She was sitting in the grass in front of her home with her children, waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

They had watched as her new tattoo slid off her arm. Her earrings fell out as her earlobes melted off. Her breasts, gone too, as her entire torso from her neck to her upper thighs had been set on fire.

Amy Keever felt all of it.

“I felt like I was melting everywhere,” she said.

Story continues below gallery

The medics arrived, and were distraught at causing her more pain as they treated the woman and got her in the ambulance.

As they closed the door, Keever began yelling to make sure her three children would hear her.

“I love you! I’m proud of you!” Over and over again.

She had to make sure they knew. She was certain she would never see them again. She was certain she would die at the hands of her husband.

Insurmountable pain

Keever and her husband, Donn, had been separated for four months, but had been struggling in their marriage for four years. He had moved out, and for a while, she had begged him to come home. But he resisted, and she sensed that he wanted to be free of responsibility.

Finally, she was done. She wanted more from life. She filed for divorce.

And suddenly, he wanted to come back home, she recalls. His reactions were unstable, and she was never sure what to expect.

In early July, he had found her in the parking lot of an area business and he was on his knees, screaming and begging her to take him back. She had to kick him to get away, she said.

The day before he set her on fire, he had come to the home and had an animal look in his eye. He told her she would burn in hell, and said everything is in her hands.

“’You’ve done this,’” Keever said he told her.

She worked third shift at a local factory and came home the next morning, Friday, July 24, 2015, and took a shower and went to yard sales. When she got home, Donn texted her to apologize for what he had said and told her he was coming over with the divorce papers.

She met him outside. He handed her the papers, then threw lighter fluid all over her and sparked a lighter.

The pain was immediate and insurmountable. Her skin was sliding off her body before her eyes. Her neighbor and youngest daughter, Payton, who is now 11, heard her screams and came running. Payton brought her a cup of water and got her oldest sister, not knowing what else to do.

Their mother was watching her skin slide off her body. Her flesh was hanging from her arms like drapes. Her face and hair had been spared.

Donn was gone.

Police began an immediate search for him as Amy was taken to Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis. Officers told the family to be cautious until he was found, because Donn was not in the right state of mind.

They would learn in the hours to come that a horrific fire and crash on Interstate 65 was no coincidence — Donn had sprayed gasoline into the bed of his truck and crashed head-on into traffic. He died.

The children were taken to the police department to tell detectives what they had witnessed.

Payton carried her Bible with her.

“She had to hold on to a lot of stuff that wasn’t there,” Amy said.

The doctors told them that Amy could live, if she could make it through the next five days. They were all in shock.

Fighting her way back

She was in a medically-induced coma for two months and woke up with her body greatly debilitated and no memory of her time in the hospital. But she knew what had happened to her, and she immediately wanted to know about her children and if the police caught Donn.

Her body was but a shell of what it had been. She could not care for herself or feed herself. She had been given cadaver skin, while doctors tried to grow her own skin in a petri dish.

But she was alive.

“God was not going to let those kids lose two parents in one day,” she said. “He spared me.”

She was soon moved to Community Hospital North for a month of rehabilitation before returning to Franklin at the end of October, three months after her ordeal began.

But it’s far from over.

Initially, her right arm didn’t move, and she could almost touch her face with her left.

She can’t wash dishes, work a clasp, wash her hair without flipping it over to lay on her face or tie her shoes. Her skin and muscles ache constantly.

Her skin has no elasticity, and to turn her head, she must turn her entire torso. Her skin is constantly pulling and ripping apart.

Her left hand is mostly non-functional. But she’s gained strength in her right arm doing mobility exercises daily.

Making a fist with her right hand is a huge accomplishment. Pulling a shirt over her head was worth a celebration. She was relieved to finally be able to care for her own hygiene again and put on makeup. She remembers the first meal when she could use regular utensils.

This month, doctors will perform the first of at least 12 surgeries she will undergo in the coming years. They’ll remove skin from her neck and grow it in a petri dish while she wears a fake skin. They’ll do another surgery to reapply her skin, hopefully giving her more mobility and elongating her neck.

They’ll do the same for her underarms.

Next will come her left elbow, and at some point, they’ll take muscles off her back to form new breasts.

“It’s to bring part of me back,” Keever said. “I would love to look in the mirror and not mourn me.”

She’s aware of all the eyes on her when she goes out to dinner. She sees the pity, shock and scared children. She fights the urge to become a homebody.

“I haven’t lost,” Keever, age 38, said. “I’m not down for the count. I have a lot of living left to do.”

So she goes out — to the grocery where strangers know her story and want to hug her, to dinner with her family.

“I can forgive, but I can’t forget, every time I look in the mirror,” Keever said. “Maybe one day, I’ll just see me.”

Finding forgiveness

Once she came home, she made the journey to her husband’s grave. She was beyond angry. She was devastated. She couldn’t make sense of what had happened.

She spoke her questions into the air. “I can’t believe you’ve done this to me.” “You wanted to leave the world as a murderer, with your children knowing this.” “To cause that pain to the mother of your children and your wife of 19 years.”

“I would never wish this on another human being. Why did he hate me and want me to feel the most torturous death?”

What she is going through is unfair. What if she hadn’t gone outside that day? Why did this happen? The could’ve, would’ve, should’ve start to stack up.

She doesn’t let her mind linger there long. She doesn’t ask where God was that day. She always finds her way back to forgiveness, and it helps her heal.

“It frees me,” Keever said. “If I don’t forgive, I’m nasty, mean, hateful. I’m just as bad as he is.”

She also reminds herself that her husband was obviously not well and was suffering from a mental illness.

She clings to the two decades of great memories with each other and their children.

“I loved him with everything I was and everything I had,” Keever said. “I love him still.”

Don’t judge someone’s whole life on a terrible decision made in an instant, she said.

Her forgiveness sets an example for her children, who she has to help comprehend what has happened. She tells them to never feel like they should hide that they love or miss their dad because of her.

The pain and recovery her daughter faces has made Cindy Fee realize and be thankful to God for the amazing person Amy is, she said. She prays that she can forgive her son-in-law for what he has done.

“We must forgive,” Fee said. “That’s what the Lord teaches us to do.”

Keever wants to thank the community: the firefighters and medics who came to her aid, the churches that continue to lift her in prayer.

She is grateful. She is happy to be alive. She gets to see her children every day.

She wins.

At a glance

How to help

You can donate to help with medical expenses for Amy Keever by visiting:

Michele Holtkamp is editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2774.