, a spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, responded to The News-Post’s questions via email Tuesday afternoon, confirming that sheriff’s deputies responded to the house at 12:22 a.m. Tuesday and verifying that Gibson was flown by Maryland State Police helicopter to Meritus Medical Center near Hagerstown, where he was later pronounced dead. Clarke was unable to provide many further details as of Tuesday afternoon, but she did confirm the children taken from the home were safe.

“From what I can gather, there were no immediate family in this area that could take custody of the children. Our victim/witness coordinator stayed with the children here at the Law Enforcement Center until they were released to Child Protective Services,” Clarke’s response reads in part.

Under Maryland criminal law, a conviction for first-degree murder requires proof that a person participated in a “deliberate, premeditated and willful killing” of another, according to the statute. The maximum penalty for first-degree murder is life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Follow Jeremy Arias on Twitter: @Jarias_Prime.

Jeremy Arias is the Frederick city and government reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

(34) comments

jayel86

I wouldn't want my children see my dead body, if she felt he was crazy enough to kill her then possibly the kids, its self-defense. She probably prevented a murder-suicide. I hope the jury sees that.

stefcfi

It is a shame that any of this even escalated to this degree. While 'getting out' is hard, this is yet another lesson in the fact that it is necessary, especially when the victim then becomes the defendant. Heart breaking in all ways.

ingajames

Thank you everyone for your compassionate comments. There are a couple of points I would like to address. First, victims stay with their abusers for many reasons: financial (often victims are not permitted to have their own money), fear (a big one!), they want their children raised in a two-parent family (the abuser might be good with the children), lack of resources/support (abusers often alienate their victims from friends and family), among many other reasons. It takes a victim 7-9 attempts on AVERAGE to leave an abusive relationship. We should not have an expectation that victims can leave on the "first hit." Second, domestic violence is extremely traumatizing for children. We know that it can have the same impact on a child as if they were being abused themselves. Trauma rewires the brain in children who often have life-long impacts from witnessing such violence by those who are supposed to protect them. I urge you to call Heartly House's 24-hour hotline if you would like more information or if this or any other family violence has occurred to you (thank you to the reader who suggested this already). 301-662-8800

KellyAlzan

A good many comments about leaving him and shoulda left him.

Keep in mind the story states that the dude suffered from PTSD. It’s possible that she knows a decent guy when he wasn’t having his episodes.

The story also states that the man had a crazed look on his face. If you never been in an abusive relationship, you do not know what this means. It means she saw him switch to an out of control animal. And she knew by his face that he was going to kill her right then. Those that are or have been in abusive relationships know exactly what I’m talking about.

phydeaux994

The most dangerous time for a battered Woman is when they try to leave. And go where, especially if she has kids to consider and no money?

mr_twist27

I have no doubt that she was probably in an abusive relationship and dont feel any sorrow for the man that was kill, however I do think it was the right move to arrest her. Unless she took other steps in the past to leave him or has called the police to have him arrested for his abuse, I find it hard to believe the only resort was to shoot and kill him. There are a lot of very good resources in Frederick that she could have used to help her out of her situation. If she took no initiative to flee the relationship then I dont think shooting him is justified, especially since it sounds as though the physical abuse that she experienced was not to the point that it endangered her life.

gabrielshorn2013

mr_twist27, none of us are in her shoes, so we can't say what she should have done. Battered woman syndrome is very much real, and severely affects the woman's judgement. Please reach out to Heartly House to get more information.

https://www.heartlyhouse.org/

Alice Jones

Gabe [thumbup]

Crab0721

You have no idea how hard it is to be in an abusive relationship it is not that simple as to call the police or to get help especially if you are not being physically abused. There are so many people who are in relationships that are being mentally and emotionally abused and you can't get much help until you have been physically abused which is ridiculous and The abuser has made everyone think that you are the bad one so that you can even get help from your own family or friends.

dancing donna

If women do not receive wise and regular counseling, they may go right back into an abusive relationship. If they were raised in an abusive family, this may be what they identify with. Women need to leave on the first hit and the first sign of emotional abuse. Yes, people can hide their abusive tendencies and let it out later. But, for the safety of the kids and self, one has to seek restraining orders and safe housing away from the abuser. Abusive relationships are never about love, they are about control which is rooted in fear. She is probably telling the truth and was honestly fearing for her life and the life of her kids. The fact that she was trying to stop the bleeding and called 911 shows that she cared for his life even still.

gabrielshorn2013

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] Dancingdonna! We know what is rational, but women in abusive relationships don't always think rationally, and feel trapped. Anyone over at Heartley House will tell you that. It took courage and lots of love and support for those women to leave, saving their lives.

dancing donna

Yes, agreed. I am glad for places like HH. Counseling is essential to stop the cycle and help the women start the process of thinking rationally, healthy, and understand her value as a child of God.

