Report: Domestic violence claimed at least 34 lives in Minn. in 2015, up 33 percent
Advocates who held a memorial service honoring the victims worry about the violent trend that doesn't seem to be abating.
They looked on silently in the dark as 34 faces of the dead flashed, one by one, on a projector screen.
The victims represented more than just a troubling jump in the number of people killed by domestic violence in 2015. They were loved, and are missed.
"They are more than just names on a page," Safia Khan, Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women program manager, told a group of advocates at a Tuesday memorial service honoring the victims. "They are sisters, mothers, brothers, fathers."
It was a stark 33 percent rise over 2014 - the year that recorded the lowest number of deaths since the coalition began tracking domestic violence homicides in its annual Femicide Report. It's not just the increase that worries advocates - it's also a sign of a violent trend that doesn't seem to be abating.
"Over the past 27 years, the numbers have consistently maintained double-digits status," said Becky Smith, program manager in public awareness for the coalition. "We see that. We are absolutely horrified by that."
The coalition suggests that while the abusers bear ultimate responsibility for the deaths, some systemic changes could one day lower the numbers, including more thorough data-sharing among law enforcement agencies, investing more resources in intervening with batterers with a court record, and enhancing economic stability by working with landlords and housing-assistance providers to help victims of abuse find places to live.
Last year's victims include 22 women, three men, and nine children and friends or family members who intervened in a domestic-violence situation, according to the report. The victims range in age from 14 to 76.
The killings left 17 children motherless. Nearly 60 percent of the killers had a documented history of abuse in criminal or civil court. Those 13 perpetrators had a total of 76 domestic-violence-related charges among them.
Two-thirds of the victims were from the Twin Cities, while the remainder were from outstate. The majority of the female victims were white. Seven were African-American and five were American Indian.
"It breaks my heart every time," said Nicole Matthews, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition. "Losing [5 Native women] is too much."
The victims include an entire family, an Aitkin County sheriff's deputy, and a mother shot while three frightened children stood by in a nearby room.
Karen Short and her teenage children, Cole, Madison and Brooklyn, were killed in a murder-suicide by their husband and father, Brian Short, in their Lake Minnetonka home last September.
The following month, Deputy Steven Sandberg was guarding Danny Hammond at a St. Cloud Hospital when Hammond wrested Sandberg's gun away and shot him. About a week before the shooting, Hammond had held his wife hostage after she told him that she wanted out of their abusive marriage.
April Erickson was shot and killed in her Maplewood bathroom by her husband Todd Tennin. Erickson's 12-year-old son told police that Tennin had previously threatened to kill both her and the children so there would be no witnesses.
More than 50 people, including family members and elected officials, attended the service Tuesday at the St. Paul College Club. Law enforcement officers, county attorneys and retired judges who either investigated, prosecuted or tried a domestic violence case sat in the audience wearing purple ribbons on their lapels - the color for domestic-violence awareness.
Near the entrance of the club, 34 white T-shirts hung on umbrella clotheslines marking a visual memorial to the victims.
Each shirt had the victim's photo, name, age and personal decorations.
The Short family T-shirts had mementos of their favorite hobbies.
Colorful soccer-ball-shaped stickers were glued to Karen's and Brooklyn's shirts. Madison's had music notes. Cole, who liked fishing and joking around, had a picture of a fish and Groucho Marx glasses taped to his T-shirt.
During the service, Jessica May told her own survivor story. May said that in 1994, six months after separating from an abusive boyfriend, he broke into her mother's home and assaulted her. She was stabbed 17 times, thrown across the room and left for dead.
"This could have been me," May said referring to the victims. "This should have been me. The only difference is that I survived."