Three homicides in just four months have turned 2011 into a very deadly year for Lehigh Valley women - and a local agency wants other potential victims to find safety before it’s too late.
“It’s just headline after headline of intimate partner violence, deadly abuse. It’s very serious. It doesn’t get more serious than this,” said John Toner, director of development of Turning Point, which assists thousands of domestic violence victims in Lehigh and Northampton counties every year.
Turning Point fields 4,000 calls to its 24/7 hotline (610-437-3369) and shelters about 650 people a year. Some seek help when they realize "they need to get out of the house to a safe place," said Toner.
Trisha Sadler, 29, didn't make it. Police found her Friday following a six-hour standoff with her boyfriend at their Bethlehem bungalow. Sadler sometimes had bruises and, two weeks ago, told a co-worker that her boyfriend said he was going to kill her, according to the arrest affidavit. Now charged with homicide, Willie J. Ward has a violent criminal history including an assault conviction stemming from a previous case of domestic violence.
Toner said the most common question he hears is "Why don't women leave?" The answer is complex. Maybe a woman stays because of love, because of her kids or because she fears retaliation. Maybe her abuser has cut her off from all family and financial resources that would allow her to escape.
The real question, Toner notes, is "Why is he abusing her?"
Prosecutors in the said he was angry when he found out his girlfriend, Jennifer Snyder, was pregnant. Rapoport is accused of shooting Snyder and her unborn child to death in Lehigh County in March. Snyder was 27.
Just five weeks ago, police say a as their two sons watched in their Bethlehem home. Luis Alberto Montero then tried to kill himself but did not succeed. Montero told police he was angry because he thought the victim, Margie Reyes, 38, was cheating on him.
The Lehigh Valley homicides are part of a disturbing trend. Domestic killings rose 49 percent in two years in Pennsylvania, according to a 2009 report by the Pa. Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV). There were 121 such homicides in 2007 followed by 147 in 2008 and 180 in 2009.
Judy Yupcavage of PCADV says she looks at the data and wonders, "Where's the outrage?"
"We're trying to get people to understand the magnitude of the brutality - the number of lives lost one by one," she added. PCADV is working with the district attorney in Cumberland County, where there have been seven domestic violence deaths in six months.
PCADV is getting ready to release its 2010 report. That report will include the case of Denise Merhi and three other people killed by Michael Ballard in Northampton last summer. A jury handed down the first death sentence in nearly 25 years in Northampton County in the Ballard case last month. Ballard slaughtered Merhi, who was his ex-girlfriend, along with her father, grandfather and a neighbor.
Domestic crimes may be grabbing headlines, but the horrific deaths have not deterred state lawmakers from seeking cuts to agencies trying to stop the violence, said Toner. Turning Point, which gets 38 percent of its funding from the state, is facing a 10 percent cut "that will definitely affect our ability to provide services," he said.
Domestic violence is on the rise nationwide and shelter workers expect that trend to continue amid widespread economic distress and government cutbacks, according to the "Mary Kay Truth About Abuse Survey" released in April.
Toner hopes recent high-profile cases will help make people more aware of the issues and seek help for themselves or loved ones.
"What we are seeing is very, very scary stuff," he said. "Some victims think, 'It's bad but it will never get that bad.' We hope that if anybody feels they're in danger that they'll call us."
Callers don't have to be an abuse victim to use Turning Point's hotline. They can speak to someone confidentially even if they are concerned that a relationship might turn violent or if they are worried about a loved one.