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Local leaders join mother of murder victim to pledge to stop domestic violence

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POSTED: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 - 4:00am

UPDATED: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 - 4:04am

A local woman is using her pain to try to save other families.

On the anniversary of her daughter's death, law enforcement and city leaders promised to help Theolonious Gage stop domestic violence.

Every June 9, Gage honors her daughter, Yarnell, by speaking about domestic violence.

Yarnell Gage was shot and killed by her husband on June 9, 2007, after years of abuse.

"Well, I knew she was in an abusive relationship, but I didn't know that it was to that point where he would actually kill her," Theolonious Gage stated. "Because, I mean, there's no red flag that goes over your head saying that you are a killer, so you don't know."

In the past, she has held her vigil in Pointe Coupee Parish. But this year, she partnered with the Iris Center and moved it to North Boulevard Town Square. She was joined Monday by Mayor-President Kip Holden, Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie, District Attorney Hillar Moore III, and many other politicians, domestic violence advocates, and members of the law enforcement community.

The vigil got bigger in part because the problem has not gotten smaller.

"And it's something that needs to be made known, you know," she said. "Because a lot of times, people don't really pay attention to it until it happens to their family."

Mayor Holden and State Rep. Alfred Williams each told stories about growing up in homes that were affected by domestic violence. Moore told the audience that roughly a third of all the cases that come to the district attorney's office involve domestic violence, and Dabadie said his officers have arrested 300 people this year for crimes related to domestic violence.

"And what my prayer is," Gage said, "is that it doesn't have to happen to anybody else's family, so we have to come together as a community to make a difference."

"We can do this," implored Beth Meeks, Executive Director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "We love each other. This is a state that values its families. We can't afford to lose this fight any more."

The Iris Center offers services in seven parishes, including its primary shelter in Baton Rouge that offers emergency help to people wishing to leave abusive homes.

"Women need to be empowered in knowing that there's help out there, if they'll just seek it," Gage said.

Moore noted that domestic violence does not happen on accident, which means it can be eliminated if people want to do so. The state of Maryland has cut domestic violence murders by 34 percent over the past few years, using more intense tracking and proactively offering help to victims.

One way to prevent domestic violence is to end the stigma and blame that is often attached to victims.

"Stop asking why she doesn't leave and start asking, 'why is he abusing her,'" said Judge Pamela Baker of Baton Rouge Family Court. "Because there are many good and complicated answers to the 'why doesn't she leave.' Stop blaming the victim, and start blaming the abuser and keeping him accountable." 

Meeks said 80 percent of domestic violence homicides happen shortly after the victim leaves the relationship, which speaks to the need for services to help them establish new, better lives.

"These women are doing what we're asking them to do. They're coming forward, and they're brave, and they're trying to get away, and they're getting killed anyway."

Gage thinks she is making a difference by speaking about her family tragedy.

"I believe I have, and I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, because eventually someone is going to hear me. If it only helps one or two, as long as someone hears me."

If you or someone you know needs help related to domestic abuse, call the Iris Center at (225) 389-3001.

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