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'My mom would have wanted me to survive': 16-year-old murder-suicide survivor shares his story

Russell Graham survived the morning his stepfather killed his mother and shot him several times before setting the house on fire and taking his own life.

LAURENS COUNTY, Ga. — Exactly a month ago, the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office says a man killed his wife, shot his 16-year-old stepson, and set their house on fire before taking his own life. Now, 16-year-old Russell Graham is sharing his story.

Graham survived the morning his stepfather, Sunoco Wiggins, killed his mother, Shiina Gaston. Leading up to that day, Graham says Wiggins showed signs of aggression and verbal abuse – he even stalked the family.

Although Graham’s mother tried to get out of the situation and get help, she was too late. He says Wiggins broke down the door to get inside around 2:30 a.m.

“All I heard was my mom scream, and then I heard a gunshot,” said Graham.

The couple knew each other for seven years and were married for three until Gaston decided she needed to leave. The two were separated for just six days at the time of the murder-suicide. In that time, Wiggins was served with a protective order and divorce papers.

“I walk out of my room and then I see him shoot again. He shoots my mom and then I see her fall, and then he looks at me, turns the gun on me, and then shoots me in my chest. That’s the first wound,” said Graham.

Wiggins punctured Graham’s lung, then proceeded to shoot him seven more times. He shot him in the back, quad, and foot.

The family says the way Wiggins acted did not come as a surprise. Graham’s brother, DeAnthony Rhodes, told him things didn’t seem right the week or two before.

“’Be prepared to protect yourself. It seems like Noco may really just come over there and start shooting,’” recalled Graham.

The brothers describe Wiggins as an aggressive and controlling person. He stalked their mother and would throw a fit if he didn’t get his way. It started as verbal abuse and escalated.

“At one point my mom was in a school meeting at the school, and she had told him that. She wasn’t answering his calls because of that. He called her 136 times just because she wasn’t answering the phone,” he said.

Three days before the papers were served, Shiina Gaston stayed at Rhodes’ house.

“I saw how she was acting here. My mom was never a scared person, but I knew something was off and I knew she felt that way too,” said Rhodes.

She went back to her own house once the papers were served. Although she’s not here with him today, Russell says his mother would want him to live his life to the fullest.

“My mom would have wanted me to survive. I’m happy I could do that for her. I’m trying to make the most out of my life in dedication to her,” said Graham.

Gaston’s oldest son, Christopher Holman, says he never wants anyone to go through something like this.

“We all are told to accept life and death, but it's just different when people are taken versus them dying naturally. It's a whole different feeling,” said Holman.

The Laurens County community is rallying behind the brothers. Graham says he’s happy to be a part of a community that cares so deeply about his family and what happened.

A GoFundMe has been set up for the family. You can find it here.

RELATED: Resources for domestic violence survivors in Central Georgia

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