A severe mental illness episode and not a history of abuse was what sparked an attack in Hamilton Township that ended with a Good Samaritan with deadly injuries, says the woman he rescued.
Malika Freeman has seen plenty of people commenting on her story.
Some see her as a woman standing by an abusive man. Others see her boyfriend, Calvin Wiggins, as a monster who deserves to rot in jail or be put to death.
Neither is true, the 24-year-old Atlantic City native insists. Now, she feels it’s time she had a say.
“You all don’t know this man’s story,” Freeman said in an interview with BreakingAC. “You don’t know my story.”
There is no question she is grateful to John Charlton, who died more than a week after the attack having never regained consciousness.
“If it wasn’t for him, Calvin might not have stopped hitting me,” she said. “He is definitely a hero to me and Calvin. Calvin is where he needs to be. Where he can get the help he needs.”
The news of Charlton’s death sent her to the hospital with what her doctor called “back to back panic attacks.”
But the opinions people have expressed about her and Wiggins are unfair, she said.
“When this happened it was like a shock to me,” Freeman said.
She knew Wiggins had mental issues. Part of his parole from a 2014 robbery conviction required mental health program four days a week.
He has been diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic. About a week before, he had an issue at Resorts Atlantic City, where he got into a confrontation with security guard that turned physical.
But Freeman was able to talk him down. Before security let her into a room with him, Freeman was asked if she was worried he would hit her.
“Calvin would never hit me,” she said.
He went to the hospital and talked to her about his frustrations with parole, not getting work and the questions that remain about the disappearance — and presumed death — of his sister, Sapphire Wiggins.
Freeman set about getting her boyfriend the proper treatment.
A week later, the pair had spent the night at the Mays Landing home of Wiggins’ mom. The next day, Nov. 2, Wiggins didn’t want Freeman to go to work. She had to, she insisted.
When she left, Wiggins wouldn’t walk her to the bus stop across the street. He came a few minutes later, while she was waiting along Route 40.
First, he tore up some money she gave him. Then, he tried to break a card before tossing it in frustration.
Suddenly, he walked into the street.
Wiggins didn’t even look like himself standing in the middle of Route 40, cars going around him, Freeman recalled.
One car didn’t swerve. Instead, the driver stopped, slowly inching forward to get the man to move.
Wiggins instead got on the car’s hood, then fell off when the car moved forward again, Freeman recalled.
That’s when Wiggins charged toward her, hitting at her. Freeman fell backward onto the ground. She kept trying to ask Wiggins why he was doing this as he straddled her.
The man in the car that didn’t swerve had made a U-turn. It was Charlton.
“Hey, what are you doing?” he called to Wiggins.
Wiggins walked toward him, saying something Freeman couldn’t hear.
She got on the phone to call his mother over.
When the man tried to say something back, Wiggins hit him.
John Charlton fell straight back.
By then, Wiggins mother came out, calling her son’s name.
Freeman saw him start to snap back to himself, as he stood frozen.
When the police came, he automatically put his hands behind his back and let them arrest him.
“I think he wanted to get arrested,” she said.
He called her that Sunday, telling her he was sorry.
He then was moved to a central receiving facility before being sent to New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.
Wiggins still hasn’t been allowed calls or visitors.
Freeman wants to be there for him, like he was for her when she went through problems and depression.
“If I don’t help him, who will?” she asked.
“I do send my condolences to John’s family,” Freeman said. “I’m thankful for him.”