Silent Witness Program Speaks Volumes

Silent Witness Program Speaks Volumes

Right now there are four, but by spring, there will be 13 silent witnesses – victims who have died as the result of domestic violence in Alexandria since 1990.

Antoinette Goode was 29. As she and her two small children were walking from the bus toward home, her ex-boyfriend was lying in wait for her. He stabbed her three times in the chest and fled with the children. He was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

“The Friday before her death, she was denied a protective order,” said Claire Dunn, the director of the shelter for victims of domestic violence. “At the time of her death, you couldn’t get a protective order just on the basis that someone threatened to kill you. That has changed.”

The law was changed, due to Antoinette Goode’s case. She died on May 26, 1998.

Karen Mittsoff was 52. She was a teacher at William Ramsay Elementary School. She was fatally shot by her ex-boyfriend, who then killed himself. At the time of the shooting, he was free on $500 bond for breaking into her house and holding her at gunpoint. Under the state code, she was ineligible to obtain a protective order because she was not married to him, did not have children by him and had never lived with him.

“I talked to her the night before she died, for 15 or 20 minutes,” said Sgt. Scott Gibson, the head of the Alexandria Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit. “I told her to leave the house, but she thought she had everything under control. When we got the call early the next morning, I knew it was her.”

Karen Mittsoff died on March 25, 1996.

Ramatu Hailu-Misiku was 36. She and her husband were arguing about medicine for their son, when her husband pulled a gun. She was running down the hall to the elevator when he fatally shot her in the head and neck. Her husband then killed himself with the same gun. Their two children, 2 and 5, witnessed the shootings.

“We did not know about her,” Gibson said. “We had never had contact with her. Sometimes that’s the way it happens.”

Ramatu Hailu-Misiku died on Feb. 6, 2001.

Tracy Freeman was 20. During an argument, her estranged husband stabbed her in the throat, then crushed her skull with a baseball bat and an iron. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to serve 35 years in prison. She left behind a 3-year-old son.

“We also had never had contact with Tracy,” said Dunn. Tracy Freeman died on Oct. 8, 1997.

SILHOUETTES OF THESE four victims stand in the Vola Lawson Lobby at Alexandria’s City Hall and will tour the city. They were carved by Sgt. Jose Garcia of the Alexandria Police Department and painted red by Laurie Markon and Debbie Evans, social workers with the program. The silhouettes wear shields on their chests that tell their stories.

“I attended the national silent witness march at the Capitol a couple of years ago, and it was incredibly moving,” Markon said. “Each state had silhouettes, and they were all lined up on the Capitol steps. Virginia was the only state that was not represented. I am so glad that we have decided to participate.”

This year was to be the first year, and Alexandria had four silhouettes to take to Richmond for the statewide March on Oct. 11. “We stopped for breakfast in Fredericksburg at around 9:30 a.m., and the sniper shot someone just one exit from where we were," Dunn said. “We were stuck at the IHOP until 3 p.m. because I-95 was closed. We never made it to Richmond.”

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE programs are run cooperatively by the police department and the Office on Women. Markon is assigned to the police department but works closely with the shelter staff. “I work at least one case a day,” Markon said. “I talk to victims and their families, go to court with them, link them with community resources and talk to them about their options,” she said.

The police receive about 4,000 domestic-violence-related calls a year, and about 1,000 of those result in arrests. “Any time we respond to a domestic violence call, we provide information about referrals,” Gibson said.

Dunn said that Gibson’s unit is much more than a domestic violence unit. “They are really a homicide-prevention unit,” she said. “If they respond to a call and can get someone to listen and get help, they may have prevented a homicide.”

The laws have improved since Karen Mittsoff and Antoinnette Goode’s deaths, but there is more work to be done. “Right now, a pregnant woman cannot obtain a protective order against a boyfriend who is the father of her unborn child but with whom she is not living,” Dunn said. “Once the child is born, she can get the protective order but not while she is pregnant. That makes no sense.”

BECAUSE OF THE snipers who were terrorizing the area in October, Domestic Violence Month was largely overlooked. The yearly fund-raiser at Target was canceled and has been rescheduled for Dec. 7. “We put up a tent in the parking lot at Potomac Yard and give shoppers a list of the things that we need for the shelter, hoping that they will buy something from the list while they are shopping,” Dunn said.

The hot line is open 24 hours a day and is answered by trained volunteers, who are there to listen and to help. “We just want everyone to know that we are out there, seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Dunn said.

The hot line number is 703-838-4911.