They came in honor of silent witnesses – with a pledge to speak up and stop domestic violence when they see it. They came to offer support and love for those who have suffered. They came to mourn those who have lost their lives.
People gathered at the Lovell downtown Veterans Park last Tuesday, Oct. 18, for a candlelight vigil in honor of victims and survivors of domestic abuse hosted by the Big Horn CARES organization.
The vigil is held annually to honor those who have survived domestic violence and those who lost their lives to domestic violence, and those attending pledged to support those unable to speak up or who don’t have a voice.
During opening remarks, Sheriff Ken Blackburn introduced and thanked those in the audience who have offered support, both monetarily and through action, for victims including Willie Bridges of Pryor Mountain Engineering and Big Horn Rural Electric, Bikers Against Child Abuse, who Blackburn said stand tall when children need advocates, District Court Clerk Serena Lipp and Big Horn County Deputy Attorney Greg Blenkinsop.
“In law enforcement having groups like CARES and BACA is phenomenal,” Blackburn said. “It’s nice to have CARES to pass victims to for support with love and compassion.
“We’re here to honor all of the silent witnesses who can’t speak for themselves. We believe everybody should be here. We want to see people feel safe. Our (sheriff’s) patch says ‘serve, protect and compassion.’ That’s something we try to do every day.”
Deputy County Attorney Blenkinsop said his office works directly with victims of domestic abuse and noted, “I’ve never worked with a group of more committed professionals than we have in Big Horn County.
“I am impressed and heartened by the people here. I’m glad this is a public event and that we’re talking about this in the open. I like to see a state and county where it is discussed openly. Our hope is to spread to the community what we do, and I hope one day it’s a subject people know about and feel comfortable to make that phone call.
“I hope the silence can change to people talking about it. Domestic violence affects people in all spectrums of society.”
Blenkinsop closed by reading a poem entitled “Remember My Name” by Kimberly A. Collins of Washington, DC., about a victim of abuse who lost her life who “shoulda” spoken up.
A moving address by Jim Thomas of Lovell – an emergency room nurse at South Big Horn County Hospital – wrapped up the vigil.
“Why do we do this? We do it for awareness,” Thomas said. “We don’t appreciate how much domestic violence occurs in every community every day. As an ER nurse we’re required to ask (patients) now, ‘Do you feel safe going home?’
“It’s insidious. It’s here among us all of the time. It’s hidden. There’s so much we hide because we’re embarrassed. In the United States more women are injured by domestic violence than car accidents, muggings and rape put together. We need to be aware that it’s out there.”
Thomas said people may ask, “How do I stop it, a plague in our society?” and noted, “The answer is so much harder when we look at and accept the ongoing problem of domestic violence every day.”
Thomas said it is estimated that 10 million children see domestic violence on an annual basis, and it takes a toll on children for the rest of their lives and bleeds out to the rest of society.
Thomas and his family experienced the ultimate horror of domestic violence six years ago when his daughter Jennifer was murdered by her husband at the family home in Texas. He and wife Marie have seen the effects first hand such as a grandchild who would not recognize the color red after seeing his mother’s blood and thus had trouble getting into kindergarten.
“I have two purple ribbons,” he said, “one for Jennifer and one for Gwen, who would have been born.
“The same young man who had trouble getting into kindergarten, when he had his first experience with a law enforcement officer who was at my home, went to Marie and asked if they were going to take him away again.
Another grandson’s most frequently used word is ‘sorry.’ He’s afraid to be in trouble and today finds it hard to take instruction.” Now 14, a difficult time in life when a young man is trying to discover who he is, the grandson has said, “If I was a better kid, this wouldn’t have happened,” Thomas said, adding, “Kids who witness domestic violence in the home are twice as likely to create domestic violence. He fears growing up to be like his biological dad.
“It’s a long, long, painful road.”
It’s important for people to stop and pay attention to the silent witnesses, he said, noting that there are subtle signs that can be observed like a spouse being totally in control of the family money or tagging a spouse’s computer or phone to follow the device’s location or conversations.
Victims feel powerless, Thomas said.
“I would hate to think that my wife would be afraid to go to a friend to complain when I’m being a male jerk,” he said, “but a woman who lives with domestic violence doesn’t have that option. She’ll say ‘He apologized for hitting me. It’ll be OK.’ That’s what victims live with.
“It’s about awareness. It’s about making sure it doesn’t happen to someone we know and love. Don’t be a silent witness. Speak up. Tell law enforcement about it.”
Candles were lit, the Lovell High School Swing Choir sang and Lovell Chief of Police Jason Beal led the assembled people in the Silent Witness Pledge: “In the name of the silent
witnesses, I pledge to
heal abuse of any kind in my own life, in my family and in my community. I will work to make this world free of domestic violence so we can live in peace.”
Jason noted that Jennifer Thomas was a member of his LHS Class of 1998.
Wrapping up, Blackburn – a member of the CARES board – said, “As a community we can be stronger and better and help others.”
By David Peck
Remember My Name
When you remember my walk upon this earth, look not into my steps with pity. When you taste the tears of my journey my spirit won’t fill your cup for that remains with me. My story must be told, must remain in conscious memory so my daughters won’t cry my tears or follow my tortured legacy. Lovin’ ain’t a tricky thing if it’s coming from a healthy place, if it practices on self, if it ain’t a stray bullet hittin’ and missin’.
You may say, maybe I should’ve loved him a little less, maybe I should’ve loved me a little more, maybe I should’ve not believed he’d never hit me again. All those maybes will not bring me back, nor right his wrong. My life was not his to take.
As your eyes glance at my name, understand, once I breathed, walked, loved, just like you. I wish for all who glance at my name to know love turned fear kept me there, love twisted to fear kept me in a choke hold, cut off my air, blurred my vision. I couldn’t see how to break free.
I shoulda told my family, I shoulda told my friends, I shoulda got that CPO before the police let him go. But all those shoulda’s can’t bring me back when I lied so well to cover the shame, to hide the signs.
If my death had to show what love isn’t, If my death had to show that love shouldn’t hurt, If my death had to make sure another woman told a friend instead of holding it in, If my death reminds you how beautiful and worthy you really are, If my death reminds you to honor all you are daily, then remember my name. Shout from the corner of your soul, wake me in my grave let me know my living was not in vain.
By Kimberly A. Collins, Washington, D.C.