Delivered From Evil

FAYETTEVILLE — As she stood at the counter, gathering her belongings to leave work, D.G. New turned around and saw a boy walking into the church recreation center.

At the time, he was known as David like his father.

A woman then entered the building looking tired and lost. A shy, little girl hid behind her. It was late afternoon. And while her son's eyes lit up at the sight of an empty basketball court, Vicky Williams glanced around for anyone who would make her feel welcomed.

"She really, at that time, didn't know who all she could talk to or trust because of her situation," New said.

Vicky Williams had just arrived in Little Rock, having fled a violent ex-husband who was looking for her. Needing to get out of town in hurry, she emptied her 401K, quit her job, grabbed her two youngest children and abandoned a nice suburban house in Carrollton, Texas.

"I don't know what brought me here," Vicky Williams told New that day in the summer of 1999.

Before David Williams shortened his name to D.J. and became Arkansas' star tight end, before his shy older sister grew into a 4.0 student at Arkansas State and before his mother went from victim to survivor, the family sped away from a life of violence and met a guardian angel leaving church.

They also found a second chance sleeping in a shelter for battered women.

"Hopefully one day I'll be in position to just repay my mom for all the things she's done," said Williams, who has NFL aspirations but isn't eligible to enter the 2009 draft because he's only a sophomore. "I want to give her things to make her life a little bit better. Take those problems away."

As his family celebrates its 10th Thanksgiving in Little Rock and he prepares for Arkansas' season finale against LSU in War Memorial Stadium on Friday, Williams admits he's surprised by how much his life has changed since that day he wandered into Immanuel Baptist Church.

It's why he got the word "Faith" tattooed on his left shoulder this past summer.

"So far, faith is what has carried me and my family," Williams said.



A Dark Period

Like her only son, Vicky Williams has no problems opening up to a stranger. She actually thinks its good for her to talk about her ordeal that she said she endured at the hands of her ex-husband, who's also named David Williams.

She's a survivor who has learned to not be ashamed of her past. At the same time, Williams' mother wants to be careful about what she says about the man whom she was married to for 20 years and has three children with.

After all, he's scheduled to be released from a Texas prison on the day after Christmas in 2026.

According to the Texas Department of Corrections, Williams' father is serving time for attempted murder and aggravated assault on a public servant. He's incarcerated at the Pack Unit, a 7,000-acre prison in Navasota, Texas. He'll be eligible for parole in June 2013.

"I was married to David's dad for 20 years," said Vicky Williams, now 46 with a job selling electronics. "The first 10 were great."

But her life took a dramatic turn after she gave birth to their three children. According to her, her ex-husband got depressed, started drinking and became violent. She speaks matter-of-factly about the situation, perhaps because of how positively things have turned out for her and her children over the past decade.

"To us, when we left (Texas), it was a life-or-death situation," she said during a phone interview last week.

David Williams, now 46, was unavailable for comment because Texas prison inmates aren't permitted to do phone interviews with reporters.

Vicky Williams said her ex-husband was a talented high school basketball player. Some people thought he was good enough to someday make the NBA, but he got married instead and never went to college.

After having two daughters with his wife, David Williams finally got a son to teach how to play basketball. Everything was fine at first, but according to Williams and his mother, basketball eventually took on a dark side.

As soon as he got home from elementary school, Williams said he went straight into the garage to do push-ups and line drills like his father expected.

And Williams said it wasn't uncommon for his father to walk onto the court during a game and angrily confront him in front of a crowd of other parents if he made a mistake.

"It's crazy because my dad was the reason I got into athletics," said Williams, 20, who was among eight semifinalists for this year's John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's top tight end. "He was that type that just pushed so hard to the point where you almost hated him."



Fleeing Texas

Looking back, Williams said he believes his father's methods were harsh. But he thinks at least there was some good.

The sophomore said his dad taught him about the importance of having a good work ethic, which has allowed the 6-foot-2, 250-pound tight end to lead the Razorbacks this season with 53 catches for 672 yards and three touchdowns.

As it turns out, Williams hasn't spoken to his father since his mother — fearing for her safety — grabbed him and his older sister, Vanessa, and left Carrollton. She didn't have time to pack the car. Instead, she left a house full of furniture, clothes and even baby pictures.

The family abandoned everything in their mad dash for a new life. And a fresh start.

"They came with nothing," said New, 48, now a divorced mother of a grown son and daughter. "When I say nothing, they had the clothes on their backs (and that) was almost the only thing they had."

According to Williams, the breaking point came when his father — who had gotten back with his mother after their divorce — didn't come home one night in the summer of 1999. The entire family knew what that meant. Nothing good was going to come when he finally returned to the house.

