“We have a lack of mental health care in this country. We’ve had 18 years of war without end. And we have veterans coming home every day. This is a very volatile combination and my story is not going to be the last one.”
Those were the words the keynote speaker left her audience to ponder Thursday at the Hospitality House for Women candlelight vigil.
About 50 people gathered at Rotary Plaza to honor and remember local people who lost their lives to domestic violence — and to encourage the survivors.
“We all know a survivor of domestic violence,” said Lee Niedrach, who chairs the nonprofit’s board. “You may not know who that person is but I guarantee, you know somebody or are a survivor yourself.”
Niedrach spoke of the strength and courage it takes for people to decide to leave their old life, knowing the risks involved in asserting that control.
Wooden silhouettes at the side of the stage bore plaques telling the stories of three local women who tried, but died anyway.
Kimberly Ware was 39 when she was shot to death by her estranged husband. Brenda Keller, 41, and her 13-year-old daughter were shot by her husband, who later killed himself. An ex-boyfriend shot and beat to death 16-year-old Tierra Sparks while he was out on bond for a previous attack.
The risk still remains for the keynote speaker, who shared her story but asked that her name and identifying details be kept private.
An educated woman with a good job and happy children, she said she never thought it could happen to her. But a “perfect” second husband, a newly retired military officer, descended into the madness of PTSD within 20 months of their marriage.
“There were no red flags,” she said.
She tried to get him help — through the Veterans Administration and private doctors — but it was the local police who saved her when he tried to break into the house to kill her.
He’s now on probation and banned from Georgia, she said, but she lives with the knowledge that the voices in his head could send him back at any time.
“I lost my job. I went through bankruptcy. My children will always bear the effects of that trauma, and I have issues, too,” she said, her voice breaking but her head held high.
Juanita Luther fought just as hard for control of her life, but her story turned out differently. She touched the heart of Hospitality House Executive Director Lynn Rousseau, who told of the eight years Luther struggled to take her child and go.
“She’d check in every six months or so to tell me, ‘I just wanted you to know he hasn’t killed me yet,’” Rousseau said.
But in December 2011, Rousseau got the call. Luther’s husband shot her in the face in front of their young son.
“We should have been able to prevent that ... but there doesn’t need to be another 13-year-old watching his father kill his mother,” Rousseau said.
The vigil was aimed at raising awareness of domestic violence in the community and the services Hospitality House can provide. For more information — about help or helping — visit HospitalityHouseForWomen.org or call the 24-hour crisis line at 706-235-HOPE (4673).