By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer
Domestic violence is a big problem for Muskogee, said a local judge during a special event for victims of such violence.
Though it’s been many years for some, those who have survived the death of their loved ones through domestic violence wiped away tears during the Silent Witness event held Tuesday at Arrowhead Mall.
Regina Gower, her sister, Natasha Hendricks, and their mother, Glenda Pate, said they haven’t missed a Silent Witness event since their sister and daughter Natalie Mathews was killed in 2005.
Gower, a guest speaker Tuesday, spoke about her sister’s murder by her husband and about a friend who recently battled domestic violence, too.
“When she went to her parents for help, they said, ‘You made your bed. Now sleep in it,” Gower said about her friend.
Gower pleaded with the audience to help change attitudes about domestic violence. She asked everyone in attendance to step up and speak out for victims and against abusers.
Muskogee Police Officer Seth Paris spoke at the event as well. For him, it turned out to be as emotional as those with family members who have died.
“When I arrived I began to look around at the silhouettes,” Paris said about red, cardboard silhouettes which feature a story about a domestic violence victim on each. “Then I saw the silhouette for Chase Whitebird and I realized — I taught him.”
Paris, who does officer training, knew Whitebird before his death. Whitebird was a Seminole County sheriff’s deputy who was killed in 2009 when he responded to a domestic violence call.
“I went to his funeral and I wondered, ‘Did I talk to him enough? Did I stress enough the number one cause of officers’ deaths are on domestic violence calls?’” he said.
Paris said Muskogee officers respond to domestic violence calls every day. And they try to help.
“It breaks my heart,” he said. “You know they’re battered. You know they’re abused, yet they deny it, lie to us. Maybe they’re embarrassed, I don’t know.”
Paris said officers try with every one to help them get help, and Women in Safe Home is a big help. But many don’t want the police department’s help.
“I try to tell them it can get better,” he said. “But will they listen to me when I’m the one that’s going to take their husband or boyfriend away to jail?”
Other guest speakers at Tuesday’s remembrance event included Special District Judge Robin Adair — who said Muskogee has a problem with domestic violence.
“We must stand up for the victims of such crime,” he said. “This is a societal problem that will only be solved by society, and society is individuals who must stand up and be forthright.”
City Attorney Roy Tucker relayed a story of a friend who was a domestic violence survivor and praised WISH for their work in Muskogee.
A woman read a statement by Kristi Collins, life-long friend of Melinda Shatto, who was killed in a murder-suicide in July.
Mike Jackson summed up the goal of the Silent Witness event. “We are here to say not here, not now, not ever in Muskogee,” he said. “We can’t let this happen anymore.”
Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.