It is challenging for me to know where to begin this heartbreaking story. As a fitness columnist for Montana Woman Magazine, my articles usually revolve merely around health and wellness, which is expertise I have acquired as a personal trainer and the owner of a women’s aerial and pole fitness studio. Given that I have often referred to my studio as a place of sisterhood and female empowerment, I am still in disbelief of the tragedy that befell one of our very own “sisters.” Yet, my disbelief helps me recognize the importance of telling Emily’s story. It can happen to anyone, and if her story helps one other woman struggling with domestic abuse, that is the only good that can come of this now.
I first met Emily Mohler in 2011 at a memorable event known as “Bass Boat,” which was a high vibe dance party with incredible electronic bass music on a two-story boat. Almost a decade later, I still remember the trilby hat she wore that night with purple feathers in the brim that matched her purple feather earrings. Emily a skier, and myself a snowboarder, we connected instantly & deeply over our love of winter sports. Emily seemed to know everyone, and she spent the evening sharing hugs, dancing, and taking photos on her camera. Her pictures that would surface after the party were a fun sight to see: the huge smiles of the partygoers captured for eternity.
I would run into Emily occasionally over the next few years. She always had a vivacious smile to go with her gypsy style and was always scheming on her next artistic project. In 2014, when I needed a photographer for a pole photoshoot, Emily was my first phone call. Emily would marry Kameron Barge a few months later.
I tried to hire Emily again for a photoshoot in 2015, but something had “come up for her” the day of the photoshoot. To be honest, I thought her excuse at the time was weak, and I was disappointed she bailed last-minute on her commitment to us. It wasn’t until three years later (August 2018) that Emily told me that Kameron had beaten her badly the night before the photoshoot. She was currently working her way out of the abusive relationship, and she was ready to thrive. She was looking for opportunities for strength and growth in her life and was interested in starting aerial classes. I wanted to help. I offered to do a trade with her: a studio membership for photography services. We were both stoked about the arrangement.
In the two years that followed, Emily took thousands of photos for us. She captured Levitation Nation at photoshoots, classes, fundraisers, and live performances. In May 2019, we collaborated on a special photoshoot for our studio’s students in Whitefish’s “glass tower.” I encouraged her to take a role as a model while I played photographer. My absolute favorite photo from that day was when she accidentally caught the silk in her toes as she went up for a picture. I knew it was a beautiful sight, however I wasn’t sure if I had captured it because her camera had died at that exact moment. We were later delighted to find the photo on her memory card with the silk dangling from her digits. She posted the photo with her new hashtags: #aerialsilks, #41isthenew21, and #nevertoolate.
Emily continued to follow through with photos for us even when her life was in turmoil. In August 2019, Kameron was violent with her, and this time, she responded by filing for a divorce and a restraining order. To spite her, Kameron stole the camper she and her daughters were living in. He took their clothes, their bedding, Emily’s jewelry inventory and tools she needed as a metalsmith, and her camera equipment. He literally left them with the clothes on their back, but (according to Emily), the Sheriff didn’t technically consider anything stolen since the camper was still in both of their names. All of this went on a couple of days before a photoshoot we had scheduled with Emily at the rose garden in Woodland Park, Kalispell. Even with the calamity she was enduring, she still came through at the photoshoot for us, borrowing a camera from a friend instead to make it happen.
In November 2019, still in peril from her abuser, Emily didn’t make it to our fall student showcase, which meant our performers didn’t get photos I had promised them. Emily apologized profusely for missing the showcase and made it known to myself and another instructor at the studio she wanted not only to be at the next student showcase as a photographer; she wanted to perform at it— a piece for domestic violence awareness— and asked for our help with the choreography.
As far as I could tell at the time, that incident appeared to be the last push for Emily; she seemed to have a new lease on life. Granted, I didn’t see her much after she injured her hand skiing in March 2020, since she needed time to heal before coming back to aerial classes. So, I didn’t hear about the May 2020 incident when Kameron assaulted her in front of their two children until after her death. Purportedly, Kameron had thrown her to the ground and twisted her hoodie around her neck and told her he was going to murder her this summer.
Tragically, the morning before their divorce was to be finalized, Kameron followed through on his threat. Early in the morning of Tuesday, June 30th, Kameron violently attacked Emily in her home, stabbing her, her three-year-old daughter, and her friend Cody Nevins to death. Kameron was found about a half-mile away, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Stunned and wrought with grief by this senseless act, the communities in Flathead County, Montana rallied to find ways to honor Emily, Piper, and Cody. GoFundMe accounts set up for Emily and Cody’s surviving children raised $90,000 in what seemed like the blink of an eye, followed by an Instagram auction that raised an additional $18,000. There was a meal train set up for her parents. Our studio’s aerial performers vowed to choreograph the piece for domestic violence awareness she will never get the opportunity to perform. With Montana Woman Magazine’s support, I am taking up the torch of domestic violence awareness in her honor, and I vowed to triple our annual donation to Kalispell’s domestic violence shelter, The Abbie Shelter. And yet, somehow, it is not enough. We failed Emily. I failed Emily.
I am sure you have heard stories like this before. I had too, but I thought Emily had made it out of her abusive home and was living happily, but I know now that there is no way to anticipate what a domestic abuser is capable of. What can we do to help prevent this from happening again?
Emily’s mom told me they want to see some changes to the laws surrounding domestic violence, such as getting GPS tracking devices for those involved in restraining orders, and I hope those changes come. In the meantime, we need to educate ourselves on behaviors that raise concern. Since emotional abuse often precedes physical abuse, red flags include a partner who is manipulative, quick to anger, mean or degrading, or tries to isolate you from friends and family. It is important to take things slowly in new relationships, so if you see red flags, it will be easier to either get your partner counseling (an option only if abuse is not physical) or get yourself out. We must be proactive in empowering our daughters, sisters, and friends by teaching them the red flags as well.
If you or someone you know is already in an abusive relationship, reach out to trusted family or friends and utilize the domestic violence hotlines (National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233; Kalispell MT’s Abbie Shelter Violence Free Crisis Hotline 1-406-752-7273).
Emily’s time as Levitation Nation’s photographer meant I got to spend a lot of time with her at many fun events. From banquet dinners, rallies, dance parties, and even this past years’ New Year’s Eve, I was grateful for the special times we had together and count myself blessed to have gotten to know her so well. Emily’s beautiful, free-spirited energy touched my life and my heart. Her untimely death serves as a catalyst to expand the work we do empowering women at Levitation Nation. Once revolving around building friendships and self-confidence in the studio, empowering our sisters will now and forever also include domestic violence awareness. In this way, we will ensure that Emily’s honor is memorialized. She will be missed greatly.
Article by Mindy Cochran. Mindy is a columnist for "Montana Woman Magazine." Her column "The Real Levitation Experience" shares expertise for elevating health & wellness that she has acquired through her certifications as a personal trainer, nutrition coach, and life coach. Mindy is also founder of Kalispell’s Levitation Nation Aerial Studio, where the catch phrase “fitness is fun” is embodied alongside a culture of movement & women empowerment. For more about Mindy, please visit: https://www.levitationnation.org/mindy.