ROCKINGHAM — Community members gathered at the old Richmond County Courthouse Monday night to hold a vigil for the victims of domestic violence and share their own stories as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
There have been 62 deaths from domestic violence in North Carolina so far this year, and three in Richmond County, according to Kelly Cunningham, domestic violence and sexual assault advocate and adult services coordinator for New Horizons Life and Family Services.
Those three deaths were Latasha Devora Durham, 38, Samuel Damon Durham, 42, and Gloria Jean McDonald Durham, 68, who were killed by Steve William Smith, Latasha Durham’s boyfriend, at their home on Feb. 12.
Jean’s sisters, Tanya Ingram and Annette Caviness, said they were like the “three amigos” but that domestic violence has left a hole in their family.
“Rest assured, anytime that y’all see me and her together we still carry Jean around with us in spirit,” Ingram said. She implored the crowd that if they have suspicions that someone they know is being abused to “get nosy” and let someone else know.
Ingram was wearing a shirt bearing the pictures of the three who were lost that day. “I wouldn’t wish this kind of pain on nobody. This is three people at one time…not a day goes by that we don’t think about them,” she said.
The vigil is hosted annually by New Horizons to raise awareness of the issue and to show solidarity with families of those who have lost people to domestic violence.
New Horizons offers individual and group counseling services, 24-hour crisis support lines, emergency shelter and court accompaniment, as well as referrals to other groups that may be able to provide additional support. Cunningham said that often when people are leaving a violent relationship they run into a long list of obstacles, including transportation, shelter, economic limitations, child care and education.
“Access is so important when you may be fleeing and leaving everything you have,” Cunningham said. “We approach it with a holistic point of view and our first thing is to deal with the immediate crisis — safety and security — and then we start working on all those other issues that may arise.
“We try to bridge that gap between the victim and the services in the community.”
Richmond County Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr. spoke to the crowd about how serious the problem is if there is even one instance of violence.
“When that person shows you who they are the first time, believe it, take action,” Clemmons said.
For police, domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous situations they deal with because there can be so much emotion involved, Clemmons said. He added that the courts are “overwhelmed” with domestic violence cases.
When women come to the sheriff’s oepartment to report domestic violence, Clemmons said he tries to be frank with them about what they face, that “you are a victim and that you can make a change.”
“That domestic violence cycle is real, it’s not something that comes and goes — it’s something that’s there every single day,” Clemmons said. “Yeah, he’s going to tell you he loves you, that’s because he doesn’t want you to call the police.”
Ingram echoed Clemmons’ sentiment that it’s important for those facing abusive significant others to recognize the signs of violence early on.
“If you’re in a situation where you’re getting beat, get out of there. First strike — go —because it ain’t gonna get no better,” Ingram said. “It’s only going to lead to death and we’re witness to that.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674.