Special Report: Deadly Domestic Violence

By Cade Fowler - bio | email

Shellman, GA (WALB) –  Nearly one in three women will become a victim of domestic abuse in their lifetime. It happens every 15 seconds and affects communities both rich and poor.

In some cases, it can turn deadly as has been the case recently in some south Georgia communities.

But why does it happen? And what can victims do to get help?

It was Independence Day morning in the small city of Shellman. The flowers were in bloom outside Carolyn Johnson's home, and she was preparing for a day at the lake with her family, when her life came to a violent end.

"If I had the chance and opportunity today, I would just have to ask him why did he kill my sister?" said the Victim's sister, Connie Johnson.

Police say Johnson's boyfriend of seven years, Ricky Starling, shot her in the head with a shotgun, leaving behind a grieving family with many questions.

"Looking at her four grand kids, that's all they knew and she did everything... and them kids got to live with that. I mean why?"  asked Johnson.

Why? It's a question that's being asked in communities large and small across the country. Where victims of domestic violence are losing their lives at the hands of someone they knew and often times loved.

"We've been very busy over the past six weeks doing a lot of protective orders, getting a lot more crisis calls, and having more violent kinds of reports from the women that we're seeing," said Silka Deeley, executive director of the Liberty House.

The Liberty House is a domestic violence center for women, and Deeley says there is one common thread in every case she sees. "There in relationships with someone who has power and control. That's the only common thread. That's what domestic violence is all about."

And in some cases that power and control turns deadly. Between 2003 and 2008 more that seven hundred people died in Georgia from domestic violence. In nearly every case, there was a history of violence and often times family and friends knew about it.

"The sad thing is people see what is happening. And it takes more than just the victim to get to a safe place to get help."

By all accounts, Carolyn Johnson and Rick Starling were in love, but the relationship had a history of violence..

"I seen signs that it would happen, but I never thought it would happen," said Tykendrick Johnson. He was asleep when his aunt was shot to death just outside his bedroom door. "If you could talk to them. Try to get help. You gotta do what you can. Hopefully it's enough," he said.

Getting out of an abusive relationship became a matter of life and death for Domestic violence victim Vicky Burk. "Plenty of times I feared for my life, and I was almost killed."

She was beaten by the father of her children who broke her nose in two places. Fearing for her life, she got away. "I got away. What I did was I started defending myself. Because you have to take control and do what you have to do to protect yourself.

And protection can lead to death of the abuser as was the case last month in Sylvester where a mother shot and killed her son as he attacked his girlfriend.

"It takes a while to get to the place where someone is feeling, probably like this mother, that she had no other recourse. This is not something that happened in a vacuum. This was something that was going on. There had to have been many more days where this son was out of control."

But there are more victims than those who lose their lives. "People forget there are children in these families. Just like in Sylvester here was this child in the midst of all of this.

So what lessons are learned there? For women in abusive relationships, escaping can be hard. There is hope though, but it takes a community wide effort.

"There are options for women, and the community really needs to be involved in making Dougherty County a safe place. In making Randolph County a safe place and in making all of the counties that we serve a safe place. Domestic violence is against the law. This is a crime. This is not a family matter. This a matter for everyone," Deeley said.

And stepping in could be the difference in saving someone you know from someone who could take their life.

In the past six years, 56 people have died from domestic violence in southwest Georgia. The Liberty House in Albany serves 17 counties and last year saw over 800 victims.

If you or someone you know is need of help you can give them a call at 229-439-7094.

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