Officials are concerned about a rise in domestic violence homicides in Erie County.
Last week, a Tonawanda man was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for fatally shooting his girlfriend. On Buffalo’s West Side, a woman was also shot to death last week in what police are calling a domestic incident. Last month, a man was found guilty of attempted murder after setting his ex-girlfriend on fire. These are some of the most recent domestic violence cases in the county.
“Our unofficial count since Christmas Eve: 14 domestic violence homicides here in Erie County, that’s really high,” said Mary Murphy, the CEO of the Family Justice Center.
The organization provides free services for domestic violence victims and their children. Those services aim to get victims safely away from abuse.
Murphy says educating people about warning signs is important. If your partner is violently jealous, has threatened to use a weapon, or has even threatened suicide, those could be red flags. If you know someone who was assaulted while pregnant, experienced violence from their partner, or has been forced into unwanted sex, those are also red flags.
“This is a public health crisis and it affects everybody and I think until it hits home people don’t have their eyes open to it,” Murphy said.
It hits home for Lauri and Mark Wierzbicki, an Orchard Park couple who lost their daughter, Rachael, last year to domestic violence.
“When you first met her, you just fell in love with her and she was a ball of light and energy and positivity,” Lauri said.
As a way to honor Rachael, the couple has founded the Rachael Warrior Foundation to provide support to those impacted by domestic violence. The family is using their grief to help others.
“It has helped us all get through this nightmare, so it keeps her alive and keeps her with us every single moment that we work on her foundation,” Lauri said.
They say if their story can help just one person leave their abuser, it’s worth it.