It’s a story far too common.
“He started wailing on me in the bed,” recalled Jessica Hailey, a domestic violence survivor and guest speaker at the Silent Witness program on Oct. 6. “I was his punching bag and I felt like he was going to kill me. I told my co-worker where I would be buried if he did, and I planned my escape.”
Hailey applied to acquire her own apartment the next day.
“There was an opening several weeks later,” she said. “I took the key and never looked back.”
Hailey cried for a month before someone told her about Providence House, where counselors ensured her, “It’s not your fault.”
Those words “drove me to get my life back with help from the staff at Providence House,” Hailey said of the organization’s help and support for victims of domestic violence. “They are amazing.”
But not all victims get their lives back, as evidenced by the silhouettes of Burlington County residents who were killed by an abuser displayed in the Student Success Center of Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC) in Mount Laurel.
After Hailey’s speech, Kathleen Coyle, the Silent Witness program moderator and legal program coordinator for Providence House, placed a flower in front of each silhouette. Tears were shed by the audience of more than 100 people when Florence Township police officer Michelle Koroseta sang a memorial song and Amy Congdon, Victim Witness Unit Supervisor for the county prosecutor’s office, read out the silhouetted names:
Missy DeBellis, Theresa Krawiec, Jodie Myers, Lauren Nobel, Jennifer Pheiffer, Misty Ramos, William “Mike” Seidle, Jessica Tush, Alla Barney, Marci Bucynski, Justina Bullock, Michelle
Cazan, Erik Cole, Daniel “DJ” Cruz Jr., Nicole Hike, Erica Crippen, Cynthia Fortune, Shanai
Marshall, Felicia Dormans, Lorraine Arsenault, Tianna Drummond, Artoria “Dee” Frazier and
“I remember when Lauren Nobel was murdered,” said Evesham Township Police Chief Walt
Miller, who joined other law-enforcement officers at the memorial, sponsored by Rowan, the prosecutor’s office and Providence House.
“I was a lieutenant,” Miller remembered of a crime scene he said was especially brutal. “When responding to a domestic violence call, you are dealing with a lot of emotions from both the victim and the suspect.”
Nobel was 29 when she was murdered in 2005 at her Marlton home. She was stabbed multiple times by her boyfriend, who set the house on fire and fled. He eventually confessed to the murder and is serving 30 years in prison.
“The visual significance of the silhouettes is that we remember the names and the stories of all the victims of domestic violence,” noted Prosecutor LaChia Bradshaw, who added that it is often difficult to get victims of abuse to file charges.
“You can see the fear. Some wear the abuse like a scarlet letter. They feel guilt and shame,” LaChia explained, adding that her office not only prosecutes cases but also attempts to educate and empower victims.
A recent U.S. Department of Justice grant to Bradshaw’s office will fund the hire of three more Witness Victim Advocates, pay for more police cameras and enable a study on the rise of strangulation in domestic violence cases.
The Silent Witness Project Memorial event “is extremely important to help bring awareness to the issue,” Barbara Katz, community affairs manager for Providence House, pointed out.
A program of Catholic Charities of Burlington County, Providence House also provides emergency shelter to victims and children who try to escape their abusers. Katz urged anyone in danger to call the 24-hour hotline and talk to a human being at 1 (877) 871-7551 or (609) 871-7551.
“There will always be a person there to provide referrals and screen for shelter,” Katz said. “We provide supportive listening on the hotline and access to services.”
“A lot of time, domestic violence is something that is hidden or below the radar. We need to let people know that help is available,” emphasized Dan O’Connell, an attendee at the memorial and a county commissioner. He praised the work of the prosecutor’s office and Providence House in fighting the scourge of domestic violence.
“It is heartbreaking to see the names of the victims,” said Providence House Director Ratona Stokes Robinson, adding that her violence response team works closely with local authorities.
“Last year, we received 308 emergency calls, provided 20,000 nights of shelter, and counseled more than 2,000 people. We share our services free of charge,” she added. “Today, we remember the lives we lost.
“The silhouettes are a reminder of real individuals.”
The Silent Witness program concluded with Rowan Peer Mentor Ariel Grinnage reading the poem, “We Remember Them,” reinforcing the theme “We Continue To Be Your Voice.”
All speakers urged anyone in a dangerous situation to tell someone and reach out for help.