Witness haunted: Despite 911 call, children and mother murdered | News
ATLANTA (WXIA) -- Investigators continue to try to pinpoint what drove a man allegedly to shoot and kill his wife and her two young sons in their Forsyth County home Wednesday morning.
And no one is more heartbroken than the witness who may have been the last person outside the home to see the boys alive.
It was the evening before they were murdered. She called 911 when she saw the boys in the front yard as their mother and her husband were screaming at each other in a violent confrontation.
What did not happen next haunts her.
Sheriff's deputies who arrived saw no evidence of any harm to anyone in the household, and the deputies left. They were following procedure and the law.
Hours later, deputies were back at the house, investigating the apparent murders of the mother and boys, and the suicide of her husband.
"I just was terrified for those children," said the witness, Jancie Berube. "I'm just devastated that going to the house and calling the police and me doing what I thought was right still had such a horrible, horrible heartbreaking outcome. Its just terrible."
Right from the beginning of the investigation, Forsyth County Sheriff's Major Rick Doyle told 11Alive News that when deputies responded to the previous 911 domestic violence calls to that house, including the one the night before the murders, by the time they got there, they saw no hint of violence. When they arrived at the house the night before the murders, both the man and the woman told them, go away, we don't need any help.
"Deputies did respond out here and were told nothing was going on," Maj. Doyle said Wednesday. "We can't help somebody that's denying and not involving us in that process. Legally we're limited at what we can do and how we can act."
Because law enforcement officers have strict legal requirements to follow in how and when they can intervene, domestic violence agencies across Georgia work hard training law enforcement officers to recognize signs of domestic violence that may not be immediately clear.
"We have seen some improvement in the response of the police officers," said Angela Sanders of Partnership Against Domestic Violence.
Sanders commends law enforcement agencies across Georgia that have been undergoing domestic violence training -- training that Partnership Against Domestic Violence and other agencies provide -- to help officers and deputies spot possible domestic violence when they're on a call, and to know when to intervene.
"Going out on those types of calls is very dangerous" for officers, Sanders said. "It really is about assessing the caller's needs and looking at the underlying reasons why that call occurred. And connecting those dots so that lives can be saved."
Sanders said her agency and others also offer law enforcement real-time hotlines -- numbers they can call while they are at the location of a domestic violence report -- to get guidance and advice, to get answers right away to "a litany of questions that they have while they're out on a call, to help them determine whether or not that person is in a safe situation. And we have a domestic violence person on the line with them, assisting them, to help the officer understand the dynamics of the call. And if they're getting calls and the survivor is turning them away when they go onto the scene, then that may be for reasons other than that person is safe."
And the investigation in Forsyth County will look at the previous domestic violence calls to that house -- did any come from inside the house -- including calls from neighbors and relatives, to try to understand what led to this tragedy.
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Thursday night, the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence released this statement to 11Alive News about some of the questions surrounding the apparent murders of the mother and her two boys, and the suicide of her husband, who is suspected of shooting them:
Sharon Wilkins, Nicole Thomas, and Rebecca Manning . . . victims of domestic violence homicides. Many have read about their tragic stories and many have wondered how such tragedies could happen. These horrific acts of violence prompt some to wonder "why didn't they just leave?" or "why didn't they call the police?" Even when the police are called to the home, some victims may not report the abuse.
Domestic violence is not a rare occurrence, and it can happen to anyone. The reality is that one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Additionally, three million children annually witness domestic violence in their homes every year. In 2014, Georgia ranked ninth in the nation in the number of women killed by men. The latest domestic violence homicides occurred in Forsyth County, Georgia, the wealthiest county in the state with meticulous country club communities.
"Domestic violence is an equal opportunity destroyer. It doesn't care who you are, race, color, creed, sexual orientation, religion or socio-economic background. Being in the field of domestic violence for over 30 years, I'm still shocked by the misconceptions of 'why women stay in an abusive relationship?' or 'why don't they just leave?' It is harmful to make assumptions and pass judgement on survivors," says Shandra Dawkins, executive director of Forsyth County Family Haven, a local domestic violence shelter.
"Whenever we hear of loss of life due to domestic violence, we want to make sure that the victim is not blamed. These homicides are tragedies that are not caused by the victims. Our collective goal is to address barriers that hinder victim safety and to seek solutions that will prevent future violence," says Jan Christiansen, executive director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
For domestic violence victims, the decision to report the abuse or to stay with the abuser is a complex one with many considerations including fear of retaliation, loss of family and finances, and shame.
When reporting domestic violence to police, retaliation from their partner is a victim's biggest concern. The risk of this is quite high in situations where there is insufficient evidence to arrest the abusive partner or if the partner is released from jail on bond. Even in the small percentage of cases where abusers are convicted of family violence, most convictions are misdemeanors and result in little to no time in jail. This provides very little safety and relief to victims. Many victims have lost faith in the criminal justice system and don't believe law enforcement can really help them.
Victims with children living in the home may fear losing custody of their children. This is a common threat used by abusers to maintain control and discourage the survivor from calling police. They may also be concerned with potential emotional damage to the children caused by breaking up the family.
Victims may fear loss of the ability to support themselves and their families financially if they were to leave, or if their partners were incarcerated. Not having enough money to pay for food, housing, or utilities creates a huge safety risk for the victims and children, even if the abusive partner is in jail.
For many, the shame of being a victim keeps them silent. Friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers may be unaware of the abuse or the extent of the abuse. Some victims blame themselves for the abuse and do not want to talk with outsiders about a "private family matter."
It will take a community approach to prevent intimate partner violence and future domestic violence homicides. The Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, along with local domestic violence agencies and task forces throughout the state, provide education and outreach to expand awareness of domestic violence and the resources available to victims, as well as to strengthen the way institutions respond to domestic violence. Solutions and responsibility to end domestic violence homicides cannot rest solely with law enforcement or any one system. It will take involvement, support and accountability from multiple sources including family, friends, faith leaders, and employers, as well as a strong response from our criminal justice system and advocacy organizations.