TonyBaloney

Why can’t she stand her ground? I ache for her. I hope she beats this wrap. She’s no threat to our community. Let her go home and be a Mother, in peace.

MRS M

So well said, Tony. I suspect many agree with you. Again....."Let her go home and be a Mother, in peace."

Jaco

[thumbup]

threecents

[thumbup]

KellyAlzan

this is so sad. I get upset when children are present or involved. So sad.

I don't doubt her story about the abuse. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I wish she would have gotten herself and the kids away from him over the weekend after this started.

Question. Who's children are they?

dirtorsoil

Its easy to say "get away from him" but the logistics are so difficult it almost makes it impossible. Also, leaving the abuser is the most dangerous time. The abuser is enraged and will often stalk/harm/kill the victim. This story could have been worse and end up with her killed, as well as her children. Hope she gets off for self-defense. I feel that she felt she had no other option, after days of escalation.

gabrielshorn2013

Agreed, well written article Mr. Arias. There must be more to this story that will come out later. Maybe the kids (unfortunately) saw some of this happen, and can corroborate some of her story.

mrshldillon

She put the clip back in it because that is how he had left it...she was prob about to get a beating and reacted accordingly...hopefully her children can verify what had been happening....also, they charge her with everything they can so they can make deals....if they only charge with manslaughter they do have much to work with....let's hope she is telling the truth...but face it, in Maryland you get less time for murder than you do for shooting a bear out of season in Montana....and you get 15 days off you sentence if you act nice in prison regardless of the charge

dancing donna

My condolences to the children who are generally forgotten in such tragedies. The fact that there was a gun just laying around with kids in the house says alot about the environment of the home. Not safe for the kids and I pray they will find a safe home.

youwhat

This is what happens when you own a Hi Point

shelleyfreeze1

I'm sorry, but I think with a good lawyer she can get off this. I'm thinking it is much like the case of the story that had a movie made about it on.

The movie that Farrah Fawcett played in years ago called The Burning Bed. Deals with a woman who takes abuse so long till she cracks and burns down her house with her husband in the bed.

mfouche24

nice to know you cant defend yourself without being arrested

MrSniper

This is terrible. People, I know it can be hard, inconvenient, embarrassing, but if it gets to the point approaching violence, get out.

Crab0721

Until you have been in a situation like that you will never know how hard it is to get out. Being verbally and mentally abused is so much worse than being physically abused. It has nothing to do with being inconvenient or embarrassing.

shelleyfreeze1

#truth, people that have never been in a domestic violence situation really shouldn't judge.

MrSniper

I imagine there are people who have stayed in abusive relationships because they felt like they couldn’t afford to leave or perhaps they felt like they had nowhere to go. I have heard accounts of people concealing abuse because they didn’t want family, friends or co-workers to know the truth. Every case has unique circumstances & sometimes it does boil down to being broke or fear of losing one’s children or preferring not to be seen a a victim.

dirtorsoil

Not embarrassing, deadly. When the victim escapes the abuser becomes enraged and will often stalk/harm/kill the victim. She had not other options, likely she saw that this was going to end up a murder (of her and her kids) suicide.

Joey Pesto

Well written article with the proper details. Thank you Jeremy for good journalism.

shiftless88

I agree, but it makes me wonder why she would be charged with first-degree murder. Manslaughter I could understand.

sweeney57

I think what is going to initially make it murder is because of what she said... She said she took the bullets out. Once she went to the other room to get the gun...She apparently reloaded it...assuming she put in the clip. That can show intent. That kind of showed she might use it. Don't get me wrong...if this guy abused her all the time, I don't feel pity for him. But I could see why they gave murder charges. Manslaughter is more when it was an accident...like she didn't know there were bullets in it. She kinda took away that possibility with her statement.

Dwasserba

Yeahhhh. My thought was, she better present it just as it was and it was basically a no-win anybody's guess what might happen situation. Such a bad weekend could really affect your frame of mind. As I said, I am unsuitable as a juror...

Dwasserba

Well-written, but I think with too much detail...I can't serve on this jury.

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