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Family of York County's domestic murder victims help honor the dead
At first blush they seem unlikely advocates, the family members of domestic-violence murder victims Barb Schrum and Laurie Kuykendall Kepner.
Schrum's children — Alecia Armold, Becky Schrum and Matt Armold — and Kepner's sister, Karen Kuykendall Nordsick, never envisioned themselves stepping into the public arena to agitate for social and legal change.
But perhaps they're not unlikely at all, considering the pervasiveness of domestic violence in this society. Perhaps their profound losses merely reinforce the truth that anyone can lose a loved one to domestic violence, and that anyone can choose to say "no more."
Barb Schrum, owner of Shoppe American Made in Dover, was helping Kepner retrieve personal belongings from Martin Kepner's Wellsville-area home on May 29 when he fatally shot them both. After killing the women in the driveway of his home, Martin Kepner lay down next to the body of Laurie Kepner, his estranged wife, and put a bullet in his brain.
Remembering: The women's names were read aloud Tuesday at an annual ceremony presented by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Harrisburg's Capitol rotunda to honor domestic-violence homicide victims.
Barb Schrum's children and Nordsick lent their support to Tuesday's "PA Says No More" ceremony, co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, where state representatives and senators read aloud a "roll call" list of the 141 people killed in the last year during domestic-violence incidents in this state.
As the names were read, large puzzle pieces were added to a puzzle of Pennsylvania, each piece with names of victims.
This year, Nordsick and Becky Schrum were chosen to place the last piece into the puzzle, and Alecia Armold agreed to be guest speaker.
"My life will always be split into two categories. Before and after," she told the assembled crowd. "Things I didn't miss and things I will. When I was whole and when I wasn't."
The little things: She explained it isn't the "big things" that most make her miss her mother — "like how she won't be at any of our weddings or how she'll never get to be a grandmother, something she so desperately wanted to be."
It's the little, everyday things that cause her the most pain, Armold said, "like how I still pick up my phone to call her after work, as I always did, or how I'd really like to buy plants but without her expertise, they have no chance of living on my knowledge alone."
Armold told the crowd she felt compelled to take action almost immediately.
Less than two weeks after her mother's murder, Armold started a petition on change.org to make a Maryland-based lethality-assessment program mandatory for all police departments in Pennsylvania. The program provides police with 11 questions that gauge whether someone is in danger of being killed by an intimate partner.
11 so far: Officers in 11 police departments in York County are now trained to use the program, and more are considering it, according to Rick Azzaro, chief services officer of Access-York, an agency dedicated to serving domestic-violence victims. Police in 33 states also are using it, a program official has said.
Armold then created The Hope Shoppe, a nonprofit organization that raises money so local domestic-violence victims don't remain financially trapped in abusive homes. She and her sister run it together.
"Very quickly I learned two things," Armold told the crowd. "There is an army of kind, passionate people who have been fighting and advocating long before the words 'domestic abuse' were ever part of my vocabulary, and this army embraces newcomers, victims and survivors with open arms."
'Epidemic': Peg Dierkers, executive director of PCADV, said the number of domestic-violence homicides in this state is unacceptably high.
"Domestic violence is still at epidemic proportions in the United States as well as in Pennsylvania," she said.
Dierkers said in the last year in the United States, domestic violence has been responsible for 1,300 deaths and 2 million people injured.
The 141 people killed in domestic homicides in Pennsylvania since October 2014 ranged in age from 92 to infancy, according to Dierkers, and included 97 victims and 44 abusers.
Sixty domestic-violence services agencies across the state — which include Access-York and Safe Home Hanover — have helped about 85,000 domestic-violence victims in the last year with services including housing, counseling, legal assistance, child care and transportation, Dierkers said.
"Tragically, there are some we could not save," she said.
Many victims: Azzaro, of Access-York, rushed to the rotunda from a training session to support Armold, Becky Schrum and Nordsick.
"It's not just the names we heard today (who are victims)," he said. "It's the family of the names, it's the neighbors of the names. They're all victims too."
Nordsick said listening to the roll call was sobering.
"It makes it real," she said. "My stomach was in knots."
She, too, has been compelled to take action. In addition to making donations to local and national organizations that serve domestic-violence victims, Nordsick is training to become an advocate at Access-York.
Help from Laurie: She believes she'll have some ethereal assistance.
"I feel like (Laurie) is going to help me help others," Nordsick said.
Becky Schrum said Tuesday's ceremony was all she expected it to be.
"I just didn't expect to cry as much," she said. "Four-and-a-half months ago I knew nothing about this problem. ... And it affects so many people."
State officials who represent York County and who participated in Tuesday's role call included Sen. Pat Vance, R-York/Cumberland; Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon; Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover; Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City; and Rep. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.