Recent tragedies in the county lent a certain gravity to the annual Remember My Name vigil Wednesday marking Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Held inside the Centre County Courthouse due to rain, speakers and attendees of the event were acutely aware and reminded that domestic violence can strike suddenly and to anyone, as evidenced by two homicides in the Centre Region within the past two months.
“When we try to have a commemoration event each year during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, rarely have we had to come together in the wake of two domestic violence deaths so close together,” said Centre County Women’s Resource Center Executive Director Anne Ard during her opening remarks.
After the deaths of Nuria Kudlach and Natalya Podnebennaya, she said, perhaps we don’t need a reminder that domestic violence continues to plague our communities. Domestic violence continues to shatter families and destroy lives, sometimes even when efforts to protect are in full force.
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Kudlach’s husband, Alois Kudlach, has been charged in the shooting death of his wife in August. Podnebennaya’s husband, Vladimir Podnebennyy, has been charged in the stabbing death of his wife on Monday.
The community came together Wednesday to remember those whose lives were lost, she said, but also to send a message to the whole county.
“No more,” Ard said. “No more domestic violence. No more excuses. No more headlines about domestic disputes. We will not stand for this violence.”
Following a reading of the proclamation of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month by county Commissioners Michael Pipe and Steve Dershem, Pipe said the combined efforts of the WRC, the District Attorney’s Office, police and organizations across the county is thousands of times more beneficial than any wrongdoing one person can do.
“When we do this proclamation every year, we don’t really put faces and names to it,” Dershem said. “Today we do.”
With a heavy heart, he said, they celebrated the lives of survivors, but also remembered so many who have struggled through these heinous acts.
Judge Pamela Ruest provided some statistics on domestic violence in the state, saying that since 2004, 1,678 people have died as a result of domestic violence — including women, men and children.
In 2013, she said, a total of 158 died, including 107 victims and 51 perpetrators who either killed themselves or were killed during apprehension. In 2014, that number dipped slightly, with 141 deaths — 97 victims and 44 perpetrators.
No deaths in either of those years took place in Centre County, she said, but that has changed.
“Our work won’t be finished until that number is zero,” she said.
Sometimes during the event, victims are thought of in the abstract, District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said. We think of all the violence and how horrible it is, but forget the people are real.
“We just lost two women right from our community,” she said. “Two women who were struck dead by their husbands in our community. ... Two women where were killed, quite literally, for daring to leave.”
In the case of both victims, she said, they were either on the brink of leaving or had already left. Statistically, this is the most dangerous time for a woman.
“My office will seek justice for these women,” she said. “We wish we didn’t know these women. We wish they were success stories of people we never met, whose names never crossed our threshold.”
Parks Miller reminded the attendees of the case of Traci Raymond Miscavish, who was killed in March 2013 in Clearfield County after obtaining a PFA, leaving her husband and filing criminal charges. Once her husband got out of jail, he tracked her across county lines and took her life.
“The message is this: change the past,” she said. “Speak up and speak out and make a difference for the victims of domestic violence.”
Ard recognized the work of probation office Kyle Jordan, who has served in the domestic violence probation office for seven years keeping victims safe. She also recognized Debra Greenleaf, who has worked for the WRC for 20 years and also as an international outreach consultant helping international victims understand the resources available to them.
Wrapping up the event, WRC director of education Jody Althouse read the names of the 97 victims in 2014, as well as the names of Nuria Kudlach and Natalya Podnebennaya, and encouraged anyone in an unhealthy relationship to seek help.