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Jessica Boynton says she's ‘free as a bird'

“I’m free as a bird,” she said, with a flock of soaring black birds inked on her shoulder, flowing across her back.

Jessica Noll, Brendan Keefe

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This article was originally published in 2017.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you are viewing this in our app, click this link to view full story.

COMMERCE, Ga. – April 15, 2016 is the day Jessica Boynton can’t remember, but cannot forget.

It’s a date that changed her family’s life forever. It’s a date that’s seared into her memory—but in a twisted irony, it’s a date when she can’t recall a single thing that happened to her after 11 p.m.

“I’m still very much alive,” she said from her new home in Commerce, Ga. That’s one thing she does remember, every single day.

It’s been a year since the birds sang, since the soft wind met with warm air, and since the trigger of a .40-caliber Glock pistol was squeezed inside Boynton’s closet—and the probe into who and how and why, began.

These days, Boynton, now 20, is living life quietly with her two young sons in the country, off a barely one lane dirt road, about an hour from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta.

Her sons’ colorful, plastic toys clutter the front porch, where an American flag waves proudly amidst the blue sky filled with plush, white clouds. The hot Georgia sun peeks past the flag as it whips back and forth in the gentle breeze.

Springtime is evident across her property, as the trees are in full-bloom with cotton blossoms and lavender flowers, birds are chirping and frequent the tiny house swinging from the tree in the abundant front yard.

“I’m free as a bird,” she said, with a flock of soaring black birds inked on her shoulder, flowing across her back.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tucked inside a rural apartment complex in Griffin, Ga., is the second-story apartment where the Boyntons live, including Jessica, her husband and high school sweetheart, Griffin Police Officer Matthew Boynton and their two young sons, Tollin, then-2, and Tyler, 8 months.

Matthew, 20, is in the shower, using his cell phone, when Jessica walks into the bathroom. She pulls the shower curtain back and snatches his phone. He gets out of the shower and repeatedly asks her for his phone, but she refuses, until he admits to her that he is cheating on her. She begins aggressively poking him in the chest with her finger, telling him that he had to admit there was another woman.

It’s the second infidelity in their relationship—Jessica admitted to cheating on him before they were married.

According to Jessica, she needed his phone to get a number for the boys’ doctor to make Tollin an appointment. That’s when, she said, his SnapChat popped up on his phone and displays a photo of a girl with the caption: “Shower time.” She said she woke him up and confronted him about the photo. He denied, denied, denied.

From there, she said she went to a neighbor’s house and logged into his Facebook page and found messages from a girl he worked with—the same girl from SnapChat.

The young couple needs to make a quick trip to Walmart because Tyler needs formula, but again, they spat. She takes both boys to her neighbors'. Twenty minutes later Matthew comes to retrieve his wife and children to go to Walmart. Jessica is apprehensive, but relents.

While at Walmart, they squabble further over what type of formula to buy. He’s transitioning from breast milk and Jessica explains to Matthew that he needs a certain type of formula so he can digest it and evolve easily. Miffed, Jessica refuses to go to the truck with him.

Eventually she caves and gets into the truck with her boys and heads home.

It’s just after 10:30 p.m.

They arrive back at the apartment and as they walk up to their steps, her neighbor is on her patio and says, “Hi.”

Jessica throws her hand up with a brief wave and continues her include to the second floor.

Once inside the apartment, Jessica puts a tiny collar and leash on the family dog, Bentley, a Yorkie-Chihuahua mix, to walk him.

She heads to the closet to grab some shoes to change from her heels. It’s been raining all week, and the ground is soft and muddy. But she never takes him outside.

Jessica needs to get an outfit ready for the next day and head to bed soon. She wants to give her new employers the right impression, since tomorrow is her first day at a local chiropractor’s office. She’s eager with anticipation.

It’s just one piece of the brand-new beginning the young mother and wife has been putting together for her and her sons.

Things were looking up, finally. She had met with a divorce attorney and was getting everything in order for her and her boys.

A red and black composition notebook, which is usually carefully tucked under a pile of clothes inside her closet, has been left on top of some folded clothes. It’s the journal where she’s been keeping detailed notes about divorcing Matthew.

Pages are missing.

Moments later, she is standing inside her bedroom closet, arguing about cheating and formula with Matthew.

That’s the last thing the 19-year-old remembers.

Matthew leaves for Waffle House for a late-night food run with on-duty cop and best friend, Officer Joshua Guthrie—leaving his service weapon, a Glock .40, at home, in its holster and in the closet. As a grandson of the then-county sheriff, a career in law enforcement was in his genes.

Despite the raised voices in the room next door, Tollin and Tyler are sound asleep in their rooms.

Three weeks later, Jessica wakes up believing it’s the next day.