Daughter of slain store owner finds calling through tragedy
The final violent act of a domestic abuser Alecia Armold never even met devastated her family. But in picking up the pieces, Armold has found what she suspects is her true calling:
"I really think this is what I was meant to do with my life," said Armold, daughter of murder victim Barb Schrum. "I feel very strongly this is the path my life is supposed to take."
Schrum, 55, owned and ran Shoppe American Made in Dover.
On May 29, Schrum accompanied friend Laurie Kuykendall Kepner to the Wellsville-area home of Kuykendall's ex-husband to help the woman retrieve a few of her belongings. Kuykendall had tried to get a law-enforcement officer to go with her but was told that state police, sheriff's deputies and constables won't do escorts, called "standbys," unless there is a protection-from-abuse order in place, her family members have said.
Martin Kepner fatally shot Schrum in the head and stabbed her in the neck as she sat in the passenger seat of a car, belted in and waiting for Kuykendall to return to the vehicle, officials have said. Kuykendall, 53, apparently tried to run but was fatally shot in the head by her ex-husband, who then committed suicide, according to officials.
Fighting for change: Armold started agitating for change soon afterward. She posted a petition at change.org to make using a Maryland-based lethality assessment program mandatory for all Pennsylvania police departments. It so far has more than 1,600 signatures.
The program is already in use by about a half-dozen police departments in York County. It provides officers with 11 questions to ask a suspected domestic-violence victim, which help gauge whether the person is at risk of being killed by an intimate partner.
Armold also met with a number of York County's elected officials in both the state House and Senate, including state Sen. Pat Vance, R-York/Cumberland, who visited Schrum at Shoppe American Made to make a video feature about the store just hours before Schrum was murdered.
Vance dedicated the July edition of The Vance Report to Schrum and has tasked her staff with researching PFA statistics in York County to see how they compare to statistics in other counties.
The Hope Shoppe: Now Armold, 31, of Mechanicsburg, has turned her efforts to a longer-term goal that she hopes will give local domestic-violence victims the last bit of help they need to leave their abusers.
She is starting a nonprofit organization called The Hope Shoppe, a nod to the name of her mother's store.
"There are so many people who have offered to help me that I think it will be very easy to get this up and running," she said. "Sadly, there's probably always going to be a need."
The Hope Shoppe will hold fundraisers "for a specific person in a specific situation who is reaching out for help," according to Armold.
A bowling fundraiser is one of her ideas for raising money, she said, because Schrum loved to bowl.
Immediate aid: Armold said she suspects there are victims who would leave their abusers if they had a monetary cushion.
"A couple months' rent — maybe that's the thing that makes them leave," she said. "We'll be giving a person what they need immediately to get out of an abusive situation."
Armold said she will partner with established domestic-violence assistance centers such as Access-York and Safe Home in Hanover to identify victims in need. Since her mother's death, Armold has been in contact with both Rick Azzaro, chief services officer for Access-York, and Anne Acker, director of Safe Home.
Victims of domestic abuse won't necessarily need to have gone through either organization to find help at The Hope Shoppe, according to Armold, although both agencies offer a host of critical services for clients. She said people will be able to reach out directly to her nonprofit through its Facebook page.
'Something powerful': Acker called The Hope Shoppe a great idea.
"When victims learn that the help they've received has come from somebody in the community ... there's something powerful about that," Acker said. "They think, 'Somebody cares enough about me to help me.'"
And help that comes from someone who lost a loved one to domestic violence — like Armold — can be even more meaningful, the Safe Home director said.
"This young woman is so smart. She's making healing her priority, and this is how she's doing it," Acker said. "It's very healing to help others in the same situation. ... You've been there. You've walked that path."
No more waiting: Armold said she's had The Hope Shoppe plan in her head for some time and initially considered it a future goal.
"Then I realized that the longer I wait, the less I'm able to help people," she said. "Everybody has been so supportive and I thought, 'I just need to do it now and it will fall in place like everything else has.'"
Armold said she's made numerous connections with elected officials, the media and groups such as Access-York and Safe Home in the wake of her mother's murder.
"It all seemed to come together," she said. "I'm constantly surrounded by support."
How to help: Armold plans to have The Hope Shoppe up and running by mid-September, in time to hold a fundraiser in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
On Aug. 10, she started a fundraising page at gofundme.com to get together seed money, she said.
Armold is asking for $1,200 and has so far raised $700. To donate, or for more information, visit gofundme.com/hopeshoppe or The Hope Shoppe's Facebook page.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.