Family backs Missouri woman accused of killing son

Thursday, January 16, 2003

When members of the Shunk family heard the shotgun blast, they thought for certain Joe Shunk Jr. had finally killed his mother.

But the shotgun was allegedly fired by 66-year-old Dixie Shunk. Her 41-year-old son, who family members say had a history of abusing his parents, wife and children, was mortally wounded.

Now, Dixie Shunk faces charges of second-degree murder for allegedly killing her own son. Even as she sits in jail, Shunk, her family says, has two broken and two bruised ribs from a previous attack.

About 40 protesters on Monday marched outside the courthouse in Iron County -- so named for the region's history as a leading mining area -- in support of Dixie Shunk. Among the protesters were close relatives, including Joe Shunk Sr. -- the father of the victim and husband of the accused.

And Joyce Shunk, the estranged wife of the man shot to death, carried a sign that said of the defendant: "Mother, Wife, Grandma. Friend -- Not a Criminal."

Joe Shunk Jr. lived in a trailer next to his parents' home in Pilot Knob, a town of about 700 people 72 miles northwest of Cape Girardeau. He had been having financial troubles.

On the evening of Jan. 9, the senior Shunk tried to talk to his son about bankruptcy papers. But Shunk Jr. began "ranting and raving," his father said, at one point threatening his father with a shotgun.

Meanwhile, Dixie Shunk was leaning against a refrigerator, trying to talk to her son. Finally, Dixie Shunk left the room, saying she couldn't take it anymore, Shunk Sr. said.

A short time later, from another room, Shunk Sr. heard what sounded like his son getting off the living room couch; he believes his son may have threatened his wife.

Then, there was gunfire. Shunk Sr. and his 20-year-old granddaughter, who had been in her bedroom, found Shunk Jr. wounded.

"I just think the lady couldn't handle it," said Ron Pedigo, Dixie Shunk's lawyer. He believes his client is in shock and has asked that she receive a psychiatric evaluation.

"I just believe that a mother or father who has to destroy a child, even in self-defense, it's against our own natures with our offspring."

Joe Shunk Sr., a 70-year-old who retired after working in the region's lead mines for 30 years, said his son had a history of mental health problems, though he declined to elaborate. He also said Shunk Jr. had a history of being abusive to his parents, his wife and his children.

Visitation was Wednesday for Joe Shunk Jr. Ironton County Sheriff Allen Mathes said a deputy took Dixie Shunk to the visitation; she chose not to attend the burial.

Mathes said Dixie Shunk was charged because evidence at the scene showed a crime had been committed. "Through due process, it'll be up to the courts to decide innocence or guilt."

Court records indicated Shunk shot her son twice with a 16-gauge shotgun.

Despite the rib injuries that relatives blame on abuse by her son, Dixie Shunk had not requested any medical treatment, Mathes said. He also was unaware of his department responding to past calls to the Shunk home.

Pedigo, Dixie Shunk's lawyer, has asked for the protests to stop. He said the prosecutor and sheriff are just doing their jobs and the sheriff was taking good care of his client.

But some residents remain alarmed by Dixie Shunk's arrest.

Louisa Overstreet of Lesterville joined the rally after talking to members of the Shunk family and friends. She believed Dixie Shunk was a victim of domestic abuse.

"Why is this murder two rather than self-defense? People from her church were all shocked she was not allowed to go home," Overstreet said.

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