ST. CHARLES – As the dark cold of winter gives way to the cool sunshine of March, many look forward to the return of spring’s beauty.
But for Anjum Coffland, this month will mark the third anniversary of the worst day of her life. On March 10, 2017, her husband, Randy Coffland, shot and killed their twin daughters four days before their 17th birthdays, shot Anjum Coffland in the legs and then took his own life.
She lives not far from the St. Charles condo where it happened and brings fresh flowers to their graves at North Cemetery in St. Charles twice a week.
Fresh flowers are for Brittany and Tiffany – and Randy, too, as he is buried next to them.
Sometimes people recognize her.
“I’ve had people come up and want to hug me and give me support,” Anjum Coffland said. “People don’t know what to say. They want to cry – that’s OK, too. … I get messages from all over the world asking me how I’m doing. They say, ‘Stay strong. You are in my prayers.’”
The pain of her loss does not go away. But it ebbs and flows.
“It hits you like a ton of bricks one day and you can’t get out of bed,” Anjum Coffland said of some days.
She quit her job last August to take time off to heal, to take a mental break.
“I was on autopilot. I was going and going and going and I said, ‘I need to stop.’”
She traveled. She went to San Diego, New York and Tennessee. But she always came back to St. Charles, to be where her daughters are buried. She can’t move away.
“I can’t leave my girls,” she said.
Disowned by her family
Anjum Coffland immigrated from Pakistan with her family when she was 12, the third of four children in a religious Muslim family.
She was not allowed to date.
She met Randy Coffland at a discount store where they both worked when she was 17 and married him when she was 18. He was two years older.
“My family does not talk to me. They disowned me,” Anjum Coffland said because she married outside their faith. They continued to shun her even after her daughters were murdered.
Because of her youth and inexperience, Anjum Coffland did not realize how controlling her husband was. They were together for a week when he demanded that she become a Christian.
“I was 18 years old. I was disowned by my family. All right, I’ll change my religion to Christianity,’’ she told her husband. “He dumped a cup of water on me from the bathroom and pronounced me baptized.”
A controlling husband
Throughout their marriage, Anjum Coffland said she walked on eggshells to make sure not to make her husband angry.
“We were married 28 years. He provided us with a very good life,” Coffland said.
“Then I started standing up for myself. ‘I can’t spend $2 without asking you,’” she told her husband. “I was not allowed to get my nails done. I was not allowed to get my hair done – just once a year to trim my dead ends,” she said.
“He would get angry if I said, ‘Turn left’ and he wanted to turn right. ... I would tell him these things and he would say, ‘That is your problem, not mine. You think you need to walk on eggshells? You have to fix it.’”
Anjum Coffland finally had enough and wanted a divorce, though Randy Coffland wanted to reconcile.
She was living apart from her husband when she came to the condo that day.
That’s when her husband said he had killed the girls. He pointed a gun at her and shot her in the legs.
“I just shot and killed my children,” Randy Coffland can be heard on a 911 recording that day. “And I shot my wife. And I’m going to shoot myself. … I’m going to kill myself now, too.”
Anjum Coffland is still learning how to survive – and hopes to help others.
She just returned from a scholarship training program in Michigan from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, learning how to deal with the media.
“It’s about how to tell your story, and I’m still learning about all these things,” she said. “This is something I’m very passionate about – how to stop the gun violence.”
She believes if someone had notified authorities that Randy Coffland was taking medication for anxiety and depression, her husband would not have been able to buy one gun, let alone two.
Anjum Coffland said she also wants to help women learn to understand the signs of being controlled.
“Learn how to take care of a house, pay your bills,” she said. “You keep a job. … The second you stop doing those things, people have control of you.”
What she wants people to know about her is this: “I want them to remember that if this girl can go through what she’s going through, I can go through anything. If she can lose everything and still be out and about and live her life and be OK, my life can’t be that bad.”
She also recommends being thankful.
“Just remember to hold those babies and hold and kiss and hug them so tight and be thankful they are alive and with you,” she said. “There is nothing I miss more than hugging them and the touch of them.”