As a court reporter at the Lehigh County courthouse, Christina Dormans watched true-life crime stories unfold every day. Her job required her to record every spoken word, every outburst, every sob, and then go back and transcribe the testimony, a task that would cement the grisliest details in her memory.
So after Dormans retired, when her daughter confided to her that she was in a physically abusive relationship, Dormans was alarmed.
"I told her, you know where I work and what I do. It's going to escalate. It's only going to get worse," she said. "I told her to just get out."
The warning, delivered one year ago, went unheeded. And it was the last time Dormans saw her daughter alive.
One month later, on Aug. 6, Felicia Dormans, 29, was shot in the face by Laura Bluestein in the house they shared in Mount Holly. They had been together for more than a year, having married in July 2016.
Bluestein, 29, is charged with first-degree murder, weapons offenses, and tampering with physical evidence. She has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing. Her lawyer said the shooting was an accident.
Burlington County prosecutors have released little information on the case. They said that a relative of Bluestein's notified police of an assault at the Mill Street residence and that police found the couple inside. Felicia Dormans was pronounced dead at the scene. Precise details of the shooting could not be learned. Police and prosecutors have declined to reveal details such as where Dormans was found, who owned the gun, or a motive for the shooting. A spokesman for the Prosecutor's Office declined to comment further.
In an interview, Christina Dormans said she wanted to speak publicly about Felicia's final days in the hope that it would help others understand the danger of staying in a toxic relationship.
When they last saw each other, on July 1, Dormans said, her daughter told her she wanted to "work things out, not just walk away from the marriage."
Christina Dormans, 59, of Danielsville, Pa., said that distressed her. "I tried to get her to come home with me, and she wouldn't, and a month later, she's gone."
Dormans said the couple met through an online dating site and her daughter moved in with Bluestein's family in January 2016. They married six months later.
Christina Dormans said her daughter told her she and Bluestein had many arguments, the latest over food that Felicia Dormans had left on a kitchen counter, attracting ants.
At a preliminary hearing before Superior Court Judge Terrence Cook last month, Bluestein did not say anything. Michael Riley, her attorney, said she was evaluated by a state psychologist and a report was expected. Bluestein is being held without bail at the Atlantic County Jail. Her parents, who attended the hearing, declined comment.
Dormans said that her daughter had called her around 12:30 p.m. on that August day to say she and Bluestein were splitting up.
"She was crying and could not stop," Dormans said. "She said Laura told her to go to a hotel, but she told me, 'I don't want to be alone.' … I said, 'Just get out of there.' "
She said she suggested that her daughter call an aunt in Philadelphia and ask her to pick her up. The aunt could get there before others in the family who did not live nearby.
Felicia Dormans never called her aunt. Subsequent calls Dormans placed to her daughter went unanswered, she said. Then, about 2 p.m., Dormans got a text from Bluestein. "She said, 'Hi Tina, sorry about earlier. We're working things out,' " Dormans said.
That night, police knocked on Dormans' door and informed the family that Felicia was dead.
Riley, Bluestein's lawyer, said Bluestein did not murder Dormans. "This was an accidental shooting," he said. "There was no intent to injure or kill her partner."
The case is expected to go to trial in September. Dormans said she and her husband, Joseph, will be in the courtroom. "We will be at every hearing," she said.
Dormans said that she wishes she could have done more to persuade her daughter to come home when the relationship turned rocky. "I couldn't physically take her out of that house," she said, sobbing.
Last weekend, on the anniversary of the day she last saw her daughter, Dormans said, she went to church and then to the cemetery.