Denair mom opens up about daughter accused of killing her dad

July 8, 2011 

BA Susan Wills 2

(BART AH YOU/bahyou@modbee.com) - Susan Wills, 61, of Denair was seriously injured and her husband Kenneth Wills, 62, was left for dead after their teenaged daughter Shanna Wills assualted them on Mother's Day this year. Susan Wills talks about the effects of this tragedy in her life. July 7, 2011

BART AH YOU — Modesto Bee

  • FUNDRAISER FOR SUSAN WILLS

      What: Susan Wills’ co-workers at Delta Blood Bank organized a spaghetti dinner and auction to raise money to help with medical, funeral and other costs.

      When: 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday

      Where: Gateway Community Church, 3440 Lester Road, Denair

      Tickets: $10, available by calling LaVonne Rivard, 209-644-5035.

      Donations: They may be made to Delta Bank, 3700 Geer Road, Turlock, 95382. Make checks out to “Friends of Susan Wills.”

  • MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES

      • Center for Human Services: www.centerforhumanservices.org; (209) 526-1476

      • Hutton House: www.centerforhumanservices.org/huttonhouse; 24-hour crisis line, (209) 526-5544

      • Sierra Vista Child & Family Services: http://sierravistacares.org; (209) 523-4573

      • Children’s Crisis Center: www.childrenscrisiscenter.com; (209) 577-4413

      • Parent Resource Center: www.prcfamilies.org; (209) 577-4413

      • The Salvation Army: In Modesto, www.salvationarmymodesto.org or (209) 522-3209; in Turlock, (209) 667-6091

      • Child Protective Services of Stanislaus County: www.stanworks.com; (209) 558-3665 or (800) 558-3665

— Susan Wills told her co-workers May 8 that she planned to take her daughter to the doctor on her next day off, the following Tuesday.

Shanna Wills had been troubled for the past few months, spiraling downward after a Christmastime breakup with a boyfriend.

“Things just got really weird,” Susan Wills said. “She got rebellious like she’d never been before. She quit doing her schoolwork.”

But on that Sunday, Mother’s Day, Susan Wills came home to find her daughter and husband embroiled in another argument. This one turned tragic, as authorities say 17-year-old Shanna attacked her parents with a knife, killing Kenneth Wills, 62, and critically injuring Susan Wills.

Shanna Wills, who has pleaded not guilty, returns to Stanislaus County Superior Court for a hearing July 28.

Susan Wills, 61, didn’t want to talk about the specifics of the attack, leaving that to the court system. But she said she slowly is recuperating.

“I have my days,” she said.

Last week, she visited co-workers at Delta Blood Bank, who have organized a fundraiser for her on Sunday.

“It’s amazing how a tragedy like this will show you how many friends you have,” Wills said. “I have more friends than I ever imagined in my whole life.”

Nursing administrator LaVonne Rivard, who’s putting together Sunday’s dinner and auction, said Wills was the best registrar Delta’s ever had.

“She’s friendly and happy and outgoing and makes everyone feel so warm,” Rivard said. “She truly is just one of those people that brightens your day.”

For now, Susan Wills is staying in the Denair home she shared with her husband of 41 years, though she eventually plans to move to Idaho to live with her older daughter and her family. Her granddaughter, Stephanie Duncan, is staying with her this summer.

The home is filled with photos and mementoes of the life Susan and her trucker husband shared. They met at a party when both were attending college in Idaho.

“We knew each other four days” when they decided to get married. Two weeks later, on Valentine’s Day 1970, the couple wed. Five years later, they had a daughter, Kristy. Ken Wills was a trucker and wasn’t home much, though Susan and Kristy joined him on the road occasionally.

When Kristy was 18, Susan found herself pregnant again.

“God decided I needed something to do,” Wills said with a laugh. By the time Shanna was born, Ken Wills was driving locally and could spend more time with his daughter.

“He saw it as his second chance,” Wills said. Ken and Shanna shared a love of cars and old music. She was also close with her sister, whose own daughter is just a few months younger than Shanna.

Shanna Wills showed some signs of depression last summer when her mother underwent serious surgery, followed by some health problems Ken suffered. She insisted on staying home to take care of her mother instead of going to school. So the Willses transferred Shanna to a charter school that required attendance only once a week.

“She wanted to stay here and help me,” Wills said. “We studied together.”

Wills — a former nurse — worried that her younger daughter was struggling with anorexia or bulimia.

“She got very thin,” Wills said. “But we talked about it and she came out of that. By Halloween she looked really good.”

But then came the breakup with a boyfriend and association with friends Wills didn’t think was healthy.

“It happened so fast,” Wills said. She doesn’t know if her daughter developed a drug problem or something else that triggered some kind of mental break. “I had nursing and psychological experience,” Wills said. “I thought (if there was a serious problem) I’d be able to tell.”

Wills worries that Shanna’s defense will claim one or both of her parents abused her.

“Anybody who knows us, who knows this family, knows that isn’t true.”

Shanna Wills’ attorney, deputy public defender Greg Spiering, is out of the office this week and couldn’t be reached for comment on her case. He said earlier he had not decided what kind of defense he would pursue, but “I think evidence will be presented about the relationship (between Shanna and her parents).”

Susan Wills said after the attack, she wasn’t angry with her daughter. “I felt nothing. I was just completely empty.”

But then Shanna called from Juvenile Hall, and Wills came to the phone. “I heard this scared voice … she said, ‘Mommy, I love you,’ and it all came back,” Wills said. “I’m still her mom.”

A couple of weeks ago, Susan Wills visited her daughter.

“She’s doing better,” she said. “She has her smile back, her real smile. It was really good.”

It was a vast change from the last time the two saw each other, on Mother’s Day.

“It wasn’t her that night,” Susan Wills said. “If you could have seen her eyes … it was like watching ‘The Exorcist.’ ”

Wills knows her harrowing ordeal isn’t over. She’s been told to expect court proceedings that could stretch over years. But she’s trying to move forward with a life that she believes retains a number of blessings.

“It’s not good to just sit and cry all the time, though it’s hard not to some days,” she said. Gesturing to a photo of her husband, she added, “He’d be disappointed with me if I did that.”

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at 209-578-2343.

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