Four men and 25 women in Kentucky were murdered by intimate partners between Sept. 1, 2018 and Aug. 31, 2019. Some of the convicted or alleged murderers were no longer partners to those who died, but were an ex-boyfriend, ex-wife or ex-husband.
The Oasis shelter in Owensboro will hold a candlelight vigil in honor of victims of domestic violence on Tuesday, Oct. 1 at Bridgepointe Church at 6 p.m.
Oasis and a Daviess County family are among those reminding people that there is help to get out of abusive situations.
Four weeks after she took out an emergency protective order against her ex-boyfriend, Erica Owen, 25, was strangled to death in her Owensboro home.
Her ex-boyfriend has been charged with the murder and is scheduled for trial in October 2020.
Erica’s mother, Lisa Greer, said the family is placing memorial benches at schools and other locations around the region to encourage people to reach out for help if they’re a victim of domestic violence.
“We needed to try to do something that would make a difference," said Greer. "You can be sad. We don’t need reasons to be sad. We’re already sad, so we’re trying to make something positive out of our nightmare.”
She said her daughter had known the man accused of killing her since middle school.
“In her case, it wasn’t necessarily a violent ongoing relationship. It wasn’t a case of her being physically abused every day. It wasn’t like that," said Greer. "But when she decided that it was a toxic relationship and she decided to end it, he couldn’t stand it. It was a stalking, ‘I’m not going to leave you alone,’ type of relationship.”
Greer said Erica, who was a nurse, knew it was important to take safety precautions.
“There were indicators. She knew it, too," said Greer. "That’s why she broke it off and that’s why she got a restraining order against him.”
A restraining order, or emergency protective order, is an important legal measure to keep an abuser away from the victim. But University of Kentucky Behavioral Science Professor T.K. Logan said that’s just one step.
“The second piece that’s very important is, if there is a violation of the protective order, then there has to be enforcement of that order," said Logan. "Otherwise, as many people say, it’s just a piece of paper.”
Logan is the lead author of a 2014 Domestic Violence Fatality - Special Report. The study examined intimate partner homicides in Kentucky.
She said for half of the women in the study who took out a protective order, there were no violations by the abuser. And for the most of the others, there was a reduction of violence and abuse. But Logan said for some, the protective order did not stop the abuser.
"One of the most dangerous things, and this is really what I specialize in, is stalking," said Logan.
"And when it’s a pattern of behavior, that’s called stalking, and we’re not very good at recognizing, acknowledging and addressing stalking in our state.”
Logan said stalkers often ignore a protective order.
"That one group of people who were stalked before the order and who were stalked after continued to experience something like 18 violations on average, and enforcement wasn’t very good in that group.”
Some who seek refuge from domestic violence arrive at the Oasis shelter in Owensboro. Andrea Robinson is the executive director.
“Well, statistically, a victim will leave her abuser, or his abuser, nine times before they leave for good. So, we’ll see people that will come into shelter and they’ll leave and go back, because they’re still caught in that cycle of violence. But when they come back, they’re welcome to come back," said Robinson.
Vickie Glass Hunt is the Daviess County Court Advocate for Oasis. She helps victims of domestic violence develop safety plans, such as changing locks on their doors, and coming and going on a different schedule than their usual routine.
Hunt also accompanies victims of abuse to court and assists them in petitioning for a protective order. She said one week, for example, she had 30 cases on the docket.
“We got 15 protective orders and we reset 15 of the cases for two weeks because we needed more information," said Hunt. "So there are a lot of protective orders being issued here in Daviess County, and as far as I know, most counties in Kentucky.”
Some do not escape from that cycle of violence.
During the past year, Chloe Randolph, 20, of Henderson, was murdered by her estranged husband when she went to his apartment pick up their young child.
And in Trimble County, Louise Cecil, 81, was shot to death by her husband in a murder-suicide.
Every year, approximately 40 people in Kentucky are murdered as a result of domestic violence, according to a report by medical researchers at the University of Louisville.
Erica Owen Memorial Benches
Greer said the memorial benches are a reminder that domestic violence can happen to anyone, and there are people who will help someone get out of a dangerous situation.
The purple benches have a small plaque that says: In loving memory of Erica Noel Owen. Forever missed. Forever loved.
Erica's aunt, Martina Billings, spearheaded the bench project that began with a small bag of plastic bottle caps. Billings heard about the bottle caps recycling projects done by Green Tree Plastics in Evansville, Indiana. Green Tree manufactures benches and picnic tables from recycled plastic caps and lids through its ABC Promise partnerhsip with schools and other organizations for children. Each bench requires 200 pounds of plastic caps.
"I first started thinking two benches," said Billings. But when schools and community organizations heard about the project in memory of Erica, the plastic caps started arriving in large quantities.
"It just mushroomed more than I ever imagined,"said Billings. "First they came in small bags, then plastic trash bags, and after a while, we had a trailer 16 feet long by 8 feet wide and 7 or 8 feet tall, filled with plastic caps."
So far, 10 benches have been placed at locations around Daviess County. One of those locations is Burns Elementary, where Greer is a teacher. While Erica was working toward her bachelor's degree in nursing at Western Kentucky University, she had to do some practicum hours in a school setting, so she spent time shadowing the school nurse at Burns Elementary.
Other purple benches are at schools Erica attended, including Highland Elementary, Daviess County Middle School, and Daviess County High School. Benches are also at the Oasis domestic violence shelter and at the RiverPark Center on the Ohio River waterfront in Owensboro.
Purple Benches Honor Beloved Daughter
Purple is the color associated with the effort to end domestic violence.
"I think when people see these purple benches, they'll know it's tied to Erica, and it's tied to domestic violence and will help raise awareness," said Billings.
"Especially at the schools, we can get the idea to children early that domestic violence is not right, it's not the way things are supposed to be, it's not normal," said Billings. "So maybe on down the road it will help give adults or children the courage to step away from a bad situation. If they can sit on a purple bench, it might help them gather the courage and the strength to reach out and get help.
"If one purple bench makes one person step away from a bad situation, we have accomplished what we're trying to do," said Billings.