'They will never be forgotten': Vigil honors domestic violence victims
New London — Safe Futures on Wednesday evening honored the memory of those who have lost their lives to domestic violence.
The organization’s fourth annual vigil was held at its Jay Street headquarters. Executive Director Katherine Verano said the event remembers southeastern Connecticut residents killed as a result of domestic abuse since 2013. She said that’s 11 people in total, including Maddy Thibault, who died this year.
Thibault was deeply involved in Safe Futures — with its shelter, its transitional living program and its housing programs.
“She did a tremendous amount with us. When she came in to us, we were able to identify that she had been strangled multiple times and from that identified she had a traumatic brain injury,” Verano said. “We got her onto disability, but there were so many other injuries, her nose, her head, her stomach, that we actually lost Maddy this year. It was heartbreaking for all of us. She was here a few years due to so many medical issues and worked with our staff, our other clients, our families, and they’re all devastated.”
Thibault came to Safe Futures after the organization’s law enforcement advocate determined through its lethality assessment program that if she didn’t get away from her abusive relationship, she would likely be murdered.
“I was with her the day she died, and shortly before that, I looked at it as, ‘Oh my God, you’ve come so far, and you’re losing your life,’” Verano said. “She said, ‘Before I came here, I never had the will to live. I’ve had the will to live the last few years, and thank you.’”
About 50 people gathered, all holding candles, for the vigil. Many of those in attendance were family members of people who died due to domestic violence, while others were concerned community members or Safe Futures staff.
Joseph Parise, brother of homicide victim Robert Parise, spoke at the event. Robert Parise, 63, was stabbed repeatedly by his former partner and housemate, Christopher Petteway, on Oct. 4, 2018, police say. Petteway is incarcerated while awaiting trial.
On Wednesday, Parise said he wished he had another chance to convince his brother to leave the “toxic relationship” that took his life.
“’You can’t save this man,’” Parise wanted to tell his brother. “But he never stopped trying, and it cost him his life ... My brother just didn’t listen. It put a scar in our family that we’ll wear forever ... Even a protective order couldn’t protect my brother from the man who took his life.”
As many of the people listening cried, hugged each other or offered reassuring pats on the arm, Parise said he called this group of people who were dealing with the same hardship “The fraternity I never wanted to be a part of.”
After his remarks, loved ones of the deceased lit 11 candles on a long table, with roses, names and pictures, in remembrance.
The agency also honored Patricia Sullivan of Norwich, who was murdered this year, as well as Brandia Irvin of Pawcatuck, Jason Beck of Norwich and Joey Gingerella of Groton. Irvin died in 2019, Beck last year, and Gingerella in 2016.
Sullivan died in January after succumbing to injuries. Her alleged attacker, Michael Gervais, was charged with manslaughter this year. He was released on bond but is set to enter a plea on Nov. 22.
Irvin was fatally stabbed on Nov. 30, 2019, in front of her 12-year-old son, allegedly by her live-in boyfriend, Carlton Henderson. He is in prison awaiting trial on a murder charge.
Beck, 33, died after being stabbed by his longtime partner, Jeffery Stovall Jr., on Jan. 18, 2020. Stovall is incarcerated, and his case is pending in New London Superior Court.
Gingerella, 24, was intervening on behalf of a woman who was being beaten by her partner, Dante Hughes, when he was shot and killed by Hughes on Dec. 11, 2016. Hughes was convicted of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm and criminal possession of a firearm and is serving a 45-year prison sentence. Gingerella’s mother, Tammy de la Cruz, spoke Wednesday. She said for a long time, she thought of herself as a survivor of homicide only before coming to understand her son was also a victim of domestic violence.
“My son was asked to go check on a girl in a parking lot because there were some concerns that her and her boyfriend may have been in a confrontation,” she said. “What my son had come out to see was a girl being beat up by her boyfriend. My son intervened, and took three bullets, and lost his life protecting hers."
"One thing I haven’t told people too much is I’m a survivor of domestic violence myself," she added. "I got out of a marriage when my son was only 9 months old in hopes to break the cycle, and never in my wildest dreams did I think he would ever be faced with such a situation like that night.”
The others remembered are Antonio Chajon, 39, of New London, who was fatally strangled by his roommate in 2013; Delma Murphy, 46, of New London, stabbed to death by her longtime partner in 2015; Diana Hodgdon, 58, of Norwich, fatally shot by her husband in 2015; Margarette Mady, 42, of Norwich, who was pregnant when, police say, her husband fatally stabbed her in 2016; and Corina Zukowski, 25, of Waterford, who was fatally stabbed in a motel room in 2018, allegedly by her boyfriend.
“It impacts so many people, and that’s what people don’t realize,” Verano said Wednesday. “It really is a public safety issue.”
She opened the floor to survivors of domestic abuse.
Ewa Grochowska spoke. “I am fortunate to be standing here tonight because I could’ve easily lost my life at the hands of my abuser,” she said. “Tonight I have the honor of speaking because I know lives depend on it.”
The potential for lethality has increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic, according to figures released by the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The number of victims assessed by Connecticut police and determined at risk of being killed by their partner increased 92%, from 546 to 1,048, between September 2019 and September 2020.
Verano said Wednesday that Safe Futures’ client list has grown from around 7,500 to roughly 9,700 between July 2020 and June 2021.
She said Wednesday’s vigil was meant to remind victims’ families that their loved ones who died “will never be forgotten.”
“And for the community to not victim blame,” she added. “How does someone justify taking that life?”
To speak to a domestic violence advocate, call Safe Futures 24-hour support line at (860) 701-6001.
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