Heartland Mother Claims She Killed Son in Self-Defense

Family and friends of a 66-year old Heartland mother and grandmother are rallying to get her out of jail, even though she's charged with murdering her own son.

According to the Iron County Sheriff, Dixie Shunk shot and killed her 41-year old son Joe Shunk Junior.  It happened Thursday evening at the family's home just outside Ironton, Missouri.  Dixie Shunk was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, but her family says she shouldn't even be in jail.

Dixie Shunk’s immediate family members are the victim's father, wife, and children.  Yet they all say that Joe Jr. had terrorized their family with years of physical violence.  The Shunks believe that Joe Jr. planned to make good on his threats to kill his mother, and claim that the only thing that saved her on Thursday night was that she killed him first. 

“I'm not surprised that it happened like this because he has been so mean to all of us,” says Joyce Shunks, who is Joe Junior’s widow.  “He was horrible to his mother.  She came to the point where she couldn't take it anymore. That night, from what I understand, it was going to be him or her.”  Joyce Shunk wasn't there when Joe Jr. confronted his mother Dixie for the last time.  But from what she knows about her late husband, Joyce says she believes that Dixie Shunk was acting in self-defense when she shot him.  “If he would've had the gun or gotten it away from her somehow, none of these guys would be here right now,” Joyce says, gesturing to her two children and her father-in-law.  “He would've killed them all.”

The Shunks say Joe Jr. had been threatening to kill his whole family for years. Within the last six months, they say he'd broken his wife's collarbone and four of his mother's ribs. So when his father and daughter heard the gun go off on Thursday night, they assumed that it was Joe Jr. who had pulled the trigger.  “He said, ‘I'll just kill you all,’ recalls his father, Joe Shunk Sr., who was in the next room at the time.  “I heard a ‘BAM,’ and that was it.” 

Joyce and Joe Junior’s 20-year old daughter Jennifer was in an adjacent bedroom.  “When I heard it go off, I thought my dad had killed my grandma and we were all going to die,” declares Jennifer.  “That's what was running through my mind. I was freaking out and screaming, trying to figure out how I was going to get out of my room.”

When the Shunks realized it was Joe Jr. who had been shot, they actually breathed a sigh of relief…until they learned that Dixie was going to jail. Since no one but Dixie actually saw what happened, her self-defense excuse will be hard to prove. Now prosecutors want to know why the family had never reported the abuse to authorities before.  “Well, he's threatened to shoot everybody so much, that we were all afraid to stand up, afraid to go (to police), you know?” explains Joe Sr.  “We were terrified of him,” adds Joyce.  “We know what he was like, and when he said all those things, he meant it.” 

Now the family says they wish they would have faced their fears back then, so they wouldn’t have such a hard time proving their story in court right now, and bringing Dixie Shunk back home.  “I want to see her released, and so do a lot of other people,” says Joe Sr. “They think she shouldn't have ever been taken down there (to jail).”

More than 75 Shunk friends and family members rallied outside the Iron County Courthouse on Monday morning, asking for Dixie Shunk's release.  They planned to do the same thing on Tuesday morning, when Dixie was to be arraigned in court.  Members of the community are also collecting signatures on a petition, to try to help the fight on her behalf.

Right now, Dixie Shunk is being held in the Iron County Jail on 265-thousand dollars bond.