ANNAPOLIS – About a decade ago, Joni Colsrud-Van Dyke’s abusive ex-husband arrived at her home several hours early for visitation with their two children.
When she went outside to tell him to come back later, he shot her in the leg. Her four-year-old son also received gunshot wounds in his face, neck and shoulder.
A year and a half after the shooting, her husband was sentenced to six years in jail. He served four. “My worst fear is of seeing him again somewhere,” said Colsrud-Van Dyke’s daughter Nicole, now 15.
Both mother and daughter spoke at the ninth annual memorial service for domestic violence victims Monday night, which celebrated those who successfully escaped abusive relationships and mourned others who died within them.
The 200-person audience, which included a number of legislators and police, listened to speeches from the Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran and several victims.
Organizers handed out candles before the vigil began. Audience members also held red, pink and white carnations, suggestive of the upcoming Valentine’s Day.
Anne Arundel County resident Lorraine Chase, president of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, said the organization always plans the service for the Monday before Valentine’s Day, “so that we do not forget that not all people who are in supposedly loving relationships survive them.”
To Chase’s disappointment, this year’s vigil mourned two more lives than last year’s. From July 1, 1995 to June 30, 1996, 79 Marylanders died as a result of domestic violence, according to the Maryland State Police.
Representing the women who died, life-sized, red figures stood around the mall and at the reception following the vigil. Each “silent witness” had a shield attached to its breast telling the story of one of Maryland’s victims. Similar exhibits have been created in 32 states.
Audience members also held white hearts with a black crack drawn through the middle. Each heart had the name of a victim, their age, and the way they died. Many of these were children.
Standing across the street from the statehouse on the steps of the Legislative Services building, Townsend said Maryland needs judges who understand from the beginning that domestic violence is wrong. She hopes to see a partnership against the crime among everyone from the 911 operators and police to the prosecutors.
“[Domestic violence] is cowardly,” Townsend said. “It is shameful. And what we have to do in this state is make sure everyone understands it is unacceptable and it is wrong.”
Colsrud-Van Dyke, now a resident of Montgomery County, agreed. She recalled how she was “revictimized” by the court system of Minnesota, where she lived until after the shooting.
When she pressed charges against her husband, Colsrud-Van Dyke’s lawyer requested a handicapped-accessible court for his client, whose leg had been amputated after the shooting. She said the judge refused. She made her way into the court house “on my butt, step by step, three flights of stairs.”
Parris Lane, a domestic violence victim from the Baltimore area, chose not to go into the details of her story. Instead she sang Howard Ashman’s “Daughter of God,” a song that gave her some comfort when she was still in the relationship.
The audience remained silent throughout the song. Some blinked back tears, while others did not try. Colrsrud-Van Dyke held her daughter and rocked back and forth.
When the song ended, the audience clapped enthusiastically, although the applause was muffled by gloves and mittens.
At the end of the vigil, Chase gave participants permission to blow out their candles. “We blow them out not because we will ever forget those victims, but because we have more work to do,” she said.
“And I want us all to go home tonight and remember that every 15 seconds, a woman looks at someone who says `I love you’ and he hits her.” -30-