February 20, 2012, was a night of sheer terror and horror for Candice Freeman and her three daughters.
The event that night seemed straight out of a nightmare, or a Hollywood horror movie.
But, it was all too real.
A man dressed in black and wearing a dark ski mask covering his face broke into the house Freeman was living in on Fourth Street in Blue Earth during the middle of the night.
Freeman, her friend Christopher Fulmer, and Freeman's three daughters were all asleep.
The intruder used a hammer to severely beat Freeman, two of her daughters, and Fulmer.
Fulmer was killed.
Freeman and the girls suffered massive injuries and were taken to UHD Hospital in Blue Earth, then flown out to St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester.
The horror continued when Freeman learned it was actually her estranged husband, Brian Freeman, who was the intruder and killer.
He pled guilty to the crime in March of this year and is currently serving a 33-year sentence.
"I guess I want everybody to know that we are doing OK," Candice Freeman said as a reason she agreed to an interview with the Faribault County Register last week. "So many people have asked how we are doing. People I hardly know have expressed concern."
In Freeman's case, being OK is a relative term.
She has had three major surgeries to basically reconstruct her face. And she will be having at least one more.
She lost one of her eyes and now has a glass eye. Her other eye is not so good and waters all the time. She has vision issues and limited driving abilities.
Freeman suffers from discomfort from the pressure of the plates and screws that hold her face together from all the bones that were broken.
She still suffers from headaches and dizziness.
On the plus side, she can now talk and eat fairly normally. That wasn't possible for quite a while.
She has been able to return to work at her job at the Comfort Inn in Fairmont, where she now lives. She has worked there for nearly two years.
"I guess I feel a little lucky just to be alive," she says. "I don't think they (doctors) thought I would make it."
Her oldest daughter, Brittney, 20, suffered injuries to her head and to her hands as she used them to fend off the blows. She has had three surgeries and will also need at least one more.
Daughter Taylor, 16, had head trauma also, but has not needed surgery. Freeman's daughter Ariel, 7, was not harmed that night.
Candice Freeman says she remembers the details of the attack vividly.
She awoke to see a masked man in her bedroom with a hammer, a man that began to beat her and Fulmer, then the two girls.
"I was conscious through it all," she says. "After he left I?sat on the edge of the bed and cradled my daughters in my arms."
All three were covered in blood. That is the way the police found them a while later.
"They burst into the house with guns drawn," Freeman says. "That too was terribly frightening."
It had been her estranged husband Brian who had taken her cell phone and then called 911 from it to report the crime himself.
Emergency medical personnel were astounded to find Freeman conscious and talking, despite the severity of her injuries.
She walked out of the house herself, leaning on one of the EMTs for support.
"At the hospital, though, they put me in a (medically induced) coma," she says. "They kept me in the coma for three or four days."
As terrible as the physical injuries were, she says, the emotional and mental impact has been worse.
"I have flashbacks and nightmares," she says. "Especially about a man in a mask."
She says the events of that night are always in her thoughts in some way or other.
"There are ups and downs, each day, like a roller coaster," she explains. "It is also hard to watch my daughters and how they struggle. We are all in counseling. And will be for some time."
All three girls are coping as best they can and in different ways.
"We are trying to get back our lives," Freeman says about the family. "We are trying to get back to normal, at least as best we can."
That includes supporting Taylor who is on her high school golf team and went to prom this past weekend. That was an enjoyable time for all of them.
Freeman says many people have been very supportive of her and her girls.
"They see me and say something like, 'You look so good,' and they really seem to care about how we are doing," she explains.
That has not always been the case.
Some people, Freeman says, made some very hurtful remarks to both her and her daughters.
"They seemed to be supporting Brian despite what he did and saying bad things about me," she says.
Freeman couldn't really defend herself from the rumors and negative comments either. Law enforcement officials, attorneys and her advocate had asked her to not discuss the incident with anyone for fear it could jeopardize the case against her estranged husband.
Since the sentencing, she finally can talk about her life, at least to some extent.
Freeman is from Estherville, Iowa, and graduated from high school there.
She had her children in Estherville, then eventually moved to Minnesota and lived in Ceylon.
Without wanting to go into too much detail about her personal life, Freeman explains that her marriage had many issues and problems.
She had moved to Blue Earth in June of 2011. She left for a short time, but returned in January 2012 one month before the attack.
Her husband's trial was not set until a full year after the crime was committed.
Freeman says she was preparing herself for the ordeal of the trial, where she, and probably the girls as well, would have to testify. That is one reason she agreed to the plea bargain deal made between the county attorney and her husband.
She wanted to try and not relive the horror of that night and spare her daughters more emotional trauma.
Freeman and her daughters are not the only ones recovering from that horrific event of Feb. 20 last year.
Chris Fulmer's family has also had to deal with his tragic death, of course. Fulmer had moved to Blue Earth to be closer to his young son.
"My girls all adored Chris, too," says Freeman. "He was a great guy. Part of what they have to deal with is his death and not having him here with us now...we all miss him."
Freeman recently received a boost in her efforts dealing with the pain of the memories of that night and trying to move on.
She met with some of the law enforcement and emergency medical staffs that were on the scene that night. The meeting took place in the CADA office in Blue Earth.
"I was able to thank them for what they did for me and my family," she says. "They were able to tell me what they had seen that night. And they told me how glad they were that they were able to help us."
She says the officers and ambulance squad members seemed to be surprised at how well she is doing.
The meeting was therapeutic for both the officers and for Freeman. Freeman says she is so thankful to those members of the Faribault County law enforcement agencies, the State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Blue Earth Ambulance crews and the county attorney's office.
But, Freeman also expressed thanks to everyone who has supported her, prayed for her, or offered words of encouragement.
"There are many caring citizens in Blue Earth and the area," she says. "I want to thank them. Many I didn't even know before."
They have helped her and her girls get through this nightmare. And a nightmare it was.
"Even when I was in the hospital, I sometimes felt that it had to be a dream, that it wasn't real, that it didn't really happen," she says. "But, then I knew that it was very real."
Now, she adds, she is very determined to try and get on with her life.
"We just take every day and do the best we can," she says. "We are taking it day by day. I tell my girls and everyone else to take each day and enjoy it. And don't ever take life for granted."