TEXAS - October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it comes on the heels of two double homicides in Central Texas that stemmed from domestic abuse.
"The theme of Domestic Violence Awareness Month this year is ‘everyone knows someone’ because everyone does," said Shelli Egger, policy chair for the Austin-Travis County Family Violence Task Force.
Statistics show that one in four women will be the victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, and sometimes that violence turns deadly.
"When there’s a gun in the home in a domestic violence situation, there’s a 500 percent increased risk of these homicides happening," said Egger.
On Sept. 13 in Marble Falls, William Allen Rutland fatally shot his ex-girlfriend Teresa McDowell and her brother John. He’s now charged with capital murder.
Four days later in Elgin, police say retired DPS trooper Rito Paul Morales murdered his wife Kristin and Randi Mitchell, who lived with them, before being shot and killed by a deputy.
"It’s often described as someone snaps, but the homicide that happens in domestic violence situation is not a snap. It’s a very controlled situation when it feels like they’re losing control that causes them to escalate to that level," said Egger.
In both killings, there were indications the women were trying to get away from their abuser.
"Once a survivor starts to pull away, starts to reach out for help, that power and control is always trying to bring them back in. And so that’s what makes the time after separation a lot more deadly," said Egger.
What can be done to save lives? Egger says part of the answer is changing how people respond to "domestic disturbances" that sometimes precede a killing.
"There is a test called the lethality assessment, and it’s 11 questions that was designed by researchers to identify the factors that put someone at the highest risk of lethal violence," said Egger. "That’s a lot different from showing up at a scene to say is there a crime or not."
For neighbors who may notice signs that something is off, Egger says it’s a good idea to reach out carefully and safety to a possible victim, just to let them know you’re there if they need anything.
And Egger says more needs to be done legally to get guns out of abusers’ hands.
"Although we have a law in place that prohibits people from having firearms or ammunition if they have a protective order against them or a conviction of domestic violence, Texas doesn’t enforce that law," said Egger.
- Double murder in Marble Falls case of domestic violence, police say
- 'Absolutely heartbreaking': Ex-wife of retired DPS trooper who shot, killed 2 victims in Elgin speaks out
If you’re in an abusive situation, there are ways to get out safely.
"Before a survivor separates from their abuser, we do a lot of in-depth safety planning to talk about where they’re going to go, how they’re going to do it, when they’re going to do it, and run through all those scenarios, so they can do it in the safest way possible. But there is help," said Egger.
The SAFE Alliance has an array of resources for domestic violence survivors. If you are in an abusive relationship and need help, you can contact the SAFE Alliance by visiting safeaustin.org/chat, call 512-267-SAFE (7233) or text 737-888-SAFE (7233).
Also, the Texas Council on Family Violence connects survivors with local agencies that can provide help.