By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — It was a solemn and quiet group that gathered at the steps of the Laurel County Courthouse on Tuesday evening.
Holding their candles tightly in their hands, the group listened as the names of 27 women who died at the hands of intimate partners this past year were read aloud.
They then lit their candles, turning to one another, passing on the flame to the person standing next to them, creating a unity of light to bring awareness to domestic violence.
“It takes a community to change it,” said Charlsie Banks, with the Family Abuse Center of Christian Appalachian Project. “We all pay for domestic violence, whether it be through medical costs, counseling, or the legal system. It’s time that the perpetrators are held responsible for what they do.”
Banks said the Mt. Vernon abuse shelter has dealt with 222 victims since July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012. The majority of those, she said, were from Laurel County. Those 222 are just a small number of the 3,700 domestic violence victims across Kentucky during that time frame.
Domestic violence is an ongoing problem which Laurel/Knox County Family Court Judge Durenda Lawson deals with on a daily basis.
“I see it every day,” Lawson said. “It is a problem. There were 277 petitions filed for domestic violence in Laurel County in 2011. There have been 201 so far this year, although... I had four more petitions come through today.”
The victims of domestic violence died primarily from being shot or stabbed, although many of those were victims of a murder/suicide. One woman had been missing for 14 years when her body was discovered last year. Several others were involved in a multiple murder/suicide or multiple murders.
Two of the victims included in the “Speak My Name” ceremony were from Laurel County. Virginia Mae Chumbley, 44, died after her husband shot her on Aug. 28. Chumbley was suffering from cancer and her husband said she asked him to shoot her. Ernest Chumbley is now charged with murder from domestic violence and held under a $200,000 cash bond. His next hearing date is Nov. 25.
Pamela Honeycutt Bobbitt, 25, died from multiple stab wounds inflicted by her boyfriend, Sean D. Messer, on Oct. 22, 2012. Messer is held under a $250,000 cash bond on charges of murder from domestic violence, second-degree fleeing or evading police, receiving stolen property, a bench warrant, and being a first-degree persistent felony offender. Messer was scheduled for a final pretrial hearing on Thursday, Oct. 31 and a trial date of Nov. 12.
Also among those honored during Tuesday’s ceremony were the survivors of domestic violence — those who resolved their issues by various resources.
“It is a community issue and any help we can get is appreciated,” Banks said. “Whether it is to make a call, give someone the 800 number, or talk to the police.”
The Family Life Abuse Center serves Bell, Clay, Harlan, Jackson, Knox, Laurel, Rockcastle and Whitley counties and provides emergency shelter, food, clothing, hygiene, counseling, housing assistance, legal and advocacy, parenting classes, life skills programs, and other services to assist those suffering from domestic abuse to recover and become more self-sufficient.
For more information on the Family Life Abuse Center, contact (606) 256-9511.
If you or a person you know are a victim of domestic violence, contact the Kentucky State Police at 1-800-222-5555 or the 24-hour crisis line at 1-800-256-2724.