Maine's stubborn domestic violence homicide statistic has a chilling twist

centralmaine.com, December 31, 2014 http://www.centralma ... ing-twist/

There are 20 fewer people in Maine to welcome 2015 than there ought to be.

As always, Maine remains one of the safest states in the nation, as far as homicides go. But for the families of the 20 people whose deaths were ruled a homicide this year in the state, that statistic doesn’t mean much.

 

Maine’s yearly homicide tally is usually in the low 20s, making 2014 a relatively quiet year.

But 2014 also brought a reality check: by year’s end, 13 of the state’s 20 homicides were classified as domestic violence related, according to Steve McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

Like the homicide rate itself, the number of people who die at the hand of someone who purports to love them has remained stubbornly unchanged for years — every year about half of the state’s homicides are classified as domestic.something like

This year’s statistic comes with a chilling footnote: seven of those who died in domestic-related homicides were children under 13, according to McCausland.

One of the big strides Maine has made the last few years is an increased focus on domestic violence awareness, much of it coming after the horrific eight days in June2011, when two men were responsible for four domestic violence murders in Dexter and Winslow. Two of those deaths were children.

The murders of Amy Bagley Lake, her children Coty, 13, and Monica, 12, on June 13, 2011, came eight days after Nathaniel Gordon shot his wife, Sarah, to death on a Winslow street as their two children watched from the house. Both men shot themselves shortly after killing the others.

The murders sent shock waves through central Maine, spurring rallies, vigils, and a lot of talk about awareness and prevention.

The next year, Gov. Paul LePage brought the discussion up to another level when he made it a priority in his state of the state address, referencing domestic violence in his childhood.

It wasn’t the first time LePage had talked about his abusive childhood, but the forum — a major political speech — gave domestic violence awareness advocates hope that it would, as one advocate put it, “end the scourge of domestic violence.”

This newspaper’s story covering that speech also pointed out “a handful of bills (are) lined up for legislative action in the next few months (that) would tighten laws around bail and restraining orders in order to keep potential abusers and murderers from their families.”

By 2014, the topic of domestic violence and its prevention was on the front burner in Maine.

A press conference in April publicized the release of the report by the state’s Domestic Abuse Homicide Review panel. The report increased focus on patterns and causes of abuse.

At the annual Speak Out awareness event, held at Thomas College in October, an all-male panel stressed the need for men to make awareness of domestic violence a priority.

Somerset County became one of the first counties in the state to use electronic monitoring devices on potential abusers in an attempt to keep the violence from escalating.

It was a strong year for focus on domestic abuse awareness.

And yet …

Sunday, a funeral was held for Christina Ann Sargent, 36, and her children Destiny Sargent, 8, and Duwayne Coke, 10, in Garland.

Sargent’s boyfriend, Kenneth Coleman, was arrested Dec. 21 after the bodies of the three were found in their home the day before.

The children had gone to school in Dexter, the same town the Lake children, killed in 2011, attended school.

In June, Joel Smith shot and killed his wife, Heather, and their three children, Jason Montez, 12, Noah Montez, 7, and Lily Smith, 4, in Saco, then killed himself.

In March, Samuel Moore was charged with killing 5-month-old Korbyn Garfield Antworth in Bangor.

In November, Sean St. Amand was charged with manslaughter after his 11-month-old son drowned in the bathtub the previous month, a case McCausland also included in the list.

The fact that five of the children who died in domestic violence-related killings in 2014 were the result of “only” two incidents doesn’t diminish the awful fact.

The roots of domestic violence go deeper than just bad people doing bad things.

Still, the signs are almost always there that the issues will escalate.

Amy Bagley Lake knew her husband was dangerous. A report several months after she was killed outlined ways her death and those of her children could have been avoided.

Christina Sargent knew Kenneth Coleman was dangerous, too. He had a history of violence, according to reports after she and her children were killed.

The April Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel report’s recommendations all had to do with recognizing the signs of abusers, potential abusers and people with the potential to murder those they portend to love.

What to do afterward — vigils and panels, bail and increased enforcement of restraining orders — are no more important than the roots of the tragedy that come before it.

This is the worst kind of column. It doesn’t offer any insights or ideas about solving the problem. I’ve written about it before, and am not saying anything new or anything that someone else hasn’t said.

What new can be said?

There are 13 people, seven of them children, who aren’t here for 2015 because they knew the wrong person.

There isn’t a lot to add. We just need to keep saying it.

Maine can look at 2014 as the year public discussion of domestic violence increased. Yet more than half of the state’s murders were domestic violence ones, and more than half of those were children under 13.

Let’s hope 2015 is the year that statistic changes.

Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at mmilliken@centralmaine.com. Twitter: mmilliken47. Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.