"I guess we all just got tired of it, especially my mom," said Williams, who was about to enter the fifth grade at the time. "And we just made the decision to leave."

Vicky Williams knew she had to get out of town in a hurry. It wasn't safe for her and her children to stay. She had heard that her ex-husband was looking for her, but she had nowhere to go.

Out of desperation, she pulled out a map and asked her son to pick a city. Williams was around 11 years old at the time, and he made the major decision like a kid might. He randomly chose a city on the map.

"She was like, ‘Point,'" Williams said. "And then I put my finger and it landed on Little Rock."

Oddly, Williams had never visited Arkansas' capital before. But his mother and sister went along with it. Little Rock was as good of a city as any to run to.

Valerie Williams, Vicky's first child and D.J.'s older sister by eight years, decided not to join them. She had her own family to take care for in Dallas. For her mother, though, Little Rock seemed to be far enough out of harm's reach.

"It wasn't too far, in case (Valerie) needed me, I could get back," Vicky Williams said. "But it was safe enough for us where we could go on with our lives and not have to worry about things at that time."

So they headed for Arkansas.



Guardian Angel

Vicky Williams met her "guardian angel" by accident.

Once they arrived in Little Rock, Williams' mother planned to drive straight to the Women & Children First shelter, located at the time in an old, red brick building. It was for abused women who had escaped life-threatening situations and needed a safe haven.

But Williams' mother missed the turn for the shelter. As she passed Immanuel Baptist Church, she looked at her children and decided for some unknown reason to stop there.

It was the first place they visited in Little Rock, and they saw New as soon as they entered the church's recreation center.

"D.J.'s first question was, ‘Can I play basketball? Can I shoot some hoops?'" New said, laughing.

And while her son played on a nearby court, Vicky Williams told New her story and where the family had just come from.

New had worked with students whose lives had been shattered by gangs, drugs and prostitution. She had looked after those with normal inner city childhoods. But she didn't have much experience when it came to mothers.

As a mother herself, though, New said she could see that Vicky Williams needed help. She had a look on her face almost as if begging for someone to ask her, "What can I do to help?"

Help came surprisingly fast.

A few weeks after leaving Texas, Williams' father was arrested following a bizarre string of events in the Dallas area that included a shooting.

"Supposedly now I hear from my oldest daughter that he's doing quite well," Vicky Williams said.

Meanwhile, Williams, his mother and sister went from living in a nice house in the suburbs to sharing a bathroom with another family in the shelter.

Williams said his family lived in a big area that consisted of "a bunch of beds and people you don't even know." And like others there, they kept mostly to themselves. Different families came in and out every day.

"I was young, so I guess it wasn't that huge of a deal for me," Williams said. "But I can only imagine what it was like for my mom, seeing her kids living in a place like that."

Hoping to give her children some sense of normalcy, Vicky Williams took her son and daughter to Immanuel Baptist Church in the evenings so they could play with other kids.

"The children never complained. I mean never complained," William's mother said. "Trust me, they went from having a whole lot to nothing."

Over the next few months, though, New helped Vicky Williams look through newspaper ads to find a job and showed her rental properties that she could afford in Little Rock.

At the same time, some church members donated dishes. Others donated quilts and bed sheets for Williams and his sister to sleep on. And the children received hand-me-down clothes.

"We finally had to say we got enough because that family touched so many that got to know them," New said. "People were so wanting to give to help."



A Better Tomorrow

Williams now shares a house with Arkansas offensive guard Wade Grayson, offensive tackle Grant Freeman and a Golden Retriever named Shadow. He has enjoyed a breakout sophomore season and will almost certainly be named to the All-SEC team.

Unlike his sisters, Williams has no desire to speak with his father. All he knows is that his dad is serving time in a prison somewhere in Texas and won't be released anytime soon.

Vanessa Williams, 22, the younger of his two sisters, received an academic scholarship to Arkansas State out of high school. She'll graduate next month with a 4.0 grade point average and a degree in physical therapy.

"It's all because of my mom and how strong she was when that whole situation (happened)," Williams said about the family's good fortune.

Vicky Williams, meanwhile, calls her son at least once a day. No longer having to watch over her children, she has a half Pomeranian Terrier named Precious to keep her company.

Williams said he and his sisters have been trying to find their mother a boyfriend. But her immediate plans are to be in War Memorial Stadium on Friday, wearing a No. 45 jersey like her son and sitting in the stands next to New.

"When I left Texas, we came with nothing but the clothes on our backs. We pulled up to this shelter and I'm just looking at it and I'm like, ‘How are we ever going to make it?'" Vicky Williams said. "I had to leave my job. We left all of our stuff and I'm just like, ‘I just have no clue how it's going to work out.'"

They had faith, though. And a guardian angel.

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