Melissa “Missy” Robertson spoke softly Thursday morning as she addressed a group of reporters outside the Spokane Valley Police precinct.
It was one month to the day that her estranged husband, Justin Robertson, stabbed her multiple times before abducting their 5-year-old son and taking him to a family home in St. John, 50 miles south of Spokane. There, he engaged in an hourslong standoff with deputies, at times apologizing to his wife on the phone, before taking his own life.
“The many years we had, they were fantastic,” she said, flanked by members of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, Spokane Valley Fire Department and workers from ADT, the security company that helped connect her with law enforcement after her panic button was pressed.
“This is not who he was,” she continued, “the kind of person he was.”
Robertson was invited to speak by ADT officials who flew out from Florida to Spokane Valley, where they presented the sheriff’s office, fire department and Spokane chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness with $5,000.
They also honored the ADT workers who sold and installed the system days before Melissa Robertson was attacked, along with the woman who fielded the panic alarm early that morning.
Sue Phommanirat, an ADT dispatcher from Rochester, New York, was presented an award for acting quickly to alert deputies. She said she’s handled more than 100 calls daily since she first became a dispatcher 10 years ago, and this is the first time she’s met a customer in crisis face-to-face.
“It was very emotional,” she said. “I’m glad I came out here.”
Melissa Robertson said she went to bed on the evening of April 22 with her husband and son in the home. She was startled awake at about 2:30 a.m., as Justin Robertson was tying her up with a cellphone charging cable.
She stayed there for about two and a half hours, she said, before her husband let her out of the room. She said she went over to her purse and pushed her panic alarm, which generated an automatic call from ADT.
Justin Robertson answered the phone, and on the other end was Phommanirat. Officials played a recording of the call, which featured Phommanirat asking him if he was Melissa Robertson. He said he was.
Phommanirat then asked for a four-letter password to stop the alarm, after which Justin Robertson quickly hung up. Melissa Robertson said she wouldn’t give her husband the password.
“At that point, he did grab a knife and began stabbing me multiple times,” she said.
She said she received about 62 knife marks across her body, including one that punctured a lung.
Deputy Clay Hilton, one of two deputies to arrive at the home, said at the time they didn’t know it was a domestic violence call. But a local dispatcher noted the address had a history of similar calls, so the status was upgraded. The Robertsons were going through a divorce and Melissa Robertson had obtained a temporary restraining order against her husband, according to court records.
Once deputies rang the doorbell, he said Melissa Robertson began screaming for help from inside. They made their way in through a back door to find her lying in a pool of blood.
Melissa Robertson was rushed to a hospital. There, she said she had some communication with her husband, who at that point was holed up in a family home in St. John.
“He was definitely remorseful for what had happened,” she said.
Several hours later, he died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who said domestic violence accounts for 78% of county homicides, said he hoped elected officials would put more of an emphasis on providing mental health treatment.
Justin Robertson, according to his wife, was suffering from depression, for which he was undergoing treatment.
“I’m glad to see that Missy is doing well,” Knezovich said, turning toward her. “And that your son is also doing well.”
Melissa Robertson credited ADT for saving her life, saying Phommanirat’s voice on the other end of the line was her “only connection to the outside world at that moment.”
She said she’s looking forward to putting the incident behind her and moving on with her son.
“Looking forward to making happy memories,” she said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.