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Bird out of the cage: Fargo TV anchor shares personal story of physical, emotional abuse

FARGO -- In her job as co-anchor of WDAY-TV's First News, Lane Zyvoloski regularly reports on cases of domestic assault. She never thought she'd become a victim of such a crime. A native of St. Cloud, Minn., Zyvoloski is letting people in on the ...

 

FARGO -- In her job as co-anchor of WDAY-TV's First News, Lane Zyvoloski regularly reports on cases of domestic assault.

She never thought she'd become a victim of such a crime.

A native of St. Cloud, Minn., Zyvoloski is letting people in on the yearlong verbal and physical abuse she said she endured at the hands of a now ex-boyfriend -- abuse that included shoving, bruising, hair pulling, threats, put-downs and manipulation. It all resulted in a charge of domestic violence, to which he pleaded guilty.

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"My parents would shudder to know this, but I do feel like there were moments that my life was on the line," said Zyvoloski, 24.

She said the abuse was in full swing when she was named to the morning show position, but no one -- viewers included -- suspected anything was amiss.

No one knew of the mental games to which she was subjected -- at least one occurring as she left early one morning for work.

She said her boyfriend shoved her as they argued, but he quickly tried to twist things and say she had instead slipped, and he was simply trying to catch her.

"I was like, 'What? Did we just experience the same moment?'" she recalled about the incident.

She left their apartment and cried as she drove to work in the darkness, telling herself to suck it up, get it together and do her job.

It was a composed front she maintained while trying to summon the courage to leave the relationship -- something that took time and a small network of friends to accomplish.

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The last one you'd expect

Co-workers and friends of Zyvoloski describe her as sweet, smiling and bubbly -- someone who is always positive and would do anything for anyone.

"She's the last person you'd ever expect that this would happen to," said Rebecca Lebak, 23, who worked alongside Zyvoloski doing weather segments on First News before recently taking another job in Tennessee.

"It just goes to show it can happen to anyone.โ€

The two women met while attending mass communications classes at Minnesota State University Moorhead, and became fast friends.

Lebak remembers when Zyvoloski first started dating the boyfriend.

"She was so head-over-heels for him," Lebak said.

Zyvoloski said she and the young man became a couple in spring 2012.

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"He was nice, he was funny, he was shy in a cute way -- charming, and my friends seemed to like him," she said.

About a year later, he asked her to move in with him as the next step in their relationship. When she said no, he became angry.

She'd seen outbursts from him before, which they both attributed to anxiety, depression and other mental issues he had struggled with for some time.

Lane tried to get him to seek help, but he refused. She said she was also in touch with the boyfriend's mother about the outbursts and threats of suicide.

The man's mother, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she didn't realize the severity of the problem.

"He knows he was wrong and he's getting help now. It was a very bad situation that should have and could have ended much earlier," she said.

"Maybe some of this heartache for both of them could have been avoided," the mother added.

Zyvoloski admitted she knew it was a bad decision to move in with him, but she agreed so matters wouldn't become worse.

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She said he physically hurt her for the first time about a month after the move.

'Who is this person?'

Zyvoloski, who asked that we not identify the boyfriend, said on July 4, 2013, she was watching fireworks from a living room window in their apartment as he showered after work.

When he came out, he became angry that she was enjoying the sights without him.

"He threw me across the room," Zyvoloski said. "I was like 'Who is this person?'"

It was the first of several verbal and physical assaults in the year that followed.

Each time, her boyfriend would apologize -- sometimes within minutes, sometimes hours -- and express deep remorse for what he'd done.

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Each time, he would say it wouldn't happen again, but it did.

She said he took great care and pride in his vehicle, and one time while in her car, with him at the wheel as was often the case, he asked if she was mad.

She said nothing because she didn't want to start an argument.

Finally she asked, "Why is your car dentless, clean, perfect, and my arms are bruised? There's something wrong with that."

Zyvoloski said he "freaked out" and slammed on the gas pedal, accelerating rapidly down the highway with both of them screaming at the top of their lungs.

She thought, "He's going to crash my car and kill us both and there's nothing I can do."

He finally calmed down, but "it was like 10 terrifying seconds," she said.

She remembered the time her boyfriend, who she said was twice her size, pulled out a kitchen knife during an argument and came at her, but claimed he only intended to hurt himself.

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There were the times he would wake her up to yell at her as she tried to sleep before her overnight shift.

And there were the times he became angry late at night in their corner apartment and would scream, sometimes for an hour or two. She has no doubt the neighbors heard it.

"I don't know how they never called the police," she said.

Zyvoloski couldn't make the call herself because she feared they would get kicked out of their apartment.

In retrospect, she realizes that would have been the best thing she could have done at the time.

Getting out

Zyvoloski counted the days between blow-ups, noting that periods of calm never lasted more than a week, and she took photos of her injuries.

"I feel like I needed to convince myself that it's OK to leave, because somebody who loves you doesn't do these things," she said.

She often took refuge behind a locked bathroom door in their apartment when things became heated.

"Looking in the mirror when you're a mess ... you don't recognize your reflection," Zyvoloski said. "It's like a private battle that you have to duke out with yourself."

One day during a public event for WDAY at the Downtown Street Fair last July, Zyvoloski's friend Lebak noticed she seemed a little off and asked how things were going with her boyfriend.

"I said, 'He didn't hit you, did he?' That's when she burst into tears," Lebak said.

Lebak told her she needed to get out, and Zyvoloski began seeking support from a network of about a dozen people -- a counselor, former teacher, friends and college classmates, including Luke Worthington.

When Worthington, 22, heard the news, he told Zyvoloski the abuse was unacceptable and that, as her friend, he wouldn't allow it to go on.

That same day, she asked Worthington if she could stay with him a few days until she got her bearings.

"I'm proud of her. Absolutely proud of her," he said.

"God really put a lot of people in my life that knew how to direct me," Zyvoloski said.

Later this month, she's organizing a get-together for supporters who helped her "get free."

Bird out of the cage

Zyvoloski is a singer who's taken voice lessons for much of her life.

Months after the break-up, she bought a bird cage she keeps in her bedroom. The bird is outside and on top of the cage, which she said symbolizes her freedom.

"It's empowering," she said.

Zyvoloski hopes talking about what happened to her will help others who feel like they're trapped.

"Staying silent is not going to help anybody," she said.

"No matter how long you've been in it and no matter what your situation is, nobody deserves to be treated that way," she added.

Friends wonder where Zyvoloski would be now if she hadn't reached out for help, and they fear it wouldn't have been a good place.

"You never know if Lane would still be here," Lebak said. "You hate to talk like that, but it's very true."


Lane Zyvoloski, 24, works on the WDAY-TV news set on May 11, 2015, with co-anchor Travis Skonseng. Photo courtesy WDAY
In this photo from July 14, 2014, Lane Zyvoloski is pictured in her Fargo apartment, showing injuries inflicted by her now ex-boyfriend. Submitted photo.

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