'I Was Saying The Lord's Prayer' Saved By A Miracle Nanny Survived Bullet To The Head From Ex

Posted: June 10, 1999

When her ex-boyfriend pointed the gun at her head, a strange calm came over Monda Mwaya.

Maybe it was her profound faith in God. Maybe it was the happiness and fulfillment she'd felt the last few months.

She knew she was going to die. And she wasn't afraid.

"Our Father, who art in heaven," she began aloud, reciting the Lord's Prayer, "hallowed be thy name. . ."

Her boyfriend fired. Monda Mwaya's prayer was silenced - but it was answered nonetheless.

The .32-caliber bullet that ripped into her skull, a bullet that by all rights should have exploded in her brain, instead tore past the back of her eye, blasted through a sinus and came to rest in her lip.

It missed her brain. A million-to-one chance, amazed doctors told her.

And instead of being shipped home to Africa in a casket, or transferred to a nursing home with hopeless brain damage, Monda Mwaya was discharged from the hospital a few days after she'd arrived there unconscious and in critical condition.

And that's not the only miracle that took place that morning two weeks ago on Penarth Road in Bala Cynwyd, where Mwaya baby-sat the two children of Peter and Marjorie Ochroch.

Mwaya was alone in the house with 2-year-old Danielle when her ex-boyfriend, Henry Liabunya, suddenly appeared in the kitchen.

"Always, Dan-Dan comes in the kitchen and hugs my leg, Monda, this, Monda that," she said. "She's always constantly with me, always clinging to me. And when someone comes to the house, she runs to see who it is."

But that day, Danielle never left the nearby TV room, never popped into the kitchen to see who came in, never ventured into the line of fire.

"That's how God works," Mwaya said yesterday, sitting on the sofa in her Overbrook living room, her left eye bloodshot, her lip swollen where doctors removed the bullet on Tuesday. Another bullet lodged in her shoulder was scheduled to be removed today.

The beautiful, statuesque 22-year-old from Malawi, in south-central Africa, said she's hounded by a relentless headache -- and recurring nightmares. She sleeps much of the time, in part because of the medication she takes to prevent seizures and soothe her pain.

When she was shot, Mwaya went blind instantly in the left eye and doctors at first believed she'd never regain her eyesight.

"But it's back," she said, squinting, "more than they thought." She has a 50-50 chance of completely recovering her vision in that eye.

And while she's free of Liabunya and the terror she endured after ending their five-year relationship last January, she's sad that he's dead, Mwaya said. The 24-year-old Liabunya turned the gun on himself when Lower Merion police surrounded the stone house on the quiet, leafy lane.

"I would never have pressed charges," she said, incredibly. "I didn't want him to get arrested because his mother is a very nice person."

Mwaya began dating Liabunya when she was 17 - and he hit her for the first time three days later. That began an on-again, off-again abusive relationship that she endured "because I was innocent and naive and believed he would change."

The couple came to Philadelphia, where Liabunya's sister lives, in 1997. Mwaya wanted to attend college to become a child psychologist - she went so far as to apply to St. Joseph's University - but couldn't afford the tuition.

A year and eight months ago, Mwaya went to work for the Ochrochs, two lawyers who treat her like family, she said.

When Liabunya continued to threaten and harass her after she finally broke up with him, the Ochrochs urged Mwaya to get a restraining order against him.

The Sunday before he shot Mwaya, Liabunya called her at 3 a.m. and threatened to kill her boyfriend, who'd answered the phone.

She and the boyfriend, Magid Nur, of Turkey, a painter and part-time waiter, called 911, but the Philadelphia police officer who investigated the complaint said there was nothing police could do.

Four days later, Liabunya took a bus to Bala Cynwyd and walked into the house on Penarth Road with his gun drawn.

It was 9:08 a.m. Danielle was in the TV room and Marjorie Ochroch had taken 5-year-old Jake to school. Mwaya had just finished talking on the telephone to her best friend in England and still had the phone in her hand.

"I turned around and he was there," she said. "He said 'I'm here to kill you.'"

Mwaya dialed 911 and then Liabunya snatched the phone out of her hand. He fired several shots that missed, and one that blew into her shoulder.

She implored him to go with her outside, so Danielle wouldn't be hurt. Instead, he grabbed her wrist and said they were going to the basement.

And then he put the gun to her head.

A sudden calm came over Mwaya. Her heart didn't pound. She didn't scream, or cry, or beg Liabunya not to shoot her.

Her life had been so good these last months. The Ochrochs were wonderful to her and she adored their children. She had a boyfriend who loved and pampered her. She belonged to St. John's Episcopal Church in Bala Cynwyd, where the congregation was like family.

She was fulfilled. And she was certain she was going to see God in heaven.

She began to pray out loud.

"I was saying the Lord's Prayer. I was ready to die."

Liabunya fired the shot that should have killed her.

The next moments are a blur. Mwaya doesn't know how she came to stumble out the door, where police responding to the 911 call scooped her up.

Another tense hour passed while police tried to determine if Danielle, who was still inside the house with Liabunya, was in danger.

When police charged the house, they found Liabunya dead in the dining room, and Danielle unhurt.

When she began to recover, Mwaya planned to return to work for the Ochrochs - who continue to pay her. But then she realized the house would be a constant reminder of the horror she endured.

For now, she has $8,000 in medical bills to pay. She'll need a new job when she's able to work again, perhaps next month. She plans to volunteer for the homeless, out of gratitude to God for sparing her and Danielle.

"Nobody understands how I got away, how I'm alive. Even the doctors were standing around my bed, shaking their head," she said.

"This is God. He saved me."

Monda Mwaya's prayer may have been silenced by a bullet - but it was answered nonetheless.

Send e-mail to porterj@phillynews.com

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