In 2017, at least 24 people were killed in domestic violence-related homicides in our state. The youngest of these victims was 17; the eldest, 65.
Victims came from varied walks of life. They worked at stores like Old Navy and CVS, they practiced law and trained horses, they were students, and they were homemakers.
Of the 19 adult women allegedly killed by a current or former intimate partner, at least six were separated or attempting to leave the relationship.
More than half of the victims were killed with a firearm, two were strangled, and the rest were beaten, stabbed, run over by a car and burned to death.
Fourteen of the adult women victims lived in the metro area, and five were from Greater Minnesota.
In eight cases, the abusers who allegedly killed had a history of domestic violence in civil or criminal court; in three others, there was no documented history but family and friends were aware of abuse.
In at least three cases, the alleged perpetrators had made threats to harm or kill their victims.
Take Vanessa Danielson's case as an example. On Sept. 28, 2017, Vanessa called the police at 2:45 in the morning to say her ex-boyfriend, Wyndale Fayson, had come to her apartment angry. She said he smashed her cellphone, said "he would kill her and that he would set the place on fire."
Fayson was gone when police arrived. Four hours later, the police returned because Fayson allegedly had poured gasoline over Vanessa's bed and lit her and her apartment on fire. She died a short time later at a nearby hospital.
At least five children were present at the time of victims' murders. Eight victims were mothers with minor children and all together the victims left behind 24 children and adults, now motherless.
Tyler Slagerman is charged with killing his girlfriend Lacey Kuschel as she held their 5-month-old baby. Her obituary says that in Lacey's mind, her baby girl "was the best thing that ever happened to her and she loved her more than life itself."
I share these stories so that we can be shaken to our core by the horrors these victims faced due to abuse and because of the shortcomings of our society. The gaps in our systems swallow victims whole. We must strive our best to close these gaps, to mend our communities, and to offer a path toward healing and justice to those surviving violence at this very moment.
As we stand at a critical juncture in our society, as we hear of the everyday oppressions faced by women inside and outside of their homes — as we reflect on the spectrum of sexual violence happening at our Legislature, in sports, in media — as we hear the roars of "Me Too" and hear about mass shootings stemming from gender-based violence across our country, let's connect these dots and see that domestic violence is rooted in an abuse of power and discrimination.
Most of all, I would like you to remember the victims as more than their deaths. Numbers and statistics tell us only a small part of the story. They do not share the lifetime of grief faced by family members and loved ones of the victims. The numbers do not tell the full story of the victims' lives or the full story of their deaths.
We realize how year after year, the names of the victims of domestic violence homicide change but the stories and the circumstances surrounding victims' lives and deaths remain the same. We ask ourselves: why? Why is it that despite huge strides made in public policy and awareness, people are still being murdered due to domestic violence? The answer is not simple, nor is it one that can produce a quick fix — though we must act with urgency. The answer lies in creating a culture of shared responsibility where we believe survivors and support survivors, and where we make sure people who abuse are held accountable and their abusive behaviors are changed.
Safia Khan is program manager for the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.