A mass murder domestic violence shooting occurred in my neighborhood this past September.   The  gunman, age 32, arrived at the home he once shared with his ex-wife, age 27.   He started an argument with her, and then shot her dead and seven of her friends whom she’d invited to a football watch party.

Some of her guests were also his friends and had attended their wedding.   The friends killed ranged in age from 22 to 34.  The gunman had shown a knife and a gun earlier that evening at a bar just a few blocks away.  Employees at the bar had called 911 after he left, and some even followed him in their own cars to what would be the murder scene, but then they kept driving on.

The estranged husband was an alcoholic with anger management issues, who owned many guns, and was depressed over his wife’s divorce filing.  She had tried to make the marriage work, but his alcoholism and violence towards her compelled her to leave.  She was getting her life back on track without him and it seems he couldn’t have that.  The gunman was killed by a police officer responding to the scene.  Nine lives were taken that night, and their families were only left to wonder why such senseless violence had to take away their loved ones.

The mass murder shook our neighborhood, which is normally safe, quiet, and family oriented.  The couple had met at the local university, and many of the guests at the football watch party had gone to that same university.  My oldest daughter had attended that university and knew someone who was invited to that same football watch party, but had decided not to go.  I couldn’t help but wonder what if my daughter was invited with her friends and they had also gone to that party?

The house of the tragedy, wrapped with yellow crime scene tape, was just minutes from my youngest daughter’s high school. Every day we drove past the house I felt a heavy weight of sadness and horror for the young lives lost and their grieving families.  Driving home one day, we noticed flowers left on the curb by friends, neighbors, and strangers.  We also noticed tow trucks removing several cars from in front of the house.  It took us just a few seconds to realize that those were the cars of the now deceased guests who were never to drive home again

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month.   But after this month’s awareness campaign, will the topic be ignored until next October?  I found myself wanting to understand what I, and others, could do to make a long-term difference.   So I contacted Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation’s Outreach Coordinator, Hadeal Al-Shammary to find out what advice she could give me.

Ms. Al-Shammary listed a number of things that an individual needs to know and can do to help fight domestic violence:

  1. First of all, be open about these issues that are affecting society substantially.  Domestic violence and abuse, like sexual harassment in the work place and bullying online and in schools, are issues that need to be normal topics of conversation not just brought up once after a terrible crime has been committed and a person has been violated.
  2. Understand that domestic violence (DV) isn’t only physical and/or sexual abuse; it can also be verbal, emotional, financial, and even spiritual.  An example of financial abuse can be withholding money, but it can also be withholding legal documents, so that the victim cannot work legally and become independent.  Spiritual abuse can be twisting religious doctrine to validate the actions of the perpetrator or to shame the victim.
  3. Realize that abuse occurs at all levels of the community.  It affects all genders, ages, socio-economic levels, races, religions, etc.  So if we truly want to be an engaged, empowered, and supportive community, we have to realize that the suffering among us, is an issue for all of us.  These victims can be our co-workers, our neighbors, our service providers, our friends, and our family.  We don’t have to be known activists, prominent community members, or older adults to discuss these issues.  Abuse has to be discussed in and among all people of a society, young and old, both within the specific group and interactively in mixed groups.   We can learn from one another what signs to look for to potentially detect abuse and prevent it.
  4. Think outside the box to combat DV, which has such a devastating affect on individuals and our society as a whole.  People might donate money, and forget about the cause.  While monetary donations are very much needed, we also need to think about emotional and spiritual assistance.   There need to be safe places where victims can feel safe.   Ms. Al-Shammary would like to see the creation of group therapy for DV victims like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, where victims and survivors can relay their experiences and find support.  Places of worship as well as recreation centers, where people come for self-care, improvement, and empowerment would be ideal for such conversations, because they offer that very needed emotional and spiritual support.
  5. Prevention in the form of education in schools, to new immigrants, at places of worship, in the workplace, etc., needs to occur anywhere and everywhere because anybody can be affectedA critical message needs to be that the victim is not in any way at fault, and that the victim must reach out for help.  A positive initiative taking place is the training of service providers to detect possible abuse including health care providers, beauty salon professionals, and law enforcement.   Anyone who has a platform to speak and should use it to educate about DV, including teachers, coaches, religious leaders, anyone in any form of the media, etc.
  6. Be proactive by learning about the issues involved and spreading awareness of available resources.  Stay updated on various laws that might affect victims.  Abuse of any kind should not be swept under the rug as a taboo issue.  It’s a safety issue.  Everyone should be aware of these resources to help a victim and to prevent an individual from becoming a victim. Where can we find out and become a part of the solution?  Check out organizations like:

Texas Council on Family Violence  

National Network to End Domestic Violence  

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Men Stopping Violence  

Futures Without Violence

Wynn Consulting

Finally, Ms. Al-Shammary says, “Don’t discount the power of one voice.  It’s one more voice than the voiceless victim has.  Every voice matters and any effort can make a difference.”  That’s why I chose to write this blog post.  The victims of that horrific crime in my neighborhood, those young people who had so much of life ahead of them, called me to action.  How can you help?  Will you wait until next year’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month Campaign?   Will you only talk about it if you hear a news item about another tragic event in your neighborhood? I encourage you to become a source for good and “reach out and speak out!”

Photo taken by Saher Aqeel , Photo Editor at UT Dallas newspaper, The Mercury photo@utdmercury.com