Death Saved My Life — which premieres on Lifetime on Saturday, Feb. 13, at 8 p.m. EST — is likely based on the life of Noela Rukundo, who made headlines in 2016 when she revealed she faked her death to get the upper hand when her husband put a hit on her life.
Noela Rukundo confronted her husband at her own funeral.
As BBC News reported at the time, Rukundo traveled from her home in Australia to her native Burundi in 2015 to attend her stepmother’s funeral. As Rukundo tried to rest in her hotel room, Balenga Kalala — her husband and the father to three of her children — called her from Australia and told her to go outside to get some fresh air. She followed his advice, and that’s when she was kidnapped by gunpoint.
Rukundo’s captors drove her to another location, she said, and they called their client on speakerphone so that Rukundo could hear the conversation. And that’s when Rukundo heard her husband’s voice telling the captors to kill her. “I heard his voice,” she said, per BBC News. “I heard him. I felt like my head was going to blow up. … I said to myself, I was already dead. Nothing I can do can save me.”
But the gang’s leader spared her life. “He looks at me, and then he says, ‘We’re not going to kill you. We don’t kill women and children,’” Rukundo said.
The gang told Rukundo she had 80 hours to leave the country, and they left her on the side of the road with a memory card containing recordings of their phone calls with Kalala and receipts for Western Union money transfers.
By the time Rukundo secretly returned to Australia with the help of her church’s pastor, Kalala had told their community she was dead, and he was hosting mourners and well-wishers at his house, many of whom gave him money. “When I get out of the car, he saw me straight away,” she recalled. “He put his hands on his head and said, ‘Is it my eyes? Is it a ghost?’”
Her response? “Surprise! I’m still alive!”
Rukundo later spoke with Kalala by phone, and he made a full confession, which she recorded. “He [said] he wanted to kill me because he was jealous,” Rukundo said. “He [thought] that I wanted to leave him for another man.”
Kalala ultimately pleaded guilty to incitement to murder and sentenced to nine years in prison, and Rukundo vowed to move on. “My situation, my past life? That is gone,” she said. “I’m starting a new life now.”
‘Death Saved My Life’ tells a similar tale of “pseudocide.”
Lifetime’s synopsis for Death Saved My Life teases a story of “pseudocide” — the act of faking one’s death — that sounds similar to Rukundo’s experience. In the TV movie, Meghan Good (Minority Report) plays a woman named Jade, and Chiké Okonkwo (Being Mary Jane) plays her abusive husband.
“Behind closed doors, her [Jade’s] is far from idyllic,” Lifetime says. “Her husband, Ed, is a controlling man who is physically and psychologically abusive. When Jade decides to leave Ed, he tells her. ‘If I can’t have you, nobody will,’ a threat which becomes very real when she discovers he has hired someone to kill her. Knowing no one will believe her, Jade realizes the only way to escape Ed is to make him believe the hitman completed the job and that she is dead